How can you put information in “your own words” when you use sources?

In an earlier blog post you could read about why it is important to paraphrase information that you take from other sources and use in your own texts. But paraphrasing, or putting the information into “your own words,” is often easier said than done. Perhaps you, like many others, frantically wonder how to present the information without altering the meaning and still keep the language academic?

So what should you do? First of all I would like to advise you not to do something very common: staring at the source while trying to produce your own sentence. It is almost impossible to write anything sensible in such a situation. It is easy to get stuck in the original phrasing, and to become nervous staring at the well-phrased sentences. But remember that the authors of an article have spent much time polishing their text, and as a student, you simply do not have that kind of time.

Instead, try doing the following:

  1. Read through the text or the passage and try to really understand the information you want to use in your text. If necessary, write down key concepts and numbers.
  2. Consider which parts of the material are central in your context, that is, will add something to your text. Include only those.
  3. Try to express the information in your own words, without looking at the original.
  4. Check your text against the source to ensure two things: that the information you have written down is consistent with the source and that your phrasing is not too close to the original. Revise your text if necessary.
  5. Make a clear citation and reference. If you keep track of your sources from the beginning, you will not only save time but also spare yourself the frustration that occurs when you have to go through a great number of articles in order to find the right source. Why not use a reference manage program to help you keep track of your references?

When you paraphrase, try to avoid merely substituting a few words – changing a word here and there does not count as processing the text properly, and processing the text is a central part of how we gain understanding of the material and of how our readers can see that we have indeed understood the text. Also avoid paraphrasing long passages from one single source, since you risk losing focus on what you intend to say (using the source) and instead focus too much on the source. It is better to consider what parts of the material are relevant to your text, and preferably synthesize them with material from other relevant sources. Your reader wants to know what you have to say, not merely what the sources are about.

It is important to remember however that some things should never be paraphrased, such as concepts, terms, numbers, and specifics regarding time and space. These have to remain the same in order to preserve the original meaning. 

Do you sometimes find it difficult putting information into your own words? Make an appointment to discuss your text with Academic Writing Support (open during the semesters). 

Anna M Borgström

I have a Licentiate of Philosophy degree in English and teach academic writing. You are most likely to meet me in the Academic Writing Support room in Solna, but now and then I am in Flemingsberg.