I often receive questions like this from students:
“My professor wants me to paraphrase sources ‘in my own words.’ But how do I find a different word for ‘percent’ [or some other common term]”?
Or “What’s a synonym for [specific word or phrase] so I can avoid plagiarism?”
However, simply looking for synonyms is the wrong approach to paraphrasing. You don’t want to simply translate the original document from one set of words to another (that is, find a synonym for every major word). In fact, doing so is still considered a form of plagiarism–it’s sometimes called “mosaic plagiarism.”
Instead, your paraphrase should be shorter than the original and it should convey only the most important information that you need. You want to think about why you’re using this source to begin with. What point are you trying to make? Here’s one example:
Suppose the article you’re reading is by Johnson and Tanizaki (2020) and it says something like
"Our study examined job satisfaction among a diverse sample of healthcare workers at a large urban emergency healthcare facility in Zootopia. The study found that 70% of Tiger nurses, 65% of Bear nurses, 79% of Wart Hog nurses, and 84% of Meerkat nurses reported high degrees of job satisfaction."
[I’m pretending that this is a quote from the study, but obviously this is a completely made-up study that I’m using for illustration purposes].
Now, what you DON’T want to do is simply “translate” the quote word-for-word into synonyms:
"Research by Johnson and Tanizaki (2020) investigated employment happiness in a miscellaneous specimen of medical employers at a big municipal exigency medicine institution..."
First, this doesn’t really make sense. It’s called “emergency healthcare” or “emergency medicine,” not “exigency medicine”–there’s no proper synonym for “emergency,” in this case. Second, this act of “translation” is still considered plagiarism. You are essentially just lifting the sentence from the source (as you would in a direct quote), but instead of quoting, you’re translating the sentence into synonyms to make it look original when it’s actually “stolen” (i.e., plagiarized).
So what should you do? Should you just quote it like this?
Johnson and Tanizaki (2020) "examined job satisfaction among a diverse sample of healthcare workers at a large urban emergency healthcare facility in Zootopia. The study found that 70% of Tiger nurses, 65% of Bear nurses, 79% of Wart Hog nurses, and 84% of Meerkat nurses reported high degrees of job satisfaction" (p. 42).
No, that’s usually a terrible idea. You should only quote especially memorable phrases or sentences that cannot be said any other way–something that it would be strange if you didn’t quote in that context. For example, referring to Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy, you would quote the phrase, like I did, rather than calling it the to exist or not to exist soliloquy. Other examples might be Hobbes’s famous “nasty, brutish, and short” line (you wouldn’t change it to mean, savage, and brief) or Dr. King’s “I have a dream” (you wouldn’t change it to I possess a vision).
But in academic writing for grad school, if you’re not dealing with a famous or memorable quote like this, you shouldn’t be quoting–especially when you’re just citing evidence in a paper. Instead, you should summarize or paraphrase.
To paraphrase properly, let’s think about what your purposes are. Why are you trying to cite this article by Johnson and Tanizaki (2020) to begin with?
Well maybe you’re trying to provide evidence for the idea that Meerkat nurses have high degrees of job satisfaction. In that case, you could do something like one of the following:
One study found that Meerkat nurses report the highest degree of job satisfaction compared to nurses from other animal groups (Johnson & Tanizaki, 2020).
Notice that the version above avoids going into all the statistics—it just gets to the main point that you need and states that point simply and directly. Here’s another possibility:
Johnson and Tanizaki (2020) found that Meerkat nurses report higher job satisfaction than nurses from other groups.
And here’s another:
Several studies found that Meerkat nurses report consistently higher degrees of job satisfaction compared to their non-Meerkat peers (Abdelqadir, 2011; Clemenza et al., 2017; Babadook, 2015; Johnson & Tanizaki, 2020).
In this last case, I’m assuming that you have found the same basic point mentioned in several studies.
Notice that none of these examples simply “translates” the Johnson and Tanizaki passage into synonyms. In fact, they even use some of the same words and phrases (e.g., “job satisfaction”) that are commonplace and for which there are no obvious equivalencies. But they also pare down and simplify the content to just the key points you need, and re-state these key points in “your own words.”
My page on Literature Reviews (see the sections on summarizing and paraphrasing)
My page on Plagiarism
The OWL at Purdue: Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing
UNC Writing Center: Quotations
Aquinas College: Differences in Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing
UW Madison Writing Center: Quoting and Paraphrasing
APA: Appropriate Level of Citation
Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning: When you must cite