Paraphrasing Tips for ESL Students

Paraphrasing is an absolute skill in a professional setting. By paraphrasing, it is meant to have the ability to take someone else’s words and rephrase them while giving credit for the original source. Whenever a student fails to do this it is called plagiarism which is a major problem in academia. In this post, we will look at several tips on how to paraphrase.

The ability to paraphrase academically takes almost near-native writing ability. This is because you have to be able to play with the language in a highly complex manner. To be able to do this after a few semesters of ESL is difficult for the typical student. Despite this, there are several ways to try to make paraphrase work. Below are just some ideas.

  • Use synonyms
  • Change the syntax
  • Make several sentences
  • Condense/summarize

One tip not mentioned is reading. Next, to actually writing, nothing will improve writing skills like reading. Being exposed to different texts helps you develop an intuitive understanding of the second language in a way that copying and pasting never will.

Use Synonyms

Using synonyms is a first step in paraphrasing an idea but this approach cannot be used by itself as that is considered to be plagiarism by many people. With synonyms, you replace some words with others. The easiest words to replace are adjectives and verbs, followed by nouns. Below is an example. The first sentence is the original one and the second is the paraphrase.

The man loves to play guitar
The man likes to play guitar

In the example above all we did was change the word “loves” to “like”. This is a superficial change that is often still considered plagiarism because of how easy it is to do. We can take this a step further by modifying the infinitive verb “to play.”

The man loves to play guitar
The man likes to play guitar
The man likes playing guitar

Again this is superficial but a step above the first example. In addition, most word processors will provide synonyms if you right-click on the word and off course there are online options as well. Remember that this is a beginning and is a tool you use in addition to more complex approaches.

Change the Syntax

Changing the syntax has to do with the word order of the sentence or sentences. Below is an example

The man loves to play guitar
Playing the guitar is something the man loves

In this example, we move the infinitive phrase “to play” to the front and change it to a present participle. There were other adjustments that needed to be made to maintain the flow of the sentence. This example is a more advanced form of paraphrasing and it may be enough to only do this to avoid plagiarism. However, you can combine synonyms and syntax as shown in the example below

The man loves to play guitar
Playing the guitar is something the man likes

Make Several Sentences

Another approach is to convert a sentence(s) into several more sentences. As shown below

The man loves to play guitar
This man has a hobby. He likes playing guitar.

You can see that there are two sentences now. The first sentence indicates the man has a hobby and the second explains what the hobby is and how much he likes it. In addition, in the second sentence, the verb “to play” was changed to the present participle of “playing.”

Condense/Summarize

Condensing or summarizing is not considered by everyone to be paraphrasing. The separation between paraphrasing and summarizing is fuzzy and it is more of a continuum than black and white. With this technique, you try to reduce the length of the statement you are paraphrasing as shown below.

The man loves to play guitar
He likes guitar

This was a difficult sentence to summarizes because it was already so short. However, we were able to shrink it from six to three words by removing what it was about the guitar he liked.

Academic Examples

We will now look at several academic examples to show the applications of these rules in a real context. The passage below is some academic text

There is also a push within Southeast Asia for college graduates to have
interpersonal skills. For example, Malaysia is calling for graduates to
have soft skills and that these need to be part of the curriculum of tertiary schools.
In addition, a lack of these skills has been found to limit graduates’ employability.

Example 1: Paraphrase with synonyms and syntax changes

There are several skills graduates need for employability in Southeast Asia.  For example, people skills are needed. The ability to relate to others is being pushed for inclusion in higher education from parts of Southeast Asia (Thomas, 2018).

You can see how difficult this can be. We rearranged several concepts and changed several verbs to try and make this our own sentence. Below is an example of condensing.

Example 2: Condensing

There is demand in Southeast Asia for higher education to develop the interpersonal skills of their students as this is limiting the employability of graduates (Thomas, 2018).

With this example, we reduced the paragraph to one sentence.

Culture and Plagiarism

There are majors differences in terms of how plagiarism is viewed based on culture. In the West, plagiarism is universally condemned both in and out of academia as essentially stealing ideas from other people. However, in other places, the idea of plagiarism is much more nuanced or even okay.

In some cultures, one way to honor what someone has said or taught is to literally repeat it verbatim. The thought process goes something like this

  • This person is a great teacher/elder
  • What they said is insightful
  • As a student or lower person, I cannot improve what they said
  • Therefore, I should copy these perfects words into my own paper.

Of course, everyone does not think like this but I have experienced enough to know that it does happen.

Whether the West likes it or not plagiarism is a cultural position rather than an ethical one. To reduce plagiarism requires to show students how it is culturally unacceptable in an academic/professional setting to do this. The tips in this post will at least provide tools for how to support students to overcome this habit

1 thought on “Paraphrasing Tips for ESL Students

  1. Elie Shbeir

    I really found your article interesting. I would really appreciate your sending me more interesting materials in linguistics, writing, and SAT . By the way, don’t you think that grammar /writing part of SAT includes a lot of what I teach as editing ? Ready to discuss this with you.
    Thank you.

    Like

    Reply

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