Learning Strategy on Paraphrasing 

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Learning Strategy 2: Paraphrasing 

Robert Harris
Version Date: February 27, 2014

A paraphrase is a restatement of an idea into your own words. You turn a sentence  you have read or heard into about the same number of your own words. Different words, same meaning. For example:

Original sentence: “The amount of pleasure and satisfaction we derive from experience has as much to do with how the experience relates to expectations as it does with the qualities of the experience itself.” –Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice

Paraphrase: How much  you enjoy and are pleased with an experience depends as much on what you expected from it beforehand as it does on what you actually experienced.  –adapted from Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice

Here we have 32 words paraphrased into 28 words, which is a similar number. The central idea of a paraphrase is that it preserves all the meaning and details (whereas a summary omits details and preserves only the main ideas).

Paraphrasing Is an Aid to Learning

Paraphrasing is a valuable learning strategy for the following reasons:

  • Active engagement with the material. The act of turning a statement into your own words and writing them down (or typing them up) engages your mind and body with the content. Writing or typing up sentences involves kinesthetic (physical movement) interaction with the material as well as mental. Paraphrasing causes you to think about the ideas rather than just dumping them into your brain unexamined.
  • Improved memory. Active engagement improves your memory of the ideas. Even copying the idea down word for word increases retention, whether or not you ever review your notes. But paraphrasing is even more powerful for aiding memory.
  • Improved understanding. In order to convert an idea into your own words, you must think about it and understand what the writer or speaker is telling you. You can copy the exact words robotically without even thinking and therefore with less understanding. And without understanding, you are likely to forget the information sooner because your brain didn’t connect it to anything else.
  • Make the idea your own. Using your own writing style, your own vocabulary, and your own thinking adds the idea to your regular mental inventory. When someone asks, “What was the point of the book?” you are more likely to answer in your natural style rather than in the possibly elaborate vocabulary and phrasing of the book.

Paraphrasing Allows You to Organize Ideas

You can use paraphrasing to

  • Put the ideas in a different order. IF the writer discusses things in an order different from the one you find most useful for your study, rearrange them in your paraphrase to emphasize what is important.
  • Simplify the language. This is perhaps the most useful benefit of paraphrasing. Some writers use overly elaborate sentence structures or too much jargon or unnecessarily abstract vocabulary.
  • Clarify the ideas. Some writing is simply difficult to understand. Many great thinkers lack the ability to express themselves as clearly as we would hope. Paraphrasing is your opportunity to translate difficult writing into clearer writing.

How to Paraphrase

The formula for paraphrasing is:

  • Read the sentence or passage over and over until you really understand it.
  • Write out the meaning, either in outline form or conversational style
  • Locate the main ideas and arrange the order you want to present them
  • Write the paraphrase from your rearranged outline
  • Check to see that you have preserved the meaning and included all the ideas
  • Edit as needed
  • Add a citation to give the source credit. (You can’t make an idea your own simply by changing it into your own words. You still need to cite the source of the idea.)

Examples of Paraphrases

Original Sentence: “It turns out to be very difficult, for instance, to unlearn or ignore bad information–even when we know it is wrong or should be ignored.”  –Joseph T. Hallinan, Why We Make MistakesGet Why We Make Mistakes from Amazon.com

Paraphrase: Even when we are told that some information is wrong and should be disregarded, we still find it hard to forget it or avoid it. –adapted from Joseph T. Hallinan, Why We Make Mistakes

Original Sentence: “Leaders empower employees through consistent information sharing and increased decision-making responsibility and autonomy.” –Paul Marciano, Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work
Get Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work from Amazon.com

Paraphrase:  When leaders regularly share information, give decision-making authority, and allow autonomy, they empower their employees. –adapted from Paul Marciano, Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work

Original Sentence: “Learning occurs best when new information is incorporated gradually into to the memory store rather that when it is jammed in all at once. –John Medina, Brain Rules
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Paraphrase: The best way to learn something it is to study it a little at a time instead of trying to memorize it all at the same time. –adapted from John Medina, Brain Rules

VirtualSalt Home
Learning Strategy 1: Mnemonics
Learning Strategy 2: Paraphrasing
Learning Strategy 3: Summarizing
Learning Strategy 4: Self Monitoring
Learning Strategy 5: Self Explanation
Learning Strategy 6: Mental Rehearsal
Learning Strategy 7: Self Assessment
Learning Strategy 8: The SQ3R Reading Method
Learning Strategy 9: Note Taking
Learning Strategy 10: The Leitner Flash Card System
Learning Strategy 11: Maintaining Interest
Learning Strategy 12: Conversation
Learning Strategy 13: Group Interaction
Learning Strategy 14: Idea Mapping
Learning Strategy 15: Drawing Pictures
Learning Strategy 16: Study Cycles
Learning Strategy 17: Sleep and Rest
Learning Strategy 18: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 19: Learning Strategy Checklist
Learning Strategy 20: Asking Questions
Learning Strategy 21: Idea Linking
Learning Strategy 22: How to Use a Book
Learning Strategy 23: Active Listening
Learning Strategy 24: Close Reading
Learning Strategy 25: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 26: Power Thinking
Learning Strategy 27: Planning for Learning
Learning Strategy 28: Outlining
Learning Strategy 29: Analogies

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