Learning Strategy 2 and 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 ide

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