Plagiarism

Paraphrasing and Plagiarism — A Complete Guide

Take a closer look at what paraphrasing is and review examples of paraphrasing and plagiarism. Then, get tips on the best paraphrasing practices.

Is it really considered plagiarism if you rephrase someone else’s content while retaining the original meaning? This practice, known as paraphrasing content, is a valuable skill to have. 

However, there’s a fine line between acceptable use and plagiarism. If done incorrectly, paraphrasing can lead to accidental plagiarism, which raises serious ethical and legal concerns. 

  • What does correct paraphrasing actually look like, and how can AI help? 
  • How can you tell if something is paraphrased to the point of plagiarism? 

Take a closer look at what paraphrasing is, along with examples of paraphrasing and plagiarizing

Then, learn how to correctly paraphrase content and how to use AI to help ensure that your content is accurately paraphrased and not plagiarized. 

What Is Paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing takes information from a source and rephrases it using different words and sentence structures while keeping the original meaning intact. 

It’s often used by students, researchers, writers, and professionals to express complex ideas in more simple language. Paraphrasing is also a way to integrate other people’s material into your own by expressing their ideas using your own words and style. 

  • One of the most common myths about paraphrasing is that it involves “taking someone else’s idea and just changing the words slightly.” 
  • To paraphrase correctly, you must clearly understand the original text so that you can explain it in your own words. 

Even though it becomes uniquely your own in the process, it’s still a good idea to cite the original author and give credit where it’s due. 

The Fine Line Between Paraphrasing and Plagiarism

Paraphrasing and plagiarism are closely related concepts that can overlap. 

  • Paraphrasing helps writers share their knowledge in a way that’s concise and clear.
  • The issue arises when improper paraphrasing becomes plagiarism.
  • The fine line between paraphrasing and plagiarism is crossed when rephrased content still mirrors the wording of the original text
  • It can also happen if the original text isn’t adequately cited

Even if you change the words, if the way the ideas are presented still mimics the original, the sentence structure hasn’t changed much, and citations are not provided, it can be considered plagiarism. 

How to Paraphrase Content

Successfully paraphrasing means understanding the original text on a deeper level. Then, you need to convey that meaning in a way that’s new and uniquely your own

Once you understand the material, then you can start to reshape and mold it in a way that works with your unique writing tone and style. Put the original text aside and write out the main ideas in your own words without looking at the source. 

Experiment with truly rephrasing the content, rather than simply swapping out words. However, simply changing the vocabulary isn’t enough. Focus on changing the structure of the underlying text.

Every student, writer, and professional has their own unique writing “fingerprint,” and paraphrasing can help you find yours. You might discover:

  • You can easily break down complex sentences into more easily digestible pieces. 
  • Paraphrased content makes more sense after reordering how the ideas are phrased to better align with your writing style. 

Don’t forget to properly credit the original author after expressing the idea in your own words. 

Even though the wording has been significantly changed, it still demonstrates respect for the original author’s work while also maintaining your integrity and transparency as a writer. 

Common Types of Paraphrase Plagiarism

To better understand paraphrase plagiarism, let’s look at several examples. 

AI-generated paraphrasing

If you think AI was used to create content, try an AI checker to identify which parts of the text are AI-generated. Then, flag these for further review to avoid plagiarism. 

Consider this example of original text created by AI:

"The economic policies of the early 20th century were significantly influenced by the rapid industrialization and urbanization, leading to a greater focus on regulating labor conditions and improving workers' rights."

Now let’s look at the paraphrased text:

"The economic policies during the early 1900s were heavily influenced by fast industrialization and urban growth, which resulted in a stronger emphasis on regulating working conditions and enhancing workers' rights."

You can easily see that the paraphrased text changed a few words, but the original phrasing and writing style are still there, meaning it’s too similar to the source text. The paraphrased text would be considered plagiarism (not to mention it’s missing citations for the source content). 

Original AI-generated text

What if you edited the sentence structure a little? Here’s an example of the original text, again created by AI for illustrative purposes:

"Climate change poses a significant threat to biodiversity, potentially leading to the extinction of numerous species and the disruption of ecosystems."

And here’s an example of the paraphrased text:

"Global warming presents a major danger to biodiversity, possibly causing the extinction of many species and the disruption of ecosystems."

Notice how the paraphrased (and plagiarized) text, swapped out potentially for possibly and numerous for many, as well as climate change versus global warming?

The paraphrased text mirrors the original text’s meaning and structure, very little of the content has been rephrased or interpreted in the author’s own words, and it’s missing citations. 

Proper paraphrasing practices

Now, let’s look at an example of correctly paraphrased text. Here is an AI-generated example:

"The economic policies of the early 20th century were significantly influenced by the rapid industrialization and urbanization, leading to a greater focus on regulating labor conditions and improving workers' rights."

And here is the version that I paraphrased: 

“In the early 1900s, the rapid growth of industry and the cities that sprang up around them helped to shape core economic strategies. These strategies in turn, spurred authorities to make workers’ rights and labor regulations a priority” (citation to original research).

Notice how the original ideas are conveyed differently, with different wording and sentence structure. The core message is the same, but the structure that surrounds it is considerably different while still communicating the same idea. 

For this example, there’s also a placeholder with brackets to note where a citation crediting the original author could be provided or a place to transparently cite AI-generated text

Why Do Traditional Plagiarism Checkers Fail to Detect Paraphrased Content?

If you look at correctly paraphrased content versus plagiarized content, you can see why it would be difficult for traditional plagiarism checkers to catch the paraphrased version. It’s one thing to swap out synonyms, but it’s another thing entirely to express an original idea in your own words, using your tone and style.

Paraphrasing challenges detectors that look for exact text matches

Traditional plagiarism checkers often struggle to detect paraphrased content because they rely on exact matches of text strings. While this method has been used to catch blatant copying or direct quotations, it falls short when dealing with more sophisticated forms of plagiarism, such as paraphrasing. 

When you change the wording or structure of the original text, swap out synonyms, alter sentence order, or change passive voice to active voice it can bypass these checkers. When traditional plagiarism checkers have difficulty matching the exact text string, it slips through the cracks (even though it’s plagiarized). 

How AI Can Help Paraphrase Detection

With proper training, AI-based systems can analyze the text's context, meaning, and structure. This advanced capability, known as NLP or Natural Language Processing, can help some AI-powered checkers identify when ideas and concepts have been rephrased or restructured, even with the original meaning still intact.

One of the main strengths of AI-based plagiarism detectors lies in their ability to learn and improve over time. As AI systems are trained on and process more data, they become better at recognizing patterns and identifying subtle similarities between texts. 

Beyond these capabilities, AI-based detectors can go a step further. They can analyze the underlying relationships between words and sentences to identify paraphrased content that maintains the original's intent but uses different wording. 

By highlighting the text for the author’s review, AI helps ensure that more instances of accidental plagiarism are remedied before they’re published. 

Challenges With AI-Based Paraphrase Plagiarism Checkers

Although AI has advanced plagiarism detection, it still faces a number of hurdles. 

The complexity of language

One of the biggest challenges lies in the complexity and variability of language. There are countless ways to paraphrase and many different degrees of subtlety. AI simply can’t (yet) capture all the possible instances of this happening.

Technical resources 

Another major challenge lies in the sheer amount of computing resources needed for AI-based plagiarism detection. Analyzing paraphrased text requires a considerable amount of raw computing power. Combine that with running sophisticated algorithms at scale (especially in real-time or near real-time) and you’re looking at a staggering amount of processing power and storage capacity. 

With the high costs and infrastructure needed to meet those requirements, not to mention the constant need to update and retrain the AI to keep up with new techniques, it’s easy to see the technical challenges this poses.

Final Thoughts — Paraphrasing, Plagiarism, and AI Tools

Paraphrasing properly can help you communicate research and ideas and match the tone of voice and style of your writing. To begin paraphrasing content, you can try an AI paraphrasing tool that encourages creative thinking.

Originality.ai offers a free AI Paraphraser designed to get you started with paraphrasing. You can select the language you want to paraphrase, the tone, and how many paraphrased versions you’d like to generate (up to three). 

Then, check your work with a plagiarism detector, and remember to follow proper citation practices when using the paraphrased content. Correctly reference the original source and author (including if it’s your previous work) to avoid accidental plagiarism.

Sherice Jacob

Plagiarism Expert Sherice Jacob brings over 20 years of experience to digital marketing as a copywriter and content creator. With a finger on the pulse of AI and its developments, she works extensively with Originality.ai to help businesses and publishers get the best returns from their Content.

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