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Paraphrasing what someone else has written or spoken involves rewriting someone else’s words in a slightly different manner; for instance, here is an extract taken from a book by Kevin Warwick titled QI: The Quest for Intelligence:

"As humans, we like to think of ourselves as being uniquely intelligent. We feel there is something special about the ways in which we think, plan, learn, and communicate with each other, and in how the human brain consciously operates."

Now, say I’m writing an essay on the meaning of intelligence, and having read this book, I paraphrase what Warwick has said, like so:

We humans think of ourselves as being unique in our intelligence. There is something special about how we think, plan, learn and communicate with others, and how the human brain consciously works.

This is unacceptable plagiarism. I have taken what another person has written, changed a few of the words around and then written it as if they were my own words, without even a reference. There is another problem with this paragraph - because I have changed the words around slightly, I can no longer reference it as a direct quote. However, if I just put a reference at the end of the section saying where I got the information from, I am implying that the words are my own but the information isn’t. In reality, both the words and the information are from another source. I’d be much better off rewriting it entirely in my own words and referencing the information source:

The defining difference between animals and humans is the human brain - while we share many other characteristics with the animal world, our brain, and what we do with it, lets us feel that that our intelligence is a unique one [reference here].

Un-referenced paraphrasing is one of the hardest types of plagiarism to avoid because you’ll often do it without realising. This is especially true for assignments where you must carry out research, and even more so if you write the essay as you are researching. When you have just read a few paragraphs in a book, you may unintentionally write very similar paragraphs in your essay and forget to reference the original source. Many teachers won’t care whether it was accidental or deliberate.