What makes paraphrasing dishonest?

Paraphrasing requires regular training and thoughtful writing from students. It’s essential to explain why and how to do it legitimately. Otherwise, they’d be more willing to look for shortcuts than put in an effort.


By dividing the learning process into bitesize training courses with one goal to be achieved at a time, students may feel less overwhelmed and more involved. So, a series of lessons on paraphrasing may include:

1) Finding the most meaningful phrases in a text and guessing the context

2) Reading a text and summarizing its message in two sentences

3) Rephrasing each sentence by changing the words, sentence structures, word order, but preserving the general idea

4) Practicing paraphrasing while reading, listening, or writing something in the class

5) Doing regular quick paraphrasing exercises

6) Distinguishing unfair and fair paraphrasing, etc


This simplified approach could help grow students’ writing confidence and prevent common mistakes, like lack of attribution, taking certain phrases out of the original sentence without making any changes, mentioning several ideas in one paragraph without giving credit (which may also be classified as “mosaic” plagiarism), and many more.


But here’s another thing we’d like to draw your attention to—when students are unsure about their paraphrasing skills, they may resort to online paraphrasing tools, which turn out to be the biggest learning disruptors.


This tech nurtures bad habits like turning unoriginal sentences into seemingly original paragraphs and, in such a way, fooling plagiarism checkers. Some even position themselves as the easiest way to pass plagiarism checking.


What most of these tools actually do is swap original words with synonyms. Oftentimes, those are nouns, adjectives, and verbs.


Quillbot, an online paraphrasing and summarizing service and grammar checker, does a great job of substituting even entire phrases:

As you can see in the screenshot, Quillbot preserved the sentence structure, but it successfully picked up the synonymous phrases “driving force” and “contributing significantly” without changing the overall meaning.


Synonym swapping is not the only superpower paraphrasing tools may have. In the example below, Quillbot replaced active voice with a passive voice construction:

This rewritten sentence can still be identified as unfairly paraphrased, given that there are quite a few copy-pasted phrases, but this is a pretty accurate tool for the student to rely on.


However, not all the tools are “equally effective.” Many fail to choose correct verb forms and select the words that would fit in the context smoothly. Therefore, teachers will still be able to easily spot suspicious chunks of text. This is how Spinbot restated the paragraph:

Original sentence:

Paraphrased sentence:

With that being said, automated tools add extra work for teachers and can hardly assist students with acceptable paraphrasing. Sometimes, however, they might be effective if students decide to trick plagiarism checkers.


To discourage them from stepping in the wrong direction, you’ll need to help develop an unshakable belief in their writing skills through ongoing practice and timely feedback.


These resources could also assist students in their day-to-day paraphrasing exercises. You’re welcome to use them in your classes:

●  Turnitin’s guide to paraphrasing

●  Paraphrasing graphic organizer

●  Paraphrasing assessment

●  Paraphrasing self-check for students


Extra tools and websites for students to hone their paraphrasing skills:

●  The Academic Phrasebank by the University of Manchester with lots of introductory phrases to learn

●  A quick explainer guide on how to paraphrase avoiding plagiarism from the Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning

●  A quick and easy-to-grasp guide on paraphrasing from the Purdue Online Writing Lab

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