Paraphrasing - rephrasing a sentence - is important in academic writing. For example, you paraphrase to add variation to your writing or to rephrase the wording of authors you cite. Here are six techniques to rewrite your sentences! Still struggling? Switch to Writefull’s Paraphraser in Writefull for Word or for Overleaf, and let AI do the work.

1. Change individual words

The quickest way to change a sentence is to replace one or more words. For example, instead of writing ‘This work assessed the effects of…’ you write ‘This study evaluated the influence of…’. Carefully check that the new word suits your sentence's meaning, and that it combines well with the words before and after. Also, as this is quite a ‘static’ way of paraphrasing, it’s best to combine this technique with the others in this list.

2. Change sentence structure

This technique requires a bit more headwork, but does result in more significant changes to your sentence. The quickest way to restructure a sentence is to move or change the subject, and to rephrase the rest of the sentence from there. See the two examples below.

On day 5, the interview responses were scored. > The interview responses were scored on Day 5. (subject: the interview responses)

This difference was the result of increased prices. > Increased prices resulted in this difference. (subject: this difference > increased prices)

3. Change voice (passive <> active)

Using the passive voice is fine in scientific writing, but to keep your sentences varied, it is always good to switch between passive and active - and this switching is a great way to paraphrase, too. Active sentences emphasize the subject (who or what does something) while passive sentences emphasize the object (what the subject deals with). See these two examples:

Active > passive
The lab assistant cleaned the samples. > The samples were cleaned by the lab assistant. (subject: lab assistant; object: the samples. The lab assistant matters more in the active sentence.)

Passive > active
The trendline is shown in Figure 5. > Figure 5 shows the trendline. (subject: Figure 5; object: the trendline. Figure 5 matters more in the active sentence.)

4. Remove redundant words

Scientific language can often be made more concise. So when paraphrasing, see if you can say the same thing using fewer words. For example, the underlined words in the sentence below do not add much, and can be removed:

Due to the fact that this well-studied detachment is often the result of propagation, it seemed obvious to the authors that this must have been the cause. > As such detachment is often due to propagation, this was considered the cause.

5. Generalize or specify

You can also paraphrase your sentence by removing specifics and thereby making the sentence more general. For example, in the following sentence, the underlined phrases may be unnecessary:

This area provides morphological or physiological trait-based characteristics to study each component at the community level.

In other cases, you might add detail:

No models have recently been generated. > Over the last five years, no Ballian Mimer models have been generated.

Whether specifics can be added or removed depends on what’s mentioned in the rest of your text, as well as how much you expect your reader to know.

6. Use Writefull

Not up for the task or running out of time? Use Writefull’s automated Paraphraser in Writefull for Word, Writefull for Overleaf, or in the browser. It instantly paraphrases your sentence at three levels (mid, medium, or low), depending on how much you want it changed.

About the author

Hilde is Chief Applied Linguist at Writefull.