Our Essential Lessons are a sequence of lessons that form the backbone of the Writing Program curriculum, illustrating what we want all students to learn across our program’s diverse course topics.

Most multilingual students, especially those newer to North American academic contexts, need work understanding and practicing paraphrase, as distinct from both quotation and from patch-writing or plagiarism. This lesson builds on what students already know about summary and can help them write more complex summaries or pieces of analysis in the future.


“Plagiarism” as such is often considered deliberate, but this lesson teaches citation conventions specifically as conventions, not as morality, acknowledging that they vary greatly across genre and culture.


Students will be able to convey accurately the meaning of an academic text and avoid plagiarism by paraphrasing and quoting effectively.

Key Terms

plagiarism, paraphrase, quotation, summary, citation, attribution, academic misconduct


Introduce these concepts to students at the start of WR 111 Unit 2, “Writing for and with Others.” At this point, students will be familiar with summarizing, as they will have submitted the basic summary, and been introduced to the concepts of paraphrase and quotation. In addition, students will have been exposed to the basic elements of BU’s Academic Conduct Codeas part of the acculturation unit. Paraphrasing can be compared and contrasted with summarizing as well as using quotations.


Genre Awareness

This lesson precedes WR 111 students’ study of genre, but students should be made aware that genre does dictate when and whether we cite a source. In a newspaper article, for example, the writer may refer in words to the source of information or a quotation, but MLA citation, for example, is not required. Scientific research papers, law journal articles, and other academic papers may require footnotes rather than in-text citations.


This lesson begins with a question about students’ prior knowledge and has them reflect on the differences between their home country’s approach to intellectual property and plagiarism as compared with that of the U.S. It later asks students to reflect on what they know, and what they think they know, about what plagiarism is and what types of work are governed by the concept of plagiarism. You may assign a brief write-up on the challenges students experienced when reconciling the cultural conventions of attribution of their home countries and the U.S.

  1. Ask students what they know or have heard about plagiarism, paraphrasing, and direct quotation; whether plagiarism and intellectual property exist as concepts in their home countries and whether there are academic consequences for plagiarism.
  2. Discuss whether students know that plagiarism is a serious offense at BU.
  3. Check for preconceived and inaccurate notions: If students are aware of plagiarism and the need for attribution, ask them what works it applies to (for example, if they think this applies to material found on the web).
  4. Explain the seriousness and repercussions of plagiarism in the U.S.; plagiarism is a serious offense in the U.S. Using part or all of another’s writing without giving attribution to the author is considered theft and misrepresentation, and one of the worst forms of academic misconduct.
  5. Give real-world examples of how plagiarism is viewed (resignation from high office; revocation of graduate degrees; public embarrassment). See, for example, “Senator Quits Montana Race After Charge of Plagiarism,” or “German Fascination with Degrees Claims Latest Victim: Education Minister”
  6. Discuss the relevant sections of BU’s Academic Conduct Code: Plagiarism and academic dishonesty are serious offenses at BU. (In addition, you might discuss the Code’s applicability to behavior such as buying papers from commercial services; using the paper of a student who previously took the course; or using one’s own paper from another course or an earlier semester without the instructor’s prior approval.)
    1. Define key terms and give examples from texts students are reading in class. This handout provides students with some handy definitions.
Key terms and definitions
  • Summarizing is used to express the main idea of a written work. It omits small details and does not use the author’s words and structure.
  • Paraphrasing is used when it’s important to convey every idea in the original piece of writing. It does not use the author’s words and structure.
  • Quoting is used when the writer’s exact words are important because they are well-known or historically significant, or because they express a concept in a unique or noteworthy way, such as: “I have a dream,” or “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”
    1. Offer students more practice with the mechanics of quotation and embedding quotes into their sentences, using an exercise like this one.
    2. Review the differences between paraphrasing and quoting, asking students why, if a paraphrase simply restates the passage, we don’t just use a direct quotation.
Reasons to paraphrase (vs. quote)
  • Your paraphrase demonstrates that you understand the text.
  • You can make challenging material easier to understand by paraphrasing.
  •  You will be able to smoothly integrate the paraphrase into a paper you’re writing by using the same style, structure, and organization. 
  •  A direct quotation may have details you don’t want to include in your paper.
  • American academic practice values using your own words and discourages using quotations.
  1. Review paraphrase vs. summary: A summary briefly states the main idea of a text; a paraphrase restates all of the important information in an excerpt.
    1. Review the principles of and strategies for paraphrasing with students.
Key principles for paraphrase
  • Use your own words to express the concepts of the original passage.
  • Use your own sentence structure and organization, not the author’s.
  • Provide attribution in correct citation form for the passage you paraphrased.
Key strategies for paraphrase
  • Read the portion of text you want to paraphrase.
  • Make sure you understand it.
  • After you’ve read the text, make notes of what you read, without using the author’s words or structure.
  • Using only your notes, write all of the important ideas of the text using own words.
  • Compare your paraphrase with the original text to be sure you’ve included all of the ideas in the text and stated those ideas accurately.
  • Review and revise your passage for grammar and spelling errors.
  1. Examine together a model of paraphrase.
  2. Begin by directing students to Purdue OWL’s section on paraphrasing.
  3. Use this exercise (based on the essay “Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts” by Bruce Catton) to help students evaluate different kinds of paraphrases.
  4. Practice paraphrasing together in class.
  5. Consider having students work in pairs and produce a jointly written paraphrase for homework, as discussing the concepts with another student may improve understanding and provide support for skill development.
  6. Select 1-2 paragraphs from a work the class has read.
  7. Have students read the selection, then close their books and make notes.
  8. Have students use their notes to write a paraphrase of the selection.
  9. Have several students read their paraphrases aloud or write them on the board, and discuss.

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