To paraphrase a source's material, you first need to fully understand what it says. The essence of the paraphrase is to put something into your own words, but you can't just substitute synonyms for the major words in a sentence. Paraphrasing requires digesting what you read and transforming both structure and vocabulary into an original creation. Use accurate in-text citations to identify the source of paraphrased material.
When to Paraphrase
If the idea being expressed is more important to your paper than the exact words in which it is expressed -- and this is the case much of the time -- you will want to craft a paraphrase. Use direct quotation only when something is exceptionally well put or when the language itself is relevant to the point you are making; for example, if a source's choice of words reveals value judgments or a particular point of view.
Preparing to Paraphrase
Before you attempt to paraphrase a passage, read it over a few times. Look for the points that are most important to the paper you're writing, and make brief notes that you can then use as the basis of your paraphrase. Try explaining the concept out loud to a study partner, or pretend you need to make it clear to a person with no prior knowledge of the ideas being expressed. By the time you are prepared to write your paraphrase, you'll have a thorough grasp of the material.
Structuring Your Paraphrase
Usually, there will be a main reason why you are incorporating a source's ideas in your own work. Find a connecting point where your source speaks most directly to the point you are trying to make and start your paraphrase with this, rather than attempting to reconstruct the source's exact thought sequence in your own words. For example, if your history paper is about the role of women in the Middle Ages and you want to paraphrase a source describing family life, pull out the information about women and use that as your starting point.
Finding Fresh Words
If you have thorough comprehension and have considered how to structure the paraphrase within the context of your paper, you're probably already beginning to formulate the ideas in your own way. Write from your notes, rather than looking at the original passage. Check back to make sure you have covered the key points. If you find that you have used some of the same phrasing your source used, refer to a dictionary or thesaurus for synonyms.