I'm wondering the benefit of paraphrasing when citing in a scientific journal. The same stuff in different clothes? Some people say that it shows that the author has understood the text which he is citing. That is hardly true if one just uses synonyms and changes word order. Which then can also lead to less precise text.

Secondly, do I need to paraphrase when citing my own publications?

3 Answers 3


The purpose is to make your article read more naturally and smoothly. If you use direct quotations every time you cite, your article will sound strange and be hard to read. It will also be full of quotation marks or blockquotes.

Obviously you do need to make sure that what you write is precise. Sometimes you have to use the same phrase as in the original because it is a technical term.

Yes, even when citing your own publications, it is better to paraphrase rather than give a direct quotation. But in this case direct quotations might sound less unnatural as they are written by the same person.

  • By direct quote do you mean text which is inside quotation marks? I have never seen them in scientific texts in my field.
    – Mastomaki
    Commented Mar 28 at 11:07
  • 1
    They are not that common in my field either, but they do exist. They play a role when the exact text and not just the meaning is important, e.g. when quoting a law. In qualitative research they are very common. Commented Mar 28 at 12:30
  • @Mastomaki Yes. If you are repeating what someone said in another publication, you have to either give a direct quotation, in quotation marks or shown as a blockquote, or paraphrase.
    – toby544
    Commented Mar 28 at 14:04

The purpose of citing is to make clear that a particular statement is not your contribution, but the contribution of the person's being cited. So the question of paraphrasing is secondary. Typically, the flow of the text would require some sort of paraphrasing in order for your text to be understandable, but sometimes a direct quote would do a better job or just the statement in isolation is enough.

If I read an article, I do that because I want to know the content. I could not care less about the author. I am not judging you to see if you understand an article or not. Instead, I am judging the argument you are making. It does not help me to know if you got it right by accident or because of deep understanding; right is right and wrong is wrong.

Things are different when you are a student. It is the job of the instructor to figure out if you understood something, so now your understanding does matter.

  • Sounds like the OP is definitely a student. One that still hasn't learned that in your own words is actually useful; you're supposed to rewrite it from memory, not with a thesaurus in front of you... unless this is English class, then who cares. - "I could not care less about the author." +1. (how is it possible to have that opinion and +40k on Academia? ;)
    – Mazura
    Commented Mar 29 at 2:56

Did you ever play the game "telephone" when you were a kid? A group of kids sits in a circle, one whispers to the child to their right, who then whispers what they heard to the child to their right, and so on. When it gets back to the first kid, it's often completely different.

You can also do this with synonyms, taking a synonym of a synonym of a synonym can lead to amusing results.

I think this is the problem with paraphrasing longer quotes. If you are using only a brief notion from the paper, fine:

In his dissertation, Flom said to use condition indexes to measure collinearity.

But if you are interested in more than a sentence or so from a source, I'd lean towards using the exact language, with quotation marks (or block quotes, as appropriate) and a cite to an exact location. Then any confusion is due to the original author, not you, and anyone who is really interested can go and find the rest of the piece.

It's true, as Toby544 said (+1) that too much of this can make your prose seem stilted. (Do you see what I did there?) But a) Academic language, compared to (say) a novel is known for placing more emphasis on precision and less on readability and b) In most contexts, you don't need to cite too extensively. I can think of some contexts where you do, but they are unusual.

  • You can also do this with synonyms, taking a synonym of a synonym of a synonym can lead to amusing results. --- I often did a variation of this when I was young (roughly ages 8 to 12) with my family's 1967 World Book Encyclopedia. At the end of an article, for example the entry for "Atom", there would be a list of related article entries. I'd pick one of those, go to it, then pick a related article at its end, and so on. In the mid 1970s when calculators were first making an appearance (continued) Commented Mar 28 at 14:03
  • in schools (I was in high school at the time), I got an SR-50A sometime late 1975 to very early 1976 (which I still have, along with its manual), and I noted its superiority over the lesser calculators that a handful of others at my high school had in that you could push the square root key 10 or 12 times, then the square key the same number of times and wind up with the same displayed number you started with, (continued) Commented Mar 28 at 14:04
  • but if you subtracted it from a new entry of the same number, you'd get something like 3.7 x 10^(-12) (due to internally using 13 (?) digits but having a 10-digit display). Another game I sometimes played when internet language translations first came out (late 1990s) was to type in something from a book (or just copy/paste some text from an internet web page), successively translate to different languages a lot of times, and maybe every two or three times translating back to English to get a sense of how far off it was getting. Commented Mar 28 at 14:04
  • 2
    About the game of telephone, the point for academic research is that when you cite something you should always look up the original source. Trace it back and check what it actually said. If you cite someone who cites someone who cites someone, the facts are likely to become inaccurate. There are several questions on this site about this.
    – toby544
    Commented Mar 28 at 14:09

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