Paraphrasing Rules

Yesterday we talked about how to attribute direct quotes to somebody. Many times, especially if you are trying to write down what somebody says and that person talks too fast or digresses in the middle of a thought, you cannot use a verbatim quote. For example, anybody who ever covered Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander Strayhorn needed to either know shorthand or take a tape recorder, because she talked so fast it was impossible to keep up with her!

Old-school journalists are sticklers for making sure that quotes are exactly correct, word for word, using [explanatory stuff in brackets] to fill in details omitted in the direct quote.

“The story about the jackalope being spotted at our wellsite was even in the Rochester [Minnesota] Post-Bulletin,” the toolpusher said. (not to be confused with Rochester, NY)

Sometimes if you are interviewing a subject matter expert, and that person has a PhD and starts getting WAAAAY too technical for the audience that will eventually read what you write, you need to paraphrase what they say, attributing the content to the
source properly.

Dr. Know-It-All, professor emeritus at Ivory Tower College, conducted an in-depth study of the various methods of thermocombobulator simulation. He said each simulator makes different assumptions, so you can never really compare apples to apples.

Now you know the distinguished scholar spent a full 45 minutes going into detail about each assumption of each simulator, but your audience doesn’t have the time or
inclination to read all that. So you boil it down to its essence and report it as fact, making sure to stay true to the content, the intent, and the tone, because you want to report the truth, although perhaps not the whole, entire truth.

Other situations where paraphrasing is preferable to a direct quote:
–  When the exact quote is neither original nor memorable.
–  When words or phrases need to be changed or omitted (bad grammar, cussing).
–  When jargon needs to be eliminated or explained.
–  When the length needs to be shortened.
–  When you don’t capture the exact quotation word for word (tape recorder stops).

In any case, it is important to let the reader know that the source of the material is someone else besides the writer, even though by paraphrasing it, you are putting it into your own words.


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