How to Think Like a Journalist: When to Paraphrase Like a Pro

To paraphrase or not to paraphrase, that is the question. Cliché? You betcha! But, I am not afraid to let you in on a secret. Writers and reporters often paraphrase.

But, you may be asking, “When do I paraphrase?”.

Writing is a ticklish subject, one often requiring finesse. As a young reporter for a daily newspaper, I heard sage advice from my editor. Paraphrase when you need to.

As reporters, we use notetaking to jot down interviews. Sometimes especially when using a notebook, we leave out a word, even thought we perfectly are aware of what the subject said and meant. Instead of writing something in quotes hoping that is what he or she said, we paraphrase.

Herren said it wasn’t easy to speak about his anti-substance abuse message to groups and student assemblies. (Paraphrase).

What got him through was his desire to help students turn their lives around.

“Let me help just one kid,” he said. (Quote).

              Leader Herald Jan. 2016.

When I paraphrased Herren speaking about his need to help others, I didn’t put it in quotes. I made a subjective choice to quote him at the end for more impact.

Another reason to paraphrase is to break down complex ideas into parts that a reader would more fully understand.

For example,

Silva said the center was losing $150,000 a year on the primary care center, which it had run since April 2004.  (Paraphrase)

Hometown Health receives financial support from the federal government–$1 million of its $9 million budget–and Silva said without that money, the health center wouldn’t be solvent.  (Paraphrase).

“If the number of uninsured grows, we struggle to be able to make up the difference,” he said.  (Quote).

         Albany Business Review Aug. 2010

So, the question may be not whether to paraphrase or not, but when to write for clarity and to tie a thought into a direct quote, thereby tying the story more tightly so your editor will not come to you and say, “Huh?”

Contact me for more helpful advice or post a question or comment underneath.

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