Students face plenty of challenges at university, whether it’s getting to grips with different types of writing or supplementing their income with a lucrative side hustle. Something that can muddy the waters even further is wrestling with the rights and wrongs of using a paraphrasing tool.
In this article, I’m going to show you 9 ways you can use a paraphrasing tool properly, as well as which specific paraphrase tools I recommend for these different uses.
First, let’s dig a little deeper into the act of paraphrasing itself and clear up some of the myths around it.
Table of contents
Why paraphrasing tools are so popular
Paraphrasing is an incredibly important writing skill.
Yet it is often confused with plagiarism.
The idea of using a paraphrasing tool is sometimes frowned upon in academic circles. However, paraphrasing isn’t illegal.
In many cases it’s actively encouraged by academic bodies because it avoids submitting texts that are full of quotes and therefore difficult to read.
The best way of paraphrasing is to read the original text, understand it fully, and then rewrite from your own interpretation.
However, tools can also provide useful help and guidance where you need it.
Therefore, it’s not as simple as saying paraphrasing tools should or shouldn’t be used, full stop.
There are a huge variety of paraphrasing tools out there performing different functions. Each paraphrasing tool should be judged on its own merits.
Not every paraphrasing tool is built equal
Different paraphrasing tools vary hugely in what they can do.
Some simply give you more word or phrase options, like a thesaurus.
Nobody is ever going to tell you that you shouldn’t use a thesaurus.
Other paraphrase tools help you tone down the difficulty of a text, by suggesting easy words as replacements for difficult ones.
Some paraphrasing tools only replace words, while others attempt to rephrase and reorder entire sentences which can skew the meaning of a text.
The best type of paraphrasing tools in my opinion are those that give you different word or sentence options as you type, so you can make the final selection yourself.
Should paraphrasing tools be used at all?
If they are used properly, why not?
But it really depends how.
If you’re using them for inspiration or to help clarify or understand transcribed text then they can be helpful. That’s entirely different from running someone else’s work through a text spinner to pass off as your own.
The artificial intelligence used in writing tools has evolved rapidly. Today, you could argue that many of them make writing better. Like many of us, I’ve become accustomed to some of the writing tools we take for granted today.
Take this blog post, for instance.
I’m using a Yoast SEO plugin tool to give me direction. This tool is telling me how to improve my writing constantly.
With every word I write it’s giving me an SEO score, as well as a Flesch Reading Ease score.
These tools are used by almost everyone launching a successful blog.
Here’s how I’m doing right now:
That’s just two examples of language tools that have a valuable function.
My use of them isn’t unethical at all.
That’s because they undoubtedly help me make this article better for your benefit. Other tools you may be familiar with might include Grammarly, for example.
Therefore, I’m not about to discourage using a paraphrasing tool when you feel it can help you.
However, the key part of the previous sentence is the word ‘help‘.
A paraphrasing tool can help you. It can inspire you. It can give you ideas.
However, it CANNOT do the work for you.
Before we get to the 9 different ways to use an online paraphrasing tool properly, let’s quickly see where paraphrasing tools came from.
Where do paraphrasing tools come from?
Here’s the Oxford English Dictionary definition of paraphrase:
Here’s the origin of the word paraphrase.
It starts to become clearer why so many paraphrasing tools call themselves as such, simply because they swap words.
Where the confusion arises is that academic definition of paraphrasing goes further and clarifies that structure is also important.
Here’s a direct screenshot from Cincinnati library.
Hopefully you can start to see where some of the grey area is creeping in.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
What is the grey area when using a paraphrasing tool?
Let’s go back to our definition.
In the red box, I’ve highlighted the purpose of paraphrasing according to the OED.
Given that the purpose is ‘to achieve greater clarity’, why such a fuss about paraphrasing tools?
It’s because many of the self-labelled paraphrasing tools don’t actually paraphrase according to the academic definition.
Essentially, they perform a technical function. The idea of paraphrasing is a cognitive one.
Successful paraphrasing requires you to understand the source material and find a new way of communicating it.
When paraphrasing tools swap synonyms, they simply change the language.
It might look a bit like this:
Ethical academic paraphrasing requires more than just word swapping.
It requires different language AND a different structure.
The difference between paraphrasing and plagiarism
When you use an author’s specific words, you should put them within quotation marks.
Most people know this.
You must also credit the source, otherwise it’s plagiarism.
However, many people don’t understand that you can plagiarise more than exact words.
You can plagiarise ideas, theories, methods and structure.
In all of these instances, you must cite the source. Even if you don’t use the same language or quotes.
None of this means to say that you can’t integrate other people’s ideas into your writing. You just can’t pass it off as your own.
Paraphrasing is different from plagiarism.
There can be many reasons for paraphrasing. Here are two of the most common:
- Reworking the text and structure to make it shorter. If the original is a lengthy quote then you may want to do this to make it easier to read.
- Clarifying an idea for your readers. The text you might want to paraphrase may have a brilliant underlaying idea, but the language could be too complex or convoluted to quote. It might make sense for your readership to take the essence of the idea and reword in terms that are suitable for your audience.
For example, when children are learning about gravity, it’s unlikely that the best way to teach them would be through direct quotations from Sir Isaac Newton.
However, paraphrasing his ideas is more than acceptable.
In both of these instances you should still cite the source, but you don’t need to use any quotes. This can make your writing cleaner and easier to understand.
Academic institutions encourage writers to paraphrase properly rather than fill their essays with endless quotes which are hard to read.
When is it okay to borrow phrases?
Confusingly, there are instances when you can use the EXACT same language as a piece you’re paraphrasing and it wouldn’t count as plagiarism.
If something is considered common knowledge then you don’t need to quote or cite the source.
What is considered common knowledge?
Information that is already well-known and in the public domain is considered common knowledge.
- Historical dates
- Public figure birthdays
- Political dates
Essentially, the most factual information around well known figures is generally considered common knowledge.
Best ways to use an paraphrasing tool and best ones to use
So, we come to paraphrasing tools and how to use them.
Like any other tool, the best way to use a paraphrasing tool is to help you with your work. A paraphrasing tool can not, and should not, be used as a substitute for doing your work.
So, what are the best uses? And what is the best tool for each use?
1. To simplify or shorten text – rewordify
Certain texts are very difficult to understand.
This is especially true in niche areas like law and science.
Legal text is notoriously so difficult to understand that non-legally trained brains have trouble processing it.
Many paraphrasing tools have been developed to specify the type of texts and provide alternative words to make something simpler to understand. Often, this helps to shorten the text by enabling the writer to paraphrase an idea using only key sentences.
A great example of this is in teaching, whereby teachers may want to simplify the language of a text for younger students, or special needs students.
Many paraphrasing tools come with different language settings, for example: easy, moderate and difficult. These tools are handy in helping to rewrite the text and placing it next to an equivalent, so students can compare the meaning and learn more complex words.
You can use paraphrasing tools in this way as guidance, before selecting which words and phrases to rewrite your text around.
Here’s an example of paraphrasing a piece of text to make it easier to understand for a younger audience:
Recommended free paraphrasing tool:
I recommend trying out rewordify, whose main aim is to simplify text. It’s a popular tool among teachers for learning and teaching. Here’s a quick breakdown from their site.
2. To enrich the language – Quillbot
We’ve all reached points where we’re a little short of inspiration.
Our answer is usually to reach for a thesaurus to find different ways of saying the same thing.
Paraphrasing tools can be used in a similar way.
If you’ve written a piece of text that seems a bit flat, or the language doesn’t quite grab the reader, there’s nothing wrong with running your own text through a paraphrasing tool to enrich the language slightly.
Certain tools will not only help you reword your text, but also to rephrase it. They might help you rewrite it with a slightly different sentence structure that can give you inspiration.
There are plenty of times where this type of paraphrasing tool can come in useful. It might be that you’ve overused certain words higher up in your text and would like an alternative. It could be that you want to simplify some of your own language.
Using a paraphrasing tool for inspiration can help trigger your flow and move on when you’re getting stuck on a paragraph or specific sentence.
Note: if you’re using a tool to help you rephrase, make sure that it’s only as inspiration to give you ideas. Both rewording tools and rephrasing tools can result in clumsy sentences if you don’t do the final wording yourself.
Recommended paraphrasing tool:
I would use Quillbot for enriching your language. They have a special setting for ‘creative’, which will help you improve the flavour of the words you use and come up with more ideas.
They also have a number of useful premium features:
3. To find semantically related keywords – SEO Tool Station
Paraphrasing tools can be incredibly useful for SEO.
But just to be clear, I’m NOT talking about spinning or rewriting of articles. Many paraphrasing tools are used in this way to pass copied original material off as their own.
This is entirely unethical and can even get your site delisted on Google.
Luckily, Google’s algorithm is so sophisticated that this can often be identified. In any case, an entire article run through a text spinner or rewriting tool won’t make much sense.
However, there is a way that a paraphrasing tool can help with SEO that’s entirely ethical.
The answer is in helping you to identify semantically related keywords.
What are semantically related keywords:
When you write an article, Google doesn’t want you to stuff your keywords throughout the article.
First, that makes for a poor user experience.
Second, it’s fairly obvious that you’re trying to trick their search algorithm.
Instead, Google rewards articles and keywords that have plenty of other ‘expected’ keywords around it.
Here is an except from Search Engine Journal about semantically related keywords:
Here, a paraphrasing tool might come in useful for you by helping you to come up with some different words and phrases that vary your language properly.
Let’s say your keyword is ‘car’.
Google might also expect to see other words like ‘vehicle’ and ‘automobile’ in your article.
This would strengthen their assumption that your piece is a good match for those searching for the keyword ‘car’.
You can run your article through a paraphrasing tool, and write down a list of semantically related options that your tool identifies. Then you can weave some of these into your text.
Using a paraphrasing tool to identify related keywords is just one way that you can improve your SEO. But if ranking higher is your aim, you’re better off using Google own tools to help you.
Recommended paraphrasing tool for SEO:
I recommend SEO tool station because of the flexibility of its tool, and the range of functions. It claims to be able to write fill blogs. However, as I’ve already stated, I wouldn’t recommend doing this since article-spinning is unethical.
I would stick to including a range of synonyms that Google might expect to see alongside your keyword.
Try SEO tool station.
4. To paraphrase a quote – Paraphrasing tool
In academic writing, paraphrasing quotes is often encouraged.
If you don’t, your work will be full of quotes and could be very difficult to read.
Some quotes are so awkward that you may use a paraphrasing tool to help you understand its meaning, before altering the words yourself.
Here’s an example of paraphrasing a quote:
Again, it’s important to note that your paraphrasing tool may help you reword this quote by suggesting different words and a new sentence structure.
You can then take inspiration from both the quote and your paraphrased version to create a new version yourself that both makes sense and communicates the idea in a clean and simple way.
Here’s another example of a paraphrase replacing a quote:
Recommended paraphrasing tool:
5. For adjusting the text difficulty
Paraphrasing tools can be particularly useful for helping you to adjust the difficulty of a text.
For example, if you were to run a piece of text through a paraphrasing tool, it would mainly just swap synonyms to show you alternatives.
However, some paraphrasing tools allow you to toggle the difficulty setting. This allows you to choose the type of words that are selected as replacements.
You could adjust the settings so that words that the tool identified as ‘difficult’ would be replaced by words that are classified as ‘easy’.
Here it is in action:
In this example, the phrase ‘earn a commercial return‘ has been replaced with ‘profit‘.
The phrase ‘upward pressure’ has also been replaced by ‘push up’.
The overall effect on a piece of text would be to help you understand a difficult quote or idea.
This could also help you to bring down the reading age, so the new paraphrased text would be suitable for younger audiences.
Adjusting the text difficulty is useful for teachers setting lessons. They may want to try to amend the text so it’s appropriate for the different ability levels they teach.
6. For language exercises
Being able to correctly paraphrase is a key writing skill that you’ll use throughout your academic life and beyond.
However, it takes practice.
A great use for a paraphrasing tool is by teachers setting their lesson plans.
They may want to take a normal piece of text and run it through a paraphrasing tool so it loses some sense and understanding.
They would then students the task of rewriting it.
Manipulating texts for paraphrasing exercises and showing good vs. bad examples is a useful technique for helping people to learn.
7. For manual paraphrasing
A paraphrasing tool can be used to give you different language options WHILE you write.
An example of this type of tool would be a word or phrase suggestion tool.
With these tools, you will be given a list of potential words for each word in the text. You just have to choose the most appropriate word each time.
This is slightly different to most of the most common paraphrasing tools, because the tool itself doesn’t attempt a replacement for you. It simply gives you an option.
Therefore, you retain more control of the text.
This helps you fall the right side of the ethical line by making every final decision yourself.
The most common use for this type of tool is in creative writing, where you would benefit from including more adjectives within your text.
Here it is in action, giving you different types of phrases to choose from:
The disadvantage of this type of word replacement tool is that sometimes it can present you with a list of options that is too extensive. Some of these options may not be totally natural replacements for what you’re trying to say, making it easy to make a mistake when choosing.
This type of tool can also present an unusual problem.
Normally, it’s impossible to write a word that you haven’t heard of and don’t understand in your text. That’s because you can’t naturally write words you’ve never heard of!
With a text replacement tool, you may be given word options you don’t know or understand, and there may be a temptation to use them.
Word or phrase replacement tools can be useful for adding flavour to your writing. But like any paraphrasing helper tool, you need to use them wisely.
8. To use academic phrases
There are very few paraphrasing tools that are genuinely helpful with academic writing.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that one of the best tools gives you a selection of academic phrases to let you pick the best one to use.
Here’s a sample:
Again, academic writing requires an excellent knowledge of your subject, a paraphrasing tool won’t do the hard yards.
However, if you’re really struggling to start sentences, this tool can help you piece together your thoughts in a clear and concise way using an academic phrasebank.
9. To help clean up translations
Translated text often requires a rewrite.
In fact, translated text often has many of the characteristics of poor paraphrasing tools.
It features unusual word orders, and a strange choice of synonyms.
Running sentences through a paraphrasing tool can actually help bring the structure and wording closer to native language as the tool will identify when a word order doesn’t make sense in english and suggest a new one.
It’s unlikely that it’ll clean up the text completely, but it might still give you a helping hand.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that one of the most widely used language tools of all is Google Translate.
Bonus chapter: the worst uses for paraphrasing tools
Hopefully throughout this article you’ve noticed a theme.
Paraphrasing tools that deepen your understanding or give you inspiration are fine to use. They don’t attempt to pass work off as your own. They can help you learn new words, or identify new ways to start sentences.
The best ones give you several options. They work in a similar way to a thesaurus.
The worst uses of a paraphrasing tool are those that are dishonest, or purport to do your work for you.
The worst uses of a paraphrasing tool include:
- Online article spinning for SEO purposes
- Text spinning or rewording to pass someone else’s material off as your own
- Over-reliance on a tool to do your work for you
- Failing to understand a topic and using a paraphrasing tool to plug the gap
It’s important to remember that while paraphrasing tools can help for inspiration, they cannot do your work for you.
Many people turn to paraphrasing tools in the first place to try and copy or duplicate existing successful blogs. Trust me, there are easier and much more ethical ways to make money online.
Here’s an example that shows why swapping synonyms is never the way forward:
Imagine these type of mistakes littered across an entire article or blog piece. Google would quickly mark it as unreadable. Readers would quickly close it and move to a different article.
Before you know it, any attempts at improving SEO have been lost, and you’ll likely have done some harm to your website.
How to use a paraphrasing tool: a summary
Using a paraphrasing tool can extend your knowledge.
It can help you ideate words or phrases that might sound better, or help to simplify what you’re saying.
Paraphrasing tools can also give you writing options, or help you build lists of semantically related keywords.
The key is in recognizing the limitations of paraphrasing tools. Even with sophisticated AI, they can only perform basic functions. Using them to spin, rewrite or rephrase articles for you isn’t ethical. If fact, if you’re using it for web or SEO purposes, it can easily become a marketing mistake with serious consequences
Here are four basic principles to stick to:
Use paraphrasing tools with good intentions. i.e In the way you would use a Thesaurus, or to help you decipher a difficult quote before rewriting in your own words.
Never rely on a paraphrasing tool. Spinning articles just doesn’t work. Using it to copy work in academic writing can have serious consequences.
Use it mainly for individual words or short phrases. This means you won’t be in danger of using a tool instead of deepening your understanding.
Use it for lesson planning or to set exercises. These can be fun to do, and useful for your students.
If you’ve enjoyed this article or have any more ethical uses for paraphrasing tools, let me know in the comments below!