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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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4.2.2 Writing using your own words

You can express someone else’s argument by reformulating the words that the original author wrote and citing the source. In doing so, you avoid plagiarising another person’s work and you improve your understanding of what is being said. How exactly you do this depends on the subject and your own writing style, but these principles should help:

  • Do not use exactly the same vocabulary as used in the original. However, there may be some essential words or technical phrases that you may not be able to avoid.
  • Change the structure of the argument. This should come naturally as you will need to choose the appropriate elements of the original argument depending upon the aims of your own assignment.
  • Change the structure of the sentences. If you need to reproduce someone’s argument quite closely, you might find it difficult to make your version sufficiently different from theirs. If changing the structure of the sentences proves untenable, then you could consider using a direct quote (by placing their argument in quotation marks, and citing the source – see Section 4.2.3).
  • Always select the aspect of the original argument that is relevant to your needs. Your assignment title will lead you towards a particular objective. Not all aspects of the originally published work will be pertinent, so choose the elements that are and leave the rest. This means that rather than simply saying what your opinion is without explanation, you give evidence and reasons to indicate how you have come to that conclusion or opinion.

Academic writing often requires you to synthesise or explain other people’s ideas and arguments. By putting these ideas into your own words you will not only avoid plagiarism, but also gain a deeper personal understanding of the subject matter.