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Jessie Ball duPont Library

Paranoid about Plagiarism?


What is paraphrase?

"Paraphrase is the point-by-point recapitulation of another person's ideas, expressed in your own words. When you paraphrase, you retain everything about the original writing but the words." -- Brenda Spatt, Writing from Sources


Original passage --

"So, a leader doesn't have to possess all the virtuous qualities I've mentioned, but it's absolutely imperative that he seem to possess them. I'll go so far as to say this: if he had those qualities and observed them all the time, he'd be putting himself at risk. It's seeming to be virtuous that helps; as, for example, seeming to be compassionate, loyal, humane, honest and religious. And you can even be those things, so long as you're always mentally prepared to change as soon as your interests are threatened. What you have to understand is that a ruler, especially a ruler new to power, can't always behave in ways that would make people think a man good, because to stay in power he's frequently obliged to act against loyalty, against charity, against humanity and against religion. What matters is that he has the sort of character that can change tack as luck and circumstances demand, and, as I've already said, stick to the good if he can but know how to be bad when the occasion demands. 

So a ruler must be extremely careful not to say anything that doesn't appear to be inspired by the five virtues listed above; he must seem and sound wholly compassionate, wholly loyal, wholly humane, wholly honest and wholly religious...Everyone sees what you seem to be, few have experience of who you really are, and those few won't have the courage to stand up to majority opinion underwritten by the authority of state. When they're weighing up what someone has achieved -- and this is particularly true with rulers, who can't be held to account -- people look at the end result. So if a leader does what it takes to win power and keep it, his methods will always be reckoned honorable and widely praised. The crowd is won over by appearances and final results. And the world is all crowd: the dissenting few find no space so long as the majority have any grounds at all for their opinions." -- Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Sample paraphrase --

It is more important for a ruler to give the impression of goodness than to be good. In fact, real goodness can be a liability, but the pretense is always very effective. It is all very well to be virtuous, but it is vital to be able to shift in the other direction whenever circumstances require it. After all, rulers, especially recently elevated ones, have a duty to perform which may absolutely require them to act against the dictates of faith and compassion and kindness. One must act as circumstances require and, while it's good to be virtuous if you can, it's better to be bad if you must. In public, however, the ruler should appear to be entirely virtuous, and if his pretense is successful with the majority of people, then those who do see through the act will be outnumbered and impotent, especially since the ruler has the authority of government on his side. In the case of rulers, even more than for most men, the end justifies the means. If the ruler is able to assume power and administer it successfully, his actions will always be judged proper and satisfactory; for the common people will accept the pretense of virtue and the reality of success, and the astute will find no one is listening to their warnings.

Tips to Remember: 

  1. Look up in a dictionary the meanings of all the words of which you are uncertain. Pay special attention to the difficult words, considering the context of the whole passage.
  2. Write a literal paraphrase of each passage by substituting appropriate synonyms within the original sentence structure.
  3. Revise your literal paraphrase, keeping roughly to the same length and number of sentences as the original but using your own sentence style and phrasing throughout. You may prefer to put the original passage aside at this point and work entirely from your literal version.
  4. Read your free paraphrase aloud to make sure that it makes sense.

Adapted from Writing from Sources, 8th edition, by Brenda Spatt