It is important to understand the difference between a quote and a paraphrase.
A quote is the original, word-for-word use of a part of an original document. All quotes must be attached to the original source and should incorporate the correct use of quotation marks. (View the using quotations page for more info on quotes.)
A paraphrase is taking the central idea from a part of an original document while changing the original wording and structure. Even though the wording and structure is changed, paraphrases must also be attached to the original source.
The ability to paraphrase material is an important skill since most writers will have to paraphrase frequently when researching and writing, and paraphrasing is often more acceptable than quoting. The reason for this is because paraphrasing requires more creativity and allows a writer to better incorporate the original information into his writing. A paraphrase is generally a condensed version of the original material.
The key to successful paraphrasing is changing both the words and the sentence structure of the original source. Most writers know to change the wording, but in order to paraphrase correctly, it is necessary to also change the sentence structure of the original passage.
The following is an example of an acceptable paraphrase: (note: like a quote, this type of paraphrase still requires proper citation.)
Original: Transitions are an important element in any essay since they show how different ideas and/or topics are connected. Transitions are needed at all levels: between larger ideas, such as paragraphs, and between smaller ideas, such as between sentences. Effective transitions allow an essay to be unified.
Paraphrase: Transitions are needed throughout an essay since they help unify ideas. They should be used between sentences and paragraphs. The use of transitions helps show how different ideas in an essay are connected to each other.
Notice how both the original wording and structure (or order) have been changed. Changing both is the key to a successful paraphrase.