Paraphrasing is a useful technique that will help you discover a patronís real information need. You repeat back what the patron said in their words without adding any thoughts or questions of your own. You mirror the patron's thoughts, showing the patron what the question "looks like" to you.


The patron says, " I really need information on Minnesota. I've looked all over the place and haven't found what I want. I tried those books over there and they didn't help, and I'm still looking. I just can't seem to find what I need."

You can say, "You need information on Minnesota".

This is a statement, not a question. If you make it a question, it may sound like you are incredulous that the person would ask such a question! You want to know the state flower of MINNESOTA? You want to know the names of your representatives in CONGRESS? You want information on ABORTION?

Paraphrasing has three outcomes.

  1. It reassures the patron that you have are listening to them.

  2. It reassures you that you have heard correctly.

  3. The patron may clarify or amplify their original request with more information.

Paraphrasing is also useful when you have a very talkative patron. Sometimes people will tell you their story, and then tell you again, then again. They might want to be sure you heard them. If you paraphrase after the first telling, they will know you understand and will continue with the rest of their story. You can also used paraphrasing to direct a patron who is rambling on and on, by interrupting to paraphrase a specific point in their request, and thus directing their conversation.

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This page was last updated on April 25, 2003.