Module 2: Paraphrase the Question

Getting from the opening question to the real need.


Paraphrasing is a useful technique in the reference interview. By paraphrasing, you can repeat back what the patron has said without adding any thoughts or questions of your own. You mirror the patron’s thoughts, showing them what the questions sounds like to you. These should be statements, not questions—you do not want to sound incredulous that the person would ask such a question! The reference desk should be a judgment-free zone.

Outcomes of paraphrasing:

  1. Reassures the patron that you are listening to them
  2. Gives you reassurance that you have heard the patron correctly
  3. Allows the patron to correct your interpretation if necessary
  4. Allows the patron to clarify or amplify their original request with more information

Example of Paraphrasing:

The patron says, “I really need information on Ohio. 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 Ohio” or “You’re looking for information about Ohio.”

Paraphrasing in Virtual Reference

In any type of virtual reference you must still invoke the same steps and skills of the reference process. Because virtual reference lacks vocal intonations or inflections, paraphrasing is even more important in this environment!

Major Point: Paraphrasing is a useful technique to discover more information.


Many of the ORE Module pages will ask you to work with the reference collection and with your local staff. Sometimes the best reference resources are the “human resources.”

Write down the answers to the exercise questions in this module and keep them to review with your supervisor at the end of the module.

How would you paraphrase the following questions?

  1. Can you assist me in finding the value of some coins I have?
  2. Can you help me with my taxes?