Is Patchwriting Plagiarism?
Let’s start with a quiz. Don’t worry, it’s only one question, and you don’t need to know what patchwriting is. However, you should have a definition of plagiarism in mind before proceeding. Below is a quote and an example of a paraphrase provided by the Walden University Writing Center. The bolded and underlined words indicate the matches and similarities between the quote and the paraphrase. Does the paraphrase constitute plagiarism even though it includes a citation of the source?
Health professionals will need to be able to set common goals and targets with patients, service users and relevant stakeholders, and ensure that each group or individual is properly informed and engaged. From a systems thinking perspective, increased participation provides the opportunity to break down barriers between patients and providers, and citizens and policy makers. Evidence and explicit knowledge need to be integrated with tacit knowledge of stakeholders within the working dynamic of the health team. (Swanson et al., 2012)
Healthcare providers need to set common goals for patients, service users, and stakeholders (Swanson et al., 2012). Swanson et al. (2012) argued that more participation from all stakeholders can break down barriers between patients and providers. Evidence can be combined with tacit knowledge of all of the stakeholders on the team (Swanson et al., 2012).
That paraphrase demonstrates what is often referred to as patchwriting, but not everyone agrees whether or not patchwriting is plagiarism.
What is Patchwriting?
Patchwriting, sometimes referred to as mosaic plagiarism or patchwork paraphrasing, is one of the words on the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s “Words We’re Watching” list. Patchwriting has not yet been, and maybe will not be, included in that dictionary because it does not have “widespread and increasing use with a consistent meaning.” Rebecca Moore Howard is credited with coining the word “patchwriting” and initially defining it as “Copying from a source text and then deleting some words, altering grammatical structures, or plugging in one-for-one synonym-substitutes.” When someone engages in patchwriting, they copy portions without using quotation marks, rearrange parts, swap out words, delete or add other words, and/or alter the tense. Howard, a professor of writing and rhetoric, used to consider patchwriting to be plagiarism but had a change of heart and mind and began to view it as a valid way for students to enter into the culture of academic writing and make an honest effort to follow its conventions. Howard is involved in The Citation Project, which aims to reframe the plagiarism conversation. As far as Howard is concerned, patchwriting is not plagiarism because students do not intentionally plagiarize; they simply fail to properly paraphrase due to their inexperience and lack of understanding. Some educators agree with Howard, but many do not.
An internet search of the word “patchwriting” reveals that a lot of universities, writing centers, and teachers consider patchwriting to be plagiarism, even if a citation for the source is included. Other educators see patchwriting as a helpful technique in the early phases of a writing project, but view it as plagiarism if it appears in the final draft. Those who are more lenient with patchwriting tend to view it as a failed, yet genuine, attempt to paraphrase that is not punishable as plagiarism. For them, if students do not understand how to properly paraphrase and do not intend to plagiarize, then patchwriting is not plagiarism. However, when it comes to patchwriting students are intentionally copying, rearranging, or replacing words. And if they use an auto-paraphrasing tool, they are doing so intentionally.
When Howard coined the word “patchwriting” in the early 1990s, students likely were manually manipulating source quotes. But today the internet is rife with tools that will paraphrase for you, and it appears that the artificial intelligence behind those tools does not “know” how to paraphrase and is simply producing patchwriting.
What is Paraphrasing?
It is easy to find websites and software that claim to help writers properly paraphrase. The first free one that came up on my internet search was QuillBot so I tested it out by entering a quote I borrowed as an example from Kwantlen Polytechnic University just to see what would happen. The matching words are bolded and the similar ones are underlined.
We judge a foreigner’s knowledge of our language by the number and sort of mistakes he makes. We are inclined to think he knows our language quite well if he does not make many mistakes. It does not usually occur to us that he may be avoiding taking risks and confining himself to doing only what he knows he can do right
The quantity and type of errors a foreigner makes in our language is how we assess his proficiency. If he does not seem to make many mistakes, we are likely to believe that he is fairly proficient in our language. Usually, it doesn’t occur to us that he might be keeping himself from taking chances and limiting his activities to what he knows he can do well.
I then ran the same quote through Grammarly’s free paraphrasing tool because its website correctly defines paraphrasing as restating something in your own words and claims that its software helps students write better without plagiarizing. The bolded words match and the underlined ones are similar to the quote.
The number and types of errors that the foreigner makes is what we judge his knowledge of our language. We tend to think if he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, he is very well educated in our language. It’s not common for us to see people shy away from taking risks and confine themselves to doing only what they know can be done right.
Both QuillBot and Grammarly produced patchwriting, not paraphrasing, and Grammarly’s quality of writing was extremely poor. But what if those tools had produced a paraphrase that was not patchwriting? Would I be plagiarizing if I copied the paraphrase? When teachers tell students to paraphrase, they want them to put a text into their own words. If I use a website or software to produce a paraphrase, then I am not restating a source quote using my own words.
Patchwriting is nothing new, but it certainly is easier to do (or have done for you) than it was when Howard began pushing for it not to be considered plagiarism. Regardless if the word “patchwriting” ever makes it into a dictionary and is defined as plagiarism or not, it is an intentional act whether done manually or with auto-paraphrasing tools, and patchwriting is not paraphrasing. But is patchwriting plagiarism?