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Handout: Comparing Policies

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From: Howard, Rebecca Moore. "Plagiarisms, Authorships, and the Academic Death Penalty." College English 57.7 (Nov. 1995): 708-36. Print.

Copyright 1995 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

It is perhaps never the case that a writer composes "original" material, free of any influence. It might be more accurate to think of creativity, of fresh combinations made from existing sources, or fresh implications for existing materials An important requirement of most academic writing is acknowledging one's sources. We all work from sources, even when we are being creative. American academic culture demands that writers who use the exact words of a source supply quotation marks at the beginning and end of the quotation, so that the reader can know where the voice of the source begins and ends. In addition, the writer must use footnotes, parenthetical notes, or endnotes to cite the source, so that the reader can consult that source if he or she chooses. Writers must also acknowledge the sources not only of words but also of ideas, insofar as is possible, even when they are not quoting word for word. Moreover, in final-draft writing, academic writers may not paraphrase a source by using its phrases and sentences, with a few changes in grammar or word choice-even when the source is cited. Plagiarism is the representation of a source's words or ideas as one's own. Plagiarism occurs when a writer fails to supply quotation marks for exact quotations; fails to cite the sources of his or her ideas; or adopts the phrasing of his or her sources, with changes in grammar or word choice. Plagiarism takes three different forms-cheating, non-attribution of sources, and patchwriting:

1. Cheating: Borrowing, purchasing, or otherwise obtaining work composed by someone else and submitting it under one's own name. The minimum penalty is an "F" in the course; the maximum penalty, suspension from the university.

2. Non-attribution: Writing one's own paper but including passages copied exactly from the work of another (regardless of whether that work is published or unpublished or whether it comes from a printed or electronic source) without providing (a) footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical notes that cite the source and (b) quotation marks or block indentation to indicate precisely what has been copied from the source. Because non-attribution is sometimes the result of a student's inexperience with conventions of academic writing, instruction in source attribution and subsequent revision of the paper may be the instructor's most appropriate response. Non-attribution can alternatively be the result of a student's intent to deceive, in which case the minimum penalty is an "F" in the course and the maximum penalty, suspension from the university.

3. Patchwriting: Writing passages that are not copied exactly but that have nevertheless been borrowed from another source, with some changes-a practice which The Bedford Handbook for Writers calls "paraphrasing the source's language too closely" (477). This "patchwriting" is plagiarism regardless of whether one supplies footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical notes that acknowledge the source. However, patchwriting is not always a form of academic dishonesty; it is not always committed by immoral writers. Often it is a form of writing that learners employ when they are unfamiliar with the words and ideas about which they are writing. In this situation, patchwriting can actually help the learner begin to understand the unfamiliar material. Yet it is a transitional writing form; it is never acceptable for final-draft academic writing, for it demonstrates that the writer does not fully understand the source from which he or she is patchwriting. Because patchwriting can result from a student's inexperience with conventions of academic writing, instruction in quotation and source attribution and a request for subsequent revision of the paper may be an appropriate response for the instructor. But because patchwriting often results from a student's unfamiliarity with the words and ideas of a source text, instruction in the material discussed in the source and a request for subsequent revision of the paper is even more frequently the appropriate response. Patchwriting can also be the result of a student's intent to deceive, in which case the minimum penalty is an "F" in the course and the maximum penalty, suspension from the university.

Additional advice for students:

Both citation (footnotes, parenthetical notes, or endnotes) and quotation marks are required whenever you copy exact words and phrases from a source. When you paraphrase or summarize but do not copy exactly, citation is still required. When in doubt, cite; over-citation is an error, but under-citation is plagiarism. Your citations should follow a recognized style sheet; you should not make up your own system. If your instructor does not specify a style sheet, you may want to adopt the MLA style, which is described in The Bedford Handbook for Writers, or the APA system. The sources you should cite include not only printed materials but also electronic sources. Most style sheets are currently publishing new editions that provide advice for citing sources obtained by computer-materials from the Internet or CD Rom disks, for example. The sources you should cite also include contributions that others may make to your drafts in progress-friends, family, classmates, and tutors who gave you ideas for your essay or who made suggestions for its improvement. Writers customarily provide a single discursive footnote to acknowledge such contributions. Often the footnote appears at the end of the title or the first paragraph of the essay. Usually one to three sentences, naming the contributors to the paper and sketching the nature and extent of their contributions, suffice. Patchwriting, the third type of plagiarism listed above, is an issue somewhat more complicated than that of citation. For example, a student who had never before studied theories of mythology read the following passage:

The world of the Ancient Near East, however, was familiar with myth of a rather different kind, myth as the spoken word which accompanied the performance of certain all-important religious rituals. (Davidson 11)

The student then wrote a paper that included this patchwriting:

Davidson explains ritual myths as concepts that are illustrated through spoken words but are also accompanied by the performance of religious ceremonies.

(Qtd. in Howard 237).

The student deleted many phrases from the original (such as "The world of the Ancient Near East") and substituted synonyms ("ceremonies" for "rituals," for example). But the structure of the student's prose is that of Davidson, following exactly the latter half of Davidson's sentence. The student obviously did not write this passage with the intention of deceiving, for he acknowledges that these are Davidson's ideas ("Davidson explains"). The student's motivation sprang from neither a lack of morality nor an ignorance of footnoting procedures, but rather from a difficulty in understanding Davidson's text. Patchwriting in such a situation can be an effective means of helping the writer understand difficult material; blending the words and phrasing of the source with one's own words and phrasing may have helped the student comprehend the source. But it is not an acceptable practice for public writing-for the papers that one hands in. Patchwriting can help the student toward comprehending the source; but patchwriting itself demonstrates that the student does not yet understand that source. The next step beyond patchwriting-a step whereby you can come to understand the text-is effective summary: Read the source through quickly to get its general ideas, perhaps reading only the first sentence of each paragraph. Then re-read, more slowly. Go through it a third time and take notes. Then let some time elapse-a half hour should be enough-and with the book closed, write your own summary of it. (Never try to summarize or paraphrase a source while looking at that source.) With the book closed, what you write will be in your own words and sentences. Once you have drafted your summary, go back to the book and check to see if any of your phrasing resembles that of the source; if so, quote it exactly. Provide page citations for both your paraphrases and for quotations. Also, check your version to see what you forgot; what you forgot is usually what you didn't understand. Now it is time to visit your instructor for additional help in understanding the material. But you must never let yourself fall into patchwriting as a substitute for understanding the material.