Writing Ethically and Well: Plagiarism, Patchwriting, and the Thesis/Dissertation

On Tuesday, October 23rd, The Graduate Center will sponsor a presentation, “Writing Ethically and Well: Plagiarism, Patchwriting, and the Thesis/Dissertation.” The presenter is Dr. Edward J. Eckel, associate professor at WMU and librarian at WMU’s University Libraries. The event will take place in the Walwood Commons at Walwood Hall, from 1:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Many students do not understand fully what plagiarism is or what doing it could mean to their current status as a student or their future career.  

a poster for the workshop Writing Ethically and Well: Plagiarism, Patchwriting, and the Thesis/Dissertation

We’ve all heard of high-profile cases when a college president or powerful professor is exposed as a plagiarist. They may lose their positions and are frequently blacklisted in academia. If found responsible, students also can sustain sanctions from failing the class to being dismissed from their programs, up to being dismissed from the university permanently.

Students at all levels may find it difficult to understand the exact definitions of plagiarism and how to avoid it in their writing. Often it is as simple as using another author’s words without quoting, making it appear that the student came up with that pithy quote all by him or herself.  For careful professors, it is immediately clear that the student has plagiarized, especially if the professor is familiar with the material. It could mean copying fragments, sentences, or whole paragraphs from a source, without attribution. Again, most professors will catch these types of plagiarism, since often the original source does not sound like the writing of the actual student who has “borrowed” from the source. In addition, there are plagiarism detection software systems, such as Turn-It-In, into which professors can submit papers to determine if plagiarism exists in those documents. Or they can just type the phrase into Google and see if it comes up.

Patchwriting, a form of plagiarism, usually happens when the writer does not fully understand the information he or she is writing about. It generally occurs when students write too closely to the original source without using the appropriate attribution. It may come in the form of copying sections of an original source or multiple sources and presenting the information as if the student is the author:  for instance, taking out certain words or phrases but conforming to the wording and structure and ideas of the original (s), creating something like a “patchwork quilt”.  It could also mean using a thesaurus to change key words to another word with the same meaning. At the outset, patchwriting can help a student understand a concept; for instance, students can use it as a method to understand content, but it is never appropriate for use in the final paper. By that time students should have come to fully understand the concepts and be able to write fluently on the subject, not using another author’s structure, wording or ideas, unless they are credited fully.

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