Living Reference Work Entry

Handbook of Academic Integrity

pp 1-13

Date: Latest Version

Is It Plagiarism or Patchwriting? Toward a Nuanced Definition


Prior to the 1970s, student writers were advised to incorporate the ideas of the authors they read in one of two ways: summary or quotation. With increasing instruction in paraphrase as an acceptable method of reproducing the ideas of others came the recognition that sometimes when students produce something that looks like paraphrase, they are actually drawing too heavily on the words of the source rather than rendering the ideas in “original language.” The resulting text has been called patchwriting, cryptomnesia, unconscious plagiarism, and non-prototypical plagiarism, along with various subcategories including clause quilt, copy and paste, word string, pawn sacrifice, and cut and slide plagiarism. The term most commonly used in the USA is patchwriting, although the definition of that term is not fixed and neither is the classification of patchwriting as plagiarism. Some teachers and scholars argue that when patchwriting is accompanied by some form of citation, it should not be classified as plagiarism or as ethical or moral misconduct, but rather as misuse of sources. In some cases that distinction hangs on the concept of intent, which for many is connected with the question of the reading and writing skills of the students in question. Recent research into reading and citation has complicated beliefs about the role of textual difficulty and about student reading practices and source use, suggesting the need for more complex analysis and more nuanced terminology. This chapter describes the distinctions scholars have drawn between plagiarism and the misuse of sources most commonly referred to as patchwriting.