Writers often refer to other texts through paraphrasing; when a text is paraphrased, it is re-written in the writer's own words and proper references are given.
If the paraphrasing is not done in a proper fashion, but resembles the source text (that is, the text on which it is based) too much, the risk of patchwriting occurs. Often, patchwriting is unintentional and it typically occurs when a paraphrase is too close to the original text, in structure as well as in style and vocabulary. Even if there is a reference to the source text, rewritings of source texts in the form of word-by-word substitution for synonyms are not acceptable, since they are not regarded as original text.
Rebecca Moore Howard (2001), who coined the term 'patchwriting,' states that
patchwriting comes from uneven reading comprehension: the student doesn't fully understand what she is reading and thus can't frame alternative ways for talking about its ideas. Or the student understands what she is reading but is new to the discourse. She merges her voice with that of the source to create a pastiche over which she exercises a new-found control. (para. 3)
Here lies the problem of patchwriting. Learning to write academic texts, writers struggle to acquire a new discipline-specific vocabulary and also a new style of phrasing their writing. As Howard indicates, if a text is too difficult for a writer who is attempting to paraphrase it, the risk of patchwriting increases.
In order to avoid patchwriting, careful handling of sources is, of course, essential, as well as knowledge about how to paraphrase. The basic rule of paraphrasing is to re-write the text in one's own words and give proper references to the source text.
If the writer wishes to use some phrasing from the source text, that portion of the text has to be quoted (that is, reproduced in an exact manner within quotation marks).
A study by Pecorari (2008) showed that student writers perceived patchwriting as "an alternative to quoting and paraphrasing which avoided the problems the writers associated with each" (p. 104). The students interviewed were afraid of quoting too much and thought that paraphrasing was difficult as it risked not doing justice to the source text.
Advice on how to paraphrase and quote in an efficient and correct manner is provided here: