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:

Example: Patchwriting (click to expand/contract)

In the following example, the source text (the original text, emphasis added)) is found in the left column, whereas a constructed example of patchwriting is found to the right. The passages that overlap have been highlighted.

Note how the attempted paraphrase (the patchwriting) is too close to the source; instead of paraphrasing the source text, there are word-for-word substitutions of synonyms and identical sentence structures.

Source text

Example of patchwriting


Teens are widely recognized as an influential consumer segment, both for the purchases they make themselves and for purchases over which they exert indirect control. Teens are frequently noted as a source of influence on family purchases. In addition to the gifts they select for others, they also influence the gifts others select for them by vocalizing their material wants, including using such strategies as "wish lists." Given this influence and the many forms of relationships teens are likely to maintain (parental, friendship, romantic interest, familial), teens make an ideal segment for studying the meaning of gift cards in gift exchange. The study includes the perspective of teens as both givers and receivers. (Tuten & Kiecker, 2008, 69)

In their article 'The perfect gift card: An exploration of teenagers' gift card associations' (2009) Tuten and Kiecker state that teenagers are generally recognized as an important consumer group, both in view of what they buy themselves and for purchases they indirectly control. Since teens can be expected to have many kinds of relationships (with parents, with friends, with boyfriends and girlfriends, with relatives), they were seen as a perfect group for a study on the meaning of gift cards in the exchange of gifts.

For further reading: Patchwriting (click to expand/contract)

The following articles discuss patchwriting from different perspectives:

  • Howard, R.M. (1995). Plagiarisms, authorships, and the academic death penalty. National Council of Teachers of English. 57, 788-807. [Access via LibHub]
  • Pecorari, D. (2003). Good and original: Plagiarism and patchwriting in academic second-language writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 12, 317-345. [Access via LibHub]
  • Abasi, A.R. & Akbari, N. (2008). Are we encouraging patchwriting? Reconsidering the role of the pedagogical context in ESL student writers' transgressive intertextuality. English for Specific Purposes, 27, 267-284. [Access via LibHub]