The Difference between Patchwriting and Paraphrasing


When you want to use someone else’s idea in your essay or report, you can either put the idea in quotation marks (“This is a quotation”) or you can paraphrase the idea. Let’s imagine you want to use this idea:

“In 2016, 29.8% of Canadians reported being able to conduct a conversation in French.” (Source: Statistics Canada, 2017)

Proper paraphrasing is when the writer rewrites the borrowed idea in his or her own words. When paraphrasing, you can do the following:

  • use synonyms for words (e.g. conduct -> have)
  • change the structure of the sentence (e.g. changing from active to passive voice)
  • change word forms (e.g. changing a noun (conversation) to a verb (converse))
  • change the order of information (e.g. moving In 2016 to the end of the sentence)

(For more on paraphrasing strategies, see here.) Here’s an example of a proper paraphrase of the above idea:

  • Paraphrasing: According to 2016 statistics, 29.8 percent of Canadians said they could converse in French (Statistics Canada, 2017).

As you can see, the idea is the same but the idea is expressed in different language. An in-text citation has also been added to credit the original author. (Note: Statistics Canada should also be found in the Reference or Works Cited page at the end of the paper.)

What is Patchwriting?

Patchwriting is when the writer doesn’t change the original words enough. Here is an example with the previous idea:

“In 2016, 29.8% of Canadians reported being able to conduct a conversation in French (Statistics Canada, 2017).”

  • Patchwriting: In 2016, 29.8% of people in Canada reported being able to have a conversation in French (Statistics Canada, 2017).

This is unacceptable because most of the language is the same. If you submit this sentence to a plagiarism checker (such as TurnItIn), it will find that about 80% of the words are the same, which suggests you have plagiarized:

  • Patchwriting: In 2016, 29.8% of people in Canada reported being able to have a conversation in French (Statistics Canada, 2017).

Compare this to the similarity of the proper paraphrase above:

  • Paraphrasing: According to 2016 statistics, 29.8 percent of Canadians said they could converse in French (Statistics Canada, 2017).

This is much better. Also, it’s important to note that the following keywords cannot (easily) be changed: 29.8, Canadians, French, 2016. If we change these words/numbers, the sentence either loses its meaning or becomes very unnatural.

Why is Patchwriting Bad?

  1. Your teacher wants to see your writing skills, so most of the words in your essays should be your own.
  2. When you don’t use quotation marks around a sentence, it means that you have written the sentence yourself. However, if the sentence is mostly someone else’s words, then you are taking credit for someone else’s writing, which is unacceptable.

Important: Don’t Just Use Synonyms when Paraphrasing

Weak paraphrasing usually happens when students only change a few words by using synonyms from a thesaurus. For example:

The asset price bubble in Japan from 1986 to 1991 was caused by inflated real estate and stock market prices.”

  • Patchwriting: The asset price bubble in Japan from 1986 to 1991 was caused by high real estate and stock market values.

This is patchwriting. The main problem is the sentence structure is the same. To avoid patchwriting, change the sentence structure. Here are two examples with proper paraphrasing:

  • Paraphrasing: Inflation in the Japanese real estate and the stock markets led to an asset price bubble from 1986 to 1991.

The sentence here has changed from passive voice (was caused) to active voice (led). The order of information has also changed, along with word forms (inflated > inflation).

  • Paraphrasing: The reason for the Japanese bubble from 1986 to 1991 was inflation in both the stock and real estate markets.

The main verb in this sentence is now the BE verb. Several words have also been changed.

Although some of the keywords are the same, the above examples of paraphrasing are much better because of changes in sentence structure, the order of ideas, and word forms.

Don't patchwrite; paraphrase!

This is a patch. Instead of using a patch, rewrite the whole sentence!

How much Paraphrasing is Necessary? 50%? 80%?

The answer can depend on your instructor. Some keywords (e.g. names of people, company names, dates, numbers) cannot be changed. However, if we look at the examples above, most (e.g. 70%) of the non-keywords have been changed.

If you are a student, it’s important to show your teacher that you’ve made an effort to use your own words. If it’s obvious that you’ve been lazy because you haven’t tried to paraphrase, then you will likely lose marks (and possibly even get a zero for plagiarism).

Key Points

  • Patchwriting is when you do not use enough of your own words when you are paraphrasing.
  • To avoid patchwriting, rewrite the idea in your own words. This means not only using synonyms but also changing the sentence’s structure and the order of ideas.
  • Remember that the meaning of the sentence should not change.

 

Lastly, remember that if you are borrowing an idea from someone else, you should add an in-text citation (usually in APA or MLA format) and add the author to our References or Works Cited page at the end of the paper.

Do you think you understand? Try these exercises on identifying proper paraphrasing.

Patchwriting Exercises: Is this Patchwriting, Paraphrasing, or Neither?

Original: “Although cats and dogs are some of the most popular pets, freshwater fish are the most common pet in the United States.” (Source: Johnson, 2018)

1. Freshwater fish are actually the most common pet in the U.S. though cats and dogs are also quite popular (Johnson, 2018).

Show Answer

Paraphrasing – the meaning is the same and the words have been changed sufficiently.

2. In the United States, cats and dogs are more popular than freshwater fish as pets (Johnson, 2018).

Show Answer

Incorrect – the meaning of the sentence has changed.

3. Though cats and dogs are some of the most popular pets, freshwater fish are the most common pet in the U.S. (Johnson, 2018).

Show Answer

Patchwriting – only two words have changed.


Original: “The fastest land animal in the world, a cheetah, can reach 69.5 mph in just three seconds. (“Animal Facts”, n.d.)”

1. The quickest land animal in the world, a cheetah, can run up to 69.5 mph in only three seconds (“Animal Facts”, n.d.).

Show Answer

Patchwriting – only three words have changed (‘fastest’, ‘reached’, and ‘just’).

2. The cheetah is the world’s fastest animal. In only three seconds, it can reach a speed of 69.5 miles per hour (“Animal Facts”, n.d.).

Show Answer

Paraphrasing – the meaning is the same and the words and structure have been changed sufficiently.

3. The cheetah can run 69.5 miles in three seconds, which makes it the fastest animal in the world (“Animal Facts”, n.d.).

Show Answer

Incorrect – the meaning of the sentence has changed. It cannot run 69.5 miles in three seconds. That is its speed, not the distance.


Original: “Students might plagiarize due to laziness, panic, or a lack of knowledge (Khan, 2019).”

1. A lack of knowledge is the main reason why students plagiarize (Khan, 2019).

Show Answer

Incorrect – the meaning of the sentence has changed.

2. Panic, laziness, or insufficient knowledge can cause students to have problems with plagiarism (Khan, 2019).

Show Answer

Paraphrasing – the meaning is the same and the words and structure have been changed sufficiently.

3. A student might plagiarize due to panic, laziness, or a lack of knowledge (Khan, 2019).

Show Answer

Patchwriting – Only one word has changed (‘students’ became ‘a student’).

Questions? Find a mistake? Please leave a comment below.

— Created by Matthew Barton of Englishcurrent.com (copyright)

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