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Academic Integrity

Guide to having academic integrity and avoiding plagiarism

Preventing Patchwriting

Another essential step in avoiding plagiarism is understanding the phenomenon of patchwriting, also known as patchwork plagiarism.

Patchwork crazy quiltPatchwork, when used in a general context, means a combination of a number of different items or elements into one, often a single image, design, and/or object.  A patchwork quilt  is one of the most well-known and oldest examples.

In the areas of writing and plagiarism, the term "patchwriting" is used in two main contexts.  In both, the writer is 'patching' words, sentences and/or ideas together--usually without the appropriate amount of their own work and words.

  • One context, the less serious of the two, means using--and even properly citing--'patches' of words and/or sentences from multiple sources and combining them together as your sentences and paragraphs.  
    • The problem with using this approach to writing, especially in an academic or professional context, is that the 'patches' almost always outnumber the writer's own thoughts.  
    • As we mention on the "Plagiarism Basics" page of this guide, in discussing over-quoting and over-paraphrasing: "You should use reliable information sources to support your arguments, but the majority of what you write should be your own."
    • When looking at your writing: if almost every sentence requires a citation because it came from somewhere else, then you have too much of other people's ideas in your work.  Our "Integrating Sources Ethically" page discusses the different ways to properly use the work of others along with your own.


  • The second context, however is more serious and can happen when a writer attempts to paraphrase but does not make the effort to do it correctly.
    • One way that writers do that is to take a source's sentence(s), substitute synonyms for many of the words, but leave the sentence structure intact.  With easy access to an online thesaurus (e.g. Google), this is much faster than it was in the pre-internet era and significantly easier than doing a proper paraphrase.
      • Original: "The pressures are real, especially at our workplaces.  Whatever we do, most of us work longer and harder than ever, while worrying more about our future in an uncertain economy."
      • Poor paraphrase: The tensions are substantial, particularly at our jobs.  No matter what our job, most of us work more hours and put in more effort than our predecessors, while being more concerned about our prospects in an insecure marketplace.
    • An even more serious violation is when the writer does not bother to change many, if any of the words of the original, but simply moves them around.  In the example below, the writer condenses 2 sentences into 1 by removing some of the words--but the words that remain are all from the original, with the 2 main ideas simply switched.
      • Original: "The continuous advances in technology link businesses, organizations, cultures, families, and individuals, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  The advent of the Internet and better mobile technologies means that people are reachable anytime, anywhere in the world."
      • Poor paraphrase: "The Internet means that people are reachable anywhere in the world and technology links business, culture, families and individual people 24/7."


Your inclusion of quotes, paraphrases, and summaries from sources you consulted should always be explained in the context of how they support your overall argument--your ideas and thoughts about the topic.  It should be obvious to the reader why you chose the words/ideas you are citing.