Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Poor writing reflects poor thinking; the phenomenon of "patchwriting"

The root cause of poor writing is almost always poor thinking.  Good writing is such hard work because it involves hashing out (often difficult) ideas in a clear and organized fashion rather than just the mechanical application of the rules of grammar and syntax. The ProfHacker over at the Chronicle of Higher Ed agrees and has written this column in which he says that the way to fix student writing is to help them better understand the underlying material.

Mr. ProfHacker also notes that the recent phenomenon of "patchwriting" is contributing to the problem in that students are able to compose papers by stringing together copied and pasted source material without first understanding it. 

At the recent meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), [Rebecca Moore Howard and Sandra Jamieson] report[ed] the early results from their “Citation Project.” Howard and Jamieson’s Citation Project describes itself as “a multi-institution research project responding to educators’ concerns about plagiarism and the teaching of writing.” However . . .  the results presented at CCCC are less about plagiarism and more about comprehension. On the question of how students are incorporating and acknowledging the sources they find through their research, Howard and Jamieson report that the vast majority of the first-year writing student essays studied so far are defined primarily by “patchwriting,” evidence that students are not really understanding or engaging the material they are reading for their essays.

The Citation Project Web site describes different methods writers have for incorporating research as follows:

Writers have four means by which they can incorporate source content into their text: they can quote, summarize, paraphrase, or patchwrite that content. Contemporary educational and media discourse has been focused on whether writers acknowledge their sources when they incorporate material from them. A more profound question is how writers incorporate source material; quotation, summary, paraphrase, and patchwriting are separate discursive moves representing different levels of intellectual engagement with the source. Quotation requires only the ability to copy. Paraphrase requires comprehension of and engagement with a small bit of text, such as a sentence. Summary requires engagement with an extended passage, even the entire text. Patchwriting stands between quotation and paraphrase; it is neither an exact copying nor a complete restatement.

. . . . patchwriting is “the copying of the original language with minimal alteration and with synonyms substituting for several original words.”

You can read more here.



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