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Patchwork Paraphrasing

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I’m sure you’ve heard about paraphrasing. It’s fundamental to academic writing; it’s better than quoting, because a paraphrase, created with your own perceptions and language, is more closely connected to your ideas than someone else’s writing could ever be. Some (including me) would argue that paraphrasing is the bedrock of scholarly discourse. You’ve probably heard all of this. However, even when students know the importance of paraphrasing, and they try to paraphrase their sources rather than quoting them, they will sometimes unintentionally create something between a quote and a paraphrase, a half-measure that can weaken their writing: a patchwork paraphrase.

What is Patchwork Paraphrasing?

Writing instructors use the term patchwork for this kind of text because it has a pieced-together, hodge-podge quality rather than the seamless integration of strong academic writing. A patchwork paraphrase contains much of the same language or structure as the source it refers to, so much so that it isn’t a unique product of its author. You don’t want patchwork paraphrasing in your writing for a  few reasons, the most important ones being (a) it functions like a quote in your argument (which, as we know, isn’t as good as a paraphrase) and (b) it could be interpreted as plagiarism. 

Patchwork paraphrasing can be tricky to detect, because there’s no easy rule or telltale sign to help you determine whether your writing is patchwork. Instead, you’ll need to ask yourself this question as you write: is this phrasing truly my own creation?
quilt image
Patchwork paraphrasing is sometimes referred to as "quilted text"--
writing that does not use the author's voice but is instead primarily 
made up of words and phrases from the original source or sources.

Patchwork Examples

Let’s look at an example to get a better sense of how you can answer this question. I pulled this passage from an article I found on systems thinking in healthcare:
Health professionals will need to be able to set common goals and targets with patients, service users and relevant stakeholders, and ensure that each group or individual is properly informed and engaged. From a systems thinking perspective, increased participation provides the opportunity to break down barriers between patients and providers, and citizens and policy makers. Evidence and explicit knowledge need to be integrated with tacit knowledge of stakeholders within the working dynamic of the health team. (Swanson et al., 2012)
Here’s a patchwork paraphrase of the same passage:

Healthcare providers need to set common goals for patients, service users, and stakeholders (Swanson et al., 2012). Swanson et al. (2012) argued that more participation from all stakeholders can break down barriers between patients and providers. Evidence can be combined with tacit knowledge of all of the stakeholders on the team (Swanson et al., 2012).

Notice that, technically, I’m not plagiarizing: I didn’t reuse large chunks of the passage word-for-word, and I included citations whenever I mentioned an idea from my source. However, in these sentences I used virtually the same structure as the original passage and didn’t provide my unique understanding of the topic. Compare this sentence from the original

From a systems thinking perspective, increased participation provides the opportunity to break down barriers between patients and providers, and citizens and policy makers.

with this one from my patchwork paraphrase (I’ve highlighted the major similarity)

Swanson et al. (2012) argue that more participation from all stakeholders can break down barriers between patients and providers.

In another sentence, I avoided using the original’s exact wording. However, rather than rephrasing the idea in my own voice—as I should do—I used synonyms of the original’s words. Compare this sentence from the original

Health professionals will need to be able to set common goals and targets with patients, service users and relevant stakeholders, and ensure that each group or individual is properly informed and engaged.

with this from my patchwork (I’ve also highlighted the similarities here)

Healthcare providers need to set common goals for patients, service users, and stakeholders (Swanson et al., 2012).

Instead of a paraphrase, I’ve only produced a knockoff of the original, much like Mr. Pibb was made as a knockoff of Dr. Pepper. (You can surmise which one is more scholarly based on the fact that Dr. Pibb had his degree revoked.)

A Better Paraphrase

Let’s look instead at a true paraphrase of the original:

Original:
Health professionals will need to be able to set common goals and targets with patients, service users and relevant stakeholders, and ensure that each group or individual is properly informed and engaged. From a systems thinking perspective, increased participation provides the opportunity to break down barriers between patients and providers, and citizens and policy makers. Evidence and explicit knowledge need to be integrated with tacit knowledge of stakeholders within the working dynamic of the health team. (Swanson et al., 2012)

Paraphrase:
Swanson et al. (2012), in their application of systems thinking to health care, argued that providers, patients, and other stakeholders can use goal setting, increased participation, and the integration of tacit and explicit knowledge to create positive change in their healthcare settings.

You’ll notice that, while I’ve used a few of the same words as the original (which I’ve highlighted), I’ve used a different sentence structure here. This paraphrase is also shorter than the patchwork, because I’ve focused on the aspects of Swanson et al.’s ideas that matter for my argument.

Your paraphrase of this passage would look different from mine, which is good; it would represent your understanding, not mine. You should strive for this individuality in your own paraphrasing, because this is why people will want to read your writing rather than the sources you’re using: to see your unique ideas.

Reference
Swanson, R. C., Cattaneo, A., Bradley, E., Chunharas, S., Atun, R., Abbas, K. M., … Best, A. (2012). Rethinking health systems strengthening: Key systems thinking tools and strategies for transformational change. Health Policy and Planning, 27(Suppl. 4), 54–61. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czs090

author

Matt Sharkey-Smith is a writing instructor and the coordinator of the graduate writing initiatives in the Walden Writing Center. 
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11 comments :

  1. Also one of the best experiences to go with.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Randy!

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  2. Thanks for sharing this impressive post.

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  3. That's indeed interesting post.

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  4. Replies
    1. Thanks for reading, Samina! We hope this helps with patchwork paraphrasing.

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  5. I just started my graduate program, This will help me a lot. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. I'm so glad, Shia! Good luck to you in your program. :)

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