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Research Questions

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, and scholars such as Howard and Pecorari have argued that it typically results from an incomplete comprehension of the source. Although writers are universally urged to use quotation marks and citation whenever they copy text exactly, many college composition textbooks recommend paraphrase as a more sophisticated and useful way of drawing material from source texts and some disciplines do not accept direct quotation as an appropriate way to incorporate textual source material. Much has been written about the value of summary in advanced academic writing; it demonstrates a high level of engagement with a source text. Much has been written, too, about patchwriting as an indication of uneven comprehension of source texts, and some educators still regard it as a form of plagiarism.

The Citation Project began with the desire to know whether college writers use quotation, summary, paraphrase, and patchwriting in their source-based writing. The findings of the pilot inquiry are described in “Writing from Sources, Writing from Sentences,” to be published in the Fall 2010 issue of Writing and Pedagogy. The questions from the pilot remain the core questions for the entire study. Yet as so often happens in research on writing, the inquiry of the pilot study produced new questions. Our research now not only asks whether students use the four means of incorporating source content, but how often and under what circumstances.  For example:

Does the use of quotation, summary, paraphrase, and patchwriting correlate with the genre, length, or linguistic complexity of the source?

Do any of these four means of incorporating source content tend to appear more often at the beginning or end of the student’s text? Do students, for example, tend to summarize sources more often early in the paper, and patchwrite from them more frequently toward the end, suggesting that patchwriting may be the product of a decrease in engagement with the paper or a lack of time?

Does the frequency of patchwriting increase with linguistically complex sources, suggesting that students patchwrite when they do not fully comprehend a text?

Do we see more patchwriting when students are using condensed texts that are themselves summaries or factual overviews of a topic?

Does the use of quotation, summary, paraphrase, and patchwriting correlate with the number of sources used or the frequency of use of one source?  Are students, for example, more or less likely to patchwrite when they work with a complete text, citing different parts of the text throughout their papers?

Answers to such questions as these, we believe, will help educators move beyond the surface issue of citation, towards helping students become sophisticated conversants with source texts. These answers may also help educators increase students’ overall information literacy, helping students find, evaluate, and select sources with which they can engage in meaningful and appropriate ways. As students’ facility in source-based conversations increases, we believe the incidence of plagiarism will decrease.