Emily Gohs

Synthesis Essay:

“Oops. Did I Copy that? My Mistake.”

“Liar! Cheat! Fraud!” I hear voices my conscience whisper these accusations before I even think about wording an essay too closely to the text from which I am researching my topic. Plagiarism has instilled the fear of God into my very soul; afraid I’ll be failed, expelled from the school, and viewed as dishonest for the rest of my natural life, I do my best to say what I can in my own way. Then comes along the text source that you understand for what it is, but can’t reword, rephrase, or regurgitate it in any conceivable manner. What do you do then? You cite the essay in a works cited and move on with your life. Right? Wait, you forgot a comma here and forgot to mention the publishing date, you plagiarist! Now what do you do? To what extent does one define plagiarism? In each of these three essays, writers give valid reasons as to why plagiarism should be viewed as wrong, but also understand the difficulties in defining the boundaries of what plagiarism constitutes. By using Keith D. Miller‘s Redefining Plagiarism: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Use of an Oral Tradition, Rebecca Moore Howard’s A Plagiarism Pentimento, and Maureen Hourigan‘s Of Plagiarism, Paper Mills, and the Harried Hurries Student, different views are expressed on the issue that is plagiarism, ranging from sympathetic understanding to instances of haughty elitism.

In the essay written by Keith D. Miller, "Redefining Plagiarism: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Use of an Oral Tradition", the great inspirational speaker who redefined our history by advocating African-American rights in the United States, Martin Luther King Jr., is revealed to be a plagiarist. Miller recalls that as he was working on a dissertation on the distinguished pastor, he noticed similarities within some of King’s speeches and those of his predecessors. In fact, they were blatantly plagiarized. In his essay, Miller brings to question whether or not King’s technique was really plagiarism, or an old oral tradition. This tradition, called folk preaching, is used in many of his speeches where the present preacher, King, uses sermons and quotes from the people close to him, like his mentors, old colleagues and family. There is a saying that states imitation is the sincerest from of flattery, and I believe that this is what the essence of folk preaching is about and what King is trying to do; not steal ideas and work and claim the glory and fame for himself, but to honor what his mentors said, feeling that what they had once preached was so important that is should be known by all those who listen to his own speeches.


Keith Miller poses the question as to whether this form of language should be considered plagiarism; when to those who use it consider this form of oral language to be tradition which dates back to an era of slavery. Still, “King’s public language raises issues about plagiarism and copyright… [issues that are] more important than those surrounding his academic discourse” (129). After noticing this, Miller states that our definition of plagiarism, as it exists today, should be re-examined. He recognizes that in King’s culture and tradition, preachers strive to repetitively deliver the same message from the Gospel, where as “the designers of copyright protections assume that all noteworthy language comes from a writer’s individuality” (130). When one takes King’s discourse into account, one can infer that even with the boundaries between oral and written traditions, preachers dedicated to their culture will still continue to share and repeat discourse, regardless of any copyright restrictions created that would forbid them to keep their tradition alive and thriving.

Miller calls King’s use of plagiarism “voice merging” and brings up numerous questions regarding plagiarism and the impact it has on certain cultures. Emphasizing that Martin Luther King Jr. is a motivational hero and should be respected doesn’t explain why he is able to get away with plagiarism, and a student cannot. Plagiarism is plagiarism, regardless of who does it, right? What is so different from when students use King’s “voice merging” technique (granted that they aren’t coping full pages of another’s work verbatim)? What makes King’s use of others works acceptably “plagiarized” and not those of a beginner English student? The simple fact that he is a historical icon should not allow him to get away with this “plagiarism” if no one else can. That doesn’t seem fair to me. Miller supports King’s use of voice merging as defending it by saying it is a part of a culture, a tradition from preacher to preacher to exercise former speeches exactly as a sign of respect for the former preacher. If this is true, we shouldn’t stop there. Why not allow today’s students to “show their respect” to the authors of the books they are using in their reports and term papers? This is where plagiarism begins to blur at its “boundary lines”, between what is academically worthy and what is not.

Rebecca Moore Howard’s "A Plagiarism Pentimento" explains the use of certain learning and writing techniques in which text from a source is slightly copied. The differences between the texts include words that are rearranged or deleted, some grammatical structures are changed to fit the rest of the student’s paper, and words are altered and switched out for a suitable synonym substitute. Howard calls this “patchwriting”, or ‘fixing’ a text with patches of a student’s own interpretation of the work, and says that only those without citation are truly plagiarizing. She recalls former students who did this and were punished, and only when she begins to research this recurring phenomenon does Howard begin to describe patchwriting as a “transgression of values of that written culture” (118), not as “a willing violation of academic ethics, nor an ignorance of them” (118). This seems to be because students, as academics, strive to observe the proper conventions of written culture. As a student, I, myself, often fall victim to patch writing, and not because I am lazy and don’t want to do work, but because I can find no other way to paraphrase the original text without sounding confusing or irrelevant. I want to get a decent grade, so I force myself to work hard to stay within the boundary lines of plagiarism, and that tends to become very difficult when I understand a text as it is written, but fail to understand how I can incorporate it into my composition without being accused of plagiarism.

Howard further defends this with a research study performed by Brown, Day, Jones and Carol Sherrard. This study suggested that the students were engaging an active summary technique that is characteristic of writers in difficulty, or writers in early stages of cognitive development (120). This technique was termed the “copy-delete method” of summary writing, and this is what Howard calls “patchwriting”. Because the rules of plagiarism do not directly address the student’s motivation to patchwrite, simply teaching the rules to the students would not stop said students from continuing to patchwrite. The rules themselves only mark the boundary between those who are considered proficient enough to be considered part of an elite academy; in turn, this identifies who is on the inside of the boundary and who is not, and educates its participants. Summary-writing allows a participant on the wrong side of the boundary to become a participant on the academic side, thus earning the term “summary-writing” a bad connotation in compositional studies. Howard supports this with quotes from Harry Edward Shaw, author of “Responding to Student Essays”, who places a positive value on patchwriting and says to “encourage students to paraphrase if they must rehearse an author’s arguments: paraphrasing well usually requires them to understand a passage” (123). Patchwriting can also be viewed as a potential way for novice students to provide requisite vocabulary as well as help them to understand new concepts, and by doing this, student’t learn to develop their own ideas and nomenclature.

Howard encourages patchwriting – to an extent. She feels that when a student is drafting a summary, it is good to practice not looking at the original text and to work through summarization orally. This helps the students to learn to analyze and interrogate the text source instead of mindlessly copying word for word. This, in turn, helps the student to produce an original text. She encourages the rules of plagiarism as well, not “’because you must not steal or lie’ nor ‘because you must obey the rules,’ but rather ‘because you can join the people who understand, talk about, and change these ideas’” (125).

I also agree with Howard’s thoughts on plagiarism. When it is difficult to understand a text, conceptually, it is even more difficult to try to word it with your own ideas, because, obviously, you already have a difficulty understanding the text as it is written. Though it is said that your different past experiences make you who you are today, it also incorporates that it is harder to understand another’s point of view and their ideas, because of their different backgrounds, which makes it harder to understand, their text, let alone paraphrase their work. This is where citations come into use. Now the only problem is to make sure it flows correctly with the rest of your paper, hence more patchwriting.

I believe it is also very easy to not plagiarize and have it seem like you are, something that looks like patchwriting – words are changed around, synonyms are used, etc. When you are describing something so extremely specific, it is difficult to word such a topic in a thousand different forms to avoid plagiarism, regardless of the world’s population of different perspective and personalities.

In "Of Plagiarism, Paper Mills, and the Harried Hurries Student", Maureen Hourigan stresses the importance of plagiarism policies in schools. Relating to the students, Hourigan understands the pressures of today’s traditional college student: a large number of courses, a job, and extracurricular activities haunt students at every corner. Students also have the pressures of getting good grades for monetary reimbursement, as well as passing a course that has nothing whatsoever to do with their major in order to make the grade. And as a professor, Hourigan readily admits that it is easier and less time consuming to “borrow” texts online than it was nearly half a decade ago. With the statistic “in 2001 41% of undergraduate students admitted to one or more instances of cut and paste plagiarism” (Hourigan 158), it was concluded that open access to the internet has caused an easy and massive explosion in plagiarism from students.

Because of this ghost writing service, where one pays another to write a paper and then claim it as their own, term-paper and essay writing services have joined the ranks of prostitution, firearm dealing, and hacking advertisement on web sites. Hourigan reminds the reader by stating that “…when you purchase a paper from an online site, you are cheating yourself by not gaining the writing and thinking skills the paper was designed to foster. And you’re probably getting ripped off by the paper mill [as well]” (164). In short, Hourigan defines plagiarism as a lie by claiming someone else’s work and idea’s as your own; not only is it dishonest, “it is a serious breach of academic integrity, the foundation on which all education rests” (164). By passing off someone else’s work as your own, you cheat yourself. If you don’t complete the work with your own ideas, you lose out on the learning experiences and undervalue the degree you’ve achieved of your institution. Not only do you hurt yourself, you cheat fellow students out of a fair grade or evaluation of their work, and diminish the trust between a teacher and a student.


Hourigan’s thought processing also makes sense, and matches with what Howard is trying to say. By claiming that students aren’t learning and are cheating themselves by using paper mills, Hourigan and Howard agree that students need to try to learn to understand the paper with their own personal perspectives to make it easier for their benefit, and to avoid the teacher having to hold you aside, with probable cause to plagiarism.

From these excerpts, one can definitely conclude that Plagiarism is bad, to avoid said evil thing like the plague and to write your own stuff. It’s good for you; helps you learn by having to think more in depth and apply yourself to your writing. Yes, sometimes plagiarism is hard to avoid, especially with so many easy ways to cheat at our disposal. Because of the strict rules of plagiarism, I have no idea if a teacher is going to mistake my thoughts as plagiarism when I accidentally patchwrite, or if speeches given by the leaders of today are fraudulent or should be supported and identified as their own, or if my room mate is secretly stealing my composition to help with theirs. When I turn in a composition, I break into a cold sweat, nervous I’ll be exposed to the masses and receive a grade lower than what I have rightfully earned. The definitions of plagiarism should be more distinguished to avoid controversy in all its forms, but never disposed of completely. Ideas can be cited and quotes labeled, but who can write what you think and about your ideas better than yourself?

Works Cited

Hourigan, Maureen. “Of Plagiarism, Paper Mills, and the Harried Hurried Student.” Essays on Writing. Ed. Lizbeth A. Bryant and
Heather M. Clark. New York: Longman, 2009. 156- 165. Print.

Howard, Rebecca Moore. “A Plagiarism Pentimento.” Essays on Writing. Ed. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York: Longman, 2009. 115-125. Print.

Miller, Keith D. “Redefining Plagiarism: Martin Luther King’s Use of an Oral Tradition.” Essays on Writing. Ed. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York: Longman, 2009. 127-131. Print.

Reflection Letter:

Dear Mrs. Trahan,

After many failed attempts at finding my own niche with writing throughout high school, by the end of my senior year, after four years of writing portfolio essays, I seemed to have found the proverbial light to writing compositions. Now, as a college student, I have been able to perfect that light, to mold it to how I see fit. I know its nowhere near perfect, but after taking this course, I have learned to rely more upon myself to fix my writing mistakes, though with your careful evaluations and helpful and guiding tips have been quite helpful. I have learned to try to analyze text more for what isn’t exactly written, but for what the author is trying to convey, but I feel that I still flounder in this aspect. I note that I tend to summarize where I feel that I am analyzing, and you have pointed that out to me, thankfully.

In the RCR essay, I used bell hooks’ piece of writing autobiography to convey the importance of knowing yourself and how you relate to the world around you. As you wrote in many of my comments, I found that summary was one of my main types of analysis, but not enough to truly and analytically dissect a text or composition, at least, not enough for college level courses. I tried to convey my own experiences in this piece, and I felt that I only succeeded adequately, as I only mentioned myself in the conclusion. Maybe that was a good thing, I can’t really tell. Still, with all the courses in English that I have taken over the years, I still don’t feel confident enough in myself to say that what I did was right, or perfect for my paper; I just let the words flow, and if they flow out with a good sound, then I just keep on going! There are many, many times, though, where I just keep on rambling, and the words I have written make no sense at all, or are completely irrelevant to the paper that I am writing or analyzing.


In the Rhetorical Analysis paper, I connected with Pipher’s need to use writing as a way to spread word of the goodness that is change and not to fear it. Fear holds us back, and can hinder us more that keep us safe, at least, that’s how I feel. Of course it’s the writer’s purpose to want to inspire something in the people who will be reading their work, but that’s up to the reader to decide whether they are inspired or not, isn’t it? The reader can choose to just take the words as a story and not convey any meaning at all, or they can choose to try to understand the author, their background and experiences, and they can take that information and apply it to the story or essay, and try to understand why this is so, or is important, or was worded this way and not another.

As an Honor’s student in High School, I thrived on learning about symbolism in English and Art. I always felt more connected to the work after I figured out what this meant, or how this appeared at the time it was released, how the people of that period reacted to it. I loved learning about what this person symbolized, or this color, or this saying, or idea that stretches throughout the book. I am a person who analyzes why human do what they, what they say, and how they feel. As an observer, I thrive on it, and I think that’s why I enjoy the analysis aspect of writing. BUT, if I’m am not guided, I tend to fail to find what things I am supposed to analyze, scrutinize and tear apart. This is where I get lost in summary, and I found this out quite clearly in the Synthesis paper. I tended to summarize more then I was analyzing the pieces, or comparing them to each other.

As I stated in my last reflection to you, I am easily persuaded, and find it difficult to choose just one side, especially when both sides make equally valid points. You recommended that I try to not to think of an argument as black and white, but that is quite difficult for me. Although I am one who tends not to pick sides when someone else is arguing, if its something that I can connect with, I am passionate about getting my point across, and in the synthesis paper, there were so many points that seemed to fit the paper’s criteria, that I just couldn’t contain myself, and had to just choose the sidelines instead, but only to make it more confusing, those ideals from both sides found a way to com into my paper and made it seem confusing to the reader. I tried to correct all of those when I edited the essay, but I am not going to promise I am rid of all of them just yet.


After revisions of my work throughout the quarter, changing things, then changing them back, I find myself content to turn in these essays and hope to score in a passing range. Not confident, content; as I told you before, I am hesitant to call myself confident about my work because if I were to receive a grade well below what I expected I would find myself in bed, possibly crying for a week.

This course has helped me to harness a little of the wild floating thoughts that bounce around in my head, all of which are great ideas for papers, but only some of which can be put in place. Not only have I begun to learn how to analyze correctly, I have begun to learn what makes a composition great, and how I can work my way to that greatness.

Emily Gohs

Emily Gohs

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License