The Gray Area Of Plagiarism

The Gray Area of Plagiarism


One constant problem throughout schools worldwide is plagiarism. Though there are many different types of plagiarism, the overall idea of plagiarism is using someone else’s words as one’s own without giving credit. Students have found many different ways to do this, and whether its intentional or not, it is a growing problem that needs to be stopped. Different sides of this issue are portrayed specifically in three different essays: Rebecca Moore Howard’s A Plagiarism Pentimento, Maureen Hourigan’s Of Plagiarism, Paper Mills and the Harried, Hurried Student, and Keith D. Miller’s Redefining Plagiarism: Martin Luther King’s Use of an Oral Tradition. All three of these essays hit on different sides of the plagiarism issue. Howard and Hourigan’s essays make me think more actively about plagiarism, and help me to strengthen my views on the issue. Miller’s essay was much less effective, yet still got me thinking.

Rebecca Moore Howard is very focused specifically on patchwriting, rather than other methods of plagiarism. Patchwriting is a method where students use simple deletions and word for word substitutions in order to make the original writers words their own. Howard explains how she used to think that this was plagiarizing, until she realized, “…nine of the twenty-six writers in my class had failed to summarize, paraphrase, or quote from the Davidson text. Instead, they had appropriated Davidson’s words wholesale, making cosmetic changes…” (Howard, 117). This caused Howard to look deeper into the issue, and do some research; where she uncovered the controversial method of patchwriting. Many people have argued whether patchwriting is plagiarism or not, and Howard shares and contemplates some of these arguments in her essay. She eventually comes to the conclusion that patchwriting is not considered plagiarism, but instead it is a strategy of summary.

Keith Miller is much more loose about plagiarism than the other two authors are. He basically argues that plagiarism through speech is ok, because it is verbal. And because verbal traditions used to be more important and more common than writings, there is no way to really credit a source. He uses Martin Luther King as an example, along with many different preachers and religious dignitaries. At some points during his essay, it seems as though he also is arguing that plagiarism is also ok if you are a dignitary or other famous person who is trying to change the world (like Martin Luther King). This might be unintentional, but it still shows through in certain points of the essay, “How could such a compelling leader commit what most people define as a writer’s worst sin? This contradiction should prompt us to rethink our definition of plagiarism” (Miller 128). This to me seems as though Miller wants to stretch the rules a little bit for King. Overall, Miller’s view is very lenient towards plagiarism. His argument is not very strong either. It is based off personal research that he is done, and it seems to me that he is almost bragging about his dissertation more than he is arguing his point. This is very distracting to the reader, and often caused me to sidetrack and not really pay attention to what he is saying about the overall issue of plagiarism.

Maureen Hourigan explores yet another side of plagiarism. She mainly discusses students who pay peers to write essays for them, and also students who buy papers from online paper mills. Hourigan believes that these are the biggest two ways that students plagiarize. She discusses multiple cases in which students who have done this have been caught and punished severely. She continues to go more in depth about Internet paper mills, and argues the legality and trust issues of these paper mills. Of the three papers, Hourigan’s paper most discourages me from ever trying to plagiarize. Part of this has to do with the concrete research and stories that she tells. These stories allow the reader to put plagiarism into perspective and make them think that these punishments could happen to them if they try plagiarizing. More specifically, the story about Elizabeth Paige Laurie, and how she paid her ex-roommate $20,000 over three and a half years to write term papers and other assignments for her, scares me the most. It discourages me from ever trying to plagiarize because when Laurie was eventually caught, she ended up returning her degree to the University of Southern California (158). I cannot even begin to imagine the pain this would cause me, and everyone that was close to me. Hourigan’s research is also very convincing because it shows the evil side of the paper mills through interviews and real newspaper articles.

Maureen Hourigan’s tone is argumentative in an almost harsh kind of way. It seems as though she is very concerned about plagiarism. She also seems to be very active about putting an end to it, and making everyone aware of it. Rebecca Howard’s tone is very forgiving. She seems to see plagiarism from more of a victim’s or a student’s viewpoint. She shows her process from strictly grading papers to being a little bit more lenient while still having a strict definition of what plagiarism is. Whereas Miller is very lenient, and yet still doesn’t appear to have a clear definition of plagiarism. His tone is more of a defensive one. His essay defends Martin Luther king and the other dignitaries that allegedly committed this “crime.”

Howard’s approach about plagiarism is very positive and successful for the reader. Maureen Hourigan’s approach is much more factual. She has researched her view and can support her thesis with many facts and interviews that all pertain to her idea that plagiarism is a widespread problem due to the availability of papers for sale on the internet. Howard gracefully explains her view of plagiarism by thoroughly explaining it to the reader. She explains her evolution from the teacher that doesn’t understand ‘patchwriting’ and thinks it is plagiarism, to a more understanding and compromising teacher. While both these methods of persuasion are equally convincing and effective, they both are very different and affect the reader in different ways.

Howard’s essay is also effective because it is based off of personal anecdotes, stories that actually happened. It is also very effective because she has the most compromising view of plagiarism. She is not completely strict about plagiarism, like Maureen Hourigan, nor was she ok with plagiarism as it is, sort of like Keith Miller was. Howard’s view is that patchwriting, which is almost plagiarizing, is acceptable. This appeals to people, especially to students, because summarizing is very hard for many people to do without plagiarizing or using direct quotes all of the time. With Howard’s method of patchwriting, it makes it very easy to summarize. And while technically patchwriting is in the reader’s own words, it is also using a lot of the authors words. Although many people, including possibly Hourigan, might disagree with this method, it definitely has a strong appeal to students and other writers.

After reading these articles, I have a much clearer view about the gray area of plagiarism. Howard’s article made my agreement with patchwritng stronger. I have always believed that deletion and substitution are very good ways to not plagiarize while keeping the writers views very apparent. But I was always skeptical when I did this because while I believed it was ok, plagiarism is a gray issue, and many teachers probably disagreed with it. But Howard gave me a very logical explanation to patchwriting and made me more confident about it. And while I know that there are still teachers who disagree with patchwriting, it has made me feel as though the tide has changed, and now the majority of teachers agree with it.


Maureen Hourigan’s essay has deeply discouraged me from ever plagiarizing and also has made me question the legality of these paper mills. Her essay makes me wonder, why can’t anyone shut them down for good? If theses paper mills lie so much about there guarantees, and are really only used for students to plagiarize papers, why are they still legal. Her arguments make me want to take a stand, and fight against these horrible paper views. It makes me want to try to do something to shut them down entirely. I still feel that this essay also has a positive effect.

In contrast to Howard’s and Hourigan’s essays, Miller’s essay has little effect on me. While it did open my eyes to the fact that one of the greatest public speakers of all time plagiarized most of his work, it only makes me a little more skeptical about Martin Luther King as a person. And although I understand what miller is saying about oral traditions, I feel as though his essay is not as effective as the other two, and I could have been a lot more effective if he was more clear and concentrated in his essay.

In reading these three essays, I now have a much more solid view of plagiarism. I agree that patchwriting is not plagiarism, but it is a simplistic form of summarizing. I am now also highly discouraged of trying to plagiarize anything, and I understand that speeches and oral traditions are very complicated and blurry issues. The bottom line is that stories about plagiarism, patchwriting, and paper mills need to be shared worldwide in order to raise awareness and greatly discourage people from plagiarizing.

Works Cited
Howard, Rebecca Moore. “A Plagiarism Pentimento.” Essays on Writing. Eds. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York: Longman, 2009. 115-126. Print.

Hourigan, Maureen. “Of Plagiarism, Paper Mills and the Harried, Hurried Student.” Essays on Writing. Eds. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York: Longman, 2009. 156-167. Print.

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

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