Jessica Weislogel's Synthesis.

To Cite, or Not to Cite: That is the Question

Borrowing work from others and using it as one’s own has been occurring long before the first definition of “plagiarism” was ever even put into writing. The concept goes as far back as passing on traditional oral stories in early cultures all the way up to purchasing prewritten essays via the Internet. Whether it is punishing every ounce of work not cited or letting copied work go unnoticed because of its value, everyone has an outlook on what is considered plagiarism. In their own individual essays, writers Rebecca Moore Howard, Keith D. Miller, and Maureen Hourigan give separate views on the concept of what plagiarism is according to their own experiences and research. The overall debate that stands between these authors is defining the actual concept of plagiarism. What should specifically be considered plagiarism, and how should such occurrences be dealt with? From these essays, I was able to discover my new interpretation of plagiarism and how crediting the sources I use is just as important as using the sources to enhance my work in the first place.

In “A Plagiarism Pentimento,” writer and teacher Rebecca Moore Howard discusses how her views of plagiarism have changed over the course of her career. To describe her previous notions on the ethical matter, Howard begins by giving an anecdote of a time when she was grading her own students’ papers. She discovered what appeared to be blatant plagiarism from about one-third of her class. Howard became concerned with what that could mean about the way students interpret texts. She says that after investigating her concerns, Howard developed “deeply changed ideas about the composing strategies that in 1986 [she] classified as plagiarism” (Howard 118). Howard read into research on the subject of summary writing and found that there were other views on a type of cognitive strategy frequently used by students. Howard refers to this strategy as “patchwriting.” Patchwriting is a substitution, deletion, and rearrangement strategy that students often use when they are summarizing concepts and writings that are unfamiliar to them. Howards derives that the students don’t have much of a choice but to patch from the text in this situation because it is the only research they have for the kind of language they are arguing. (Howard 121-122). Howard concluded that teaching students this way of writing is vital. They learn not just how to summarize, but to understand, discuss and change ideas to help match their own.

Keith Miller shares a similar take on reordering another’s words as their own in “Redefining Plagiarism: Martin Luther King’s Use of an Oral Tradition.” The concept Miller discusses is “negotiating the boundaries between oral and print traditions” while deciding if using these traditions for an oral presentation, without citation, should be considered plagiarism (Miller 131). He uses the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. and how several of King’s ever-lasting works did in fact contain large chunks of writing from other writers whom King did not accredit. Miller claims that it is the impact and importance that the words have on the people, not necessarily where these words come from, that matters. He says, “I am convinced that the process of securing fundamental human rights – such as those King championed – outweighs the right to the exclusive use of intellectual and literary property” (Miller 131). Miller also provides the example of how sermons are often interchangeable. Preachers, on several occasions, trade their works in order to better deliver the same general biblical messages. (Miller 130). Miller argues that the people who are borrowing words are skillfully rearranging them to put out a bigger message. Thus, the work has its own individuality.


While Howard and Miller focused on possible plagiarism in sections of writings, Maureen Hourigan narrows in on the wrongdoings and consequences of down right copying papers in their entirety. In “Of Plagiarism, Paper Mills, and the Harried Hurried Student,” Hourigan analyzes how the overly active student and the increasing Internet generation have affected the definition of plagiarism. It was not as though students didn’t participate in any act of plagiarism or cheating before technology, however. Hourigan tells of how the act of plagiarism through buying term papers and other assignments has always been around. Students are constantly taking on an excess workload and simply find themselves too busy or too lazy to complete schoolwork. As for the new generation, Hourigan believes “The most significant impact the Internet would seem to have had on plagiarism is the instant availability of texts on line” (Hourigan 157). This “quicker” strategy leads to more temptation for the student. But as more of these papers are becoming available online, the easier it becomes for professors to catch students in the act. Hourigan gives the website,, as an example of the technology now also available to teachers who suspect plagiarism in their students’ works. (Hourigan 158-159). Overall, Hourigan’s argument is about how buying term papers, or turning in an assignment that someone else has done for you, is obvious plagiarism and will be severely punished in almost every university or college.

As a college student, I am more drawn towards the perspectives of Howard and Hourigan on plagiarism. They both write towards more of a college student audience while Miller seems to be writing to persuade those of a more scholarly level then just simply young adults. This focus on the students had more of effect on me as a reader simply because I wanted the position I’m currently in to be understood. While the concept of patchwriting is new to me, I already had knowledge of the availability of buying papers online.

From reading Hourigan’s essay, I believe there is much truth to this statement: “In passing off someone else’s work as your own, you cheat yourself of learning experiences, cheat fellow students of fair evaluation of their work, diminish trust between student and teacher, and undermine the value of a degree from your institution” (Hourigan 165). For the students who work extremely hard and put much effort into doing well, the chicken way out by buying assignments just seems foolish. If you don’t work hard enough to pass on your own, you don’t deserve the grade, or better yet, the degree. This is why I would agreed that any purchase of an entire paper is most definitely plagiarism and such unethical acts should be punished severely.

While Hourigan focuses on downright copying such as full term papers, Howard and Miller talk about how using bits and pieces of other’s works can have an impact without being consider plagiarism. In this essence, the idea of patchwriting had my attention the most. Howard was able to convince me that it is possible to use others’ words to form your own opinions, which in turn become sentences on a page. For this concept, I now understand why citation is only used occasionally. Where some would believe citation would be needed at every idea from other authors, Howard explains how those ideas, through patchwriting, become your own. In Miller’s argument, on the other hand, I do believe in his concept of the importance of using others work for a greater impact. However, I stay strong with original ideas on plagiarism. I believe that if there are parts of a speech, word for word from someone else, the original author should be given some credit, even if only briefly stated at the end.

By reading the different positions of Howard, Miller, and Hourigan on plagiarism, I was able to set aside my own preconceived thoughts on the subject. Keith D. Miller was correct when he said, “Clearly we need to re-examine our definition of plagiarism” (Miller 131). All three authors had a lasting effect on my beliefs of what plagiarism really is. I know have knowledge of the patchwriting strategy and how it pertains to the way I currently write through substitutions and forming new ideas. On the extreme side of plagiarism, I now know of how even more readily available plagiarizing is becoming to students. From this synthesis, I am able to be aware of the dangers out there that plagiarism can cause, but also the doors that have opened to me as a writer.

Works Cited

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. 156-166. Print.

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

Miller, Keith. “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.

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