Patchwriting, Dr. Seuss, and Plagiarism Prevention

Amy Sexton

Writing Center Tutor, Kaplan University


Plagiarism. The word alone can invoke fear and anxiety in students. At our online writing center, we often work with students whose instructors have alerted them to plagiarism issues in their writing, and, many times, students are not sure how they have plagiarized.   One scenario we commonly see occurs when students borrow original words from an outside source but do not effectively paraphrase. They may delete a few words from the original text or replace some with synonyms and believe that they paraphrased, so no quotation marks are needed. This method of ineptly paraphrasing is referred to as patchwriting.  Howard, Treviss, and Rodrigue (2010) distinguish patchwriting from plagiarism:

“Whereas many institutions’ academic integrity policies classify patchwriting as a form of plagiarism – a moral failure – recent research indicates that it occurs as an intermediate stage between copying and summarizing: inexpert critical readers patchwrite when they attempt to paraphrase or summarize” (p. 179).

As Howard, Treviss, and Rodrigue note, then, patchwriting may best be seen, not as a punishable offense, but as a unique teaching and/or tutoring opportunity.

One obvious way that teachers and tutors can help students move from patchwriting to effective paraphrasing is to teach critical reading skills. They may also find the technique of scaffolding, or chunking the learning into manageable units, and including a tool or technique for understanding each unit, helpful. One such scaffolding method is introduced in the presentation “Understanding Plagiarism with Dr. Seuss”. In this presentation, Dr. Nani Azman and Dr. Stephen Fox detail using the popular children’s book Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss to teach students about inadequate paraphrasing.   This simple strategy worked well because students were generally familiar with Dr. Seuss and could easily grasp the idea that “Many people have a strong distaste for forest-colored fowl embryos and cured domesticated pig products” (Azman & Fox, 2014) is not a successful paraphrase of Dr. Seuss’ familiar statement “I do not like green eggs and ham” (as cited in Azman & Fox, 2014).

Like Azman and Fox (2014) I often use a similar technique in my work with students to help them better understand paraphrasing. One statement I commonly utilize is located on our writing center’s web site: “Our live tutoring sessions are staffed by Kaplan University composition professors who look forward to meeting you and answering your writing questions.” Using this easily understood example, I can show students that “Live tutoring is available from writing teachers who are excited to meet you and address your writing questions” is not an effective paraphrase. Students get this! Most of them immediately see what has went wrong with my example paraphrase, and then we can discuss successful paraphrases and what they may look like.   Whether it is Dr. Seuss or simple verbiage from a writing center web site, presenting students with a simple prompt that they can easily understand helps them to comprehend successful paraphrasing and provides the scaffolding that they need as they move to comprehending and paraphrasing more complex texts that they will inevitably encounter in their classes and research.


Azman, R.L. & Fox, S.H. (2014).   Understanding plagiarism…with some help from Dr. Seuss: A plagiarism prevention presentation. Retrieved from

Howard, R.M., Serviss, T., & Rodrigue, T.K.   (2010). Writing from sources, writing from sentences.  Writing and Pedagogy, 2(2), 177-192. Retrieved from


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