AUTHOR: Pecorari, Diane
TITLE: Academic Writing and Plagiarism: A Linguistic Analysis
PUBLISHER: New York: Continuum
YEAR FIRST PUBLISHED: 2008
PAPERBACK EDITION PUBLISHED: 2010
Donna Bain Butler, American University's Washington College of Law,
International Legal Studies, Washington, D.C., USA
Academic Writing and Plagiarism (2010) is a monograph that calls for pedagogical
approaches as part of the solution to the complex problems associated with
plagiarism. The main purpose of the study ''is to examine plagiarism as a
linguistic phenomenon, rather than as a violation of rules or ethical
principles'' (p. 1). The author, Diane Pecorari, differentiates between two kinds
of plagiarism: one that is a failure to write well (a linguistic issue) versus
one that is a refusal to engage legitimately in the writing process through
appropriate attribution (a moral issue). The key difference between the two, her
review of the research literature suggests, is intent to deceive.
Pecorari uses empirical data and linguistic analysis to reveal how textual
plagiarism can be a strategy for academic language use in student writing
(''patchwriting'') and what we can do about it. She suggests that responsibility
for plagiarism should not rest solely on the student writer because patchwriting
(Howard 1995, 1999) can be a byproduct of the processes involved in learning
academic language and how to write from sources.
The author concludes that plagiarism ''is not a problem with text, but a problem
that arises from a gap between the kinds of texts that some writers produce, and
the expectations of (some of) their readers -- a gap which is all the more
worrying because it is so often unrecognized'' by academic advisors and
degree-granting institutions (p. 166). By disclosing the gap, Pecorari
challenges surface-level rhetoric around plagiarism and the academic world's
general lack of agreement about specifics. She points out that a ''solution that
privileges native English speakers in the international academic community
cannot be equitable'' (p. 166) or desirable.
This text informs the conversation in academic communities so they can identify
''the kinds of source use that best serve the needs of academic discourse, and
the kinds of textual plagiarism which are (and are not) disruptive of the
communities' activities'' (p. 166). By informing the conversation with specifics
about language use and writing from sources, the text is especially relevant for
universities and professional schools where English is the language of teaching
The author presents her research findings in seven chapters. The source use of
seventeen postgraduate writers, from seven British universities, was examined to
reveal linguistic aspects of plagiarism in participants' academic writing
(n=17): that is, in the writing of nine Masters and eight doctoral students from
the humanities, engineering, social sciences and natural sciences. The
researcher selected non-native speakers of English (NNSE) to participate in the
study, not because NNSE are more likely to plagiarize than native speakers of
English, but because language skills ''are deeply implicated in plagiarism'' (p. 7).
Chapter 1 establishes the need for linguistic analysis and the criteria to
determine when a writer has plagiarized. The author asserts that a full
understanding of plagiarism requires going deeper than ''looking at a set of
intertextual relationships in the context of rules and standards...; [it
requires] examining the nature of the intertextual relationship itself'' (p. 6).
The purpose of Chapter 2 is ''to highlight how context-sensitive plagiarism is''
by looking at ideas and factors associated with plagiarism (p. 35). The
literature review provides evidence countering broad, cultural views of
plagiarism. Specific factors such as the writer's educational system, language
ability, and exposure to instruction and assessment carry more weight than
culture. The specific cases of U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden and Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr. illustrate that plagiarism is a ''fuzzy concept,'' explanations
for it vary, and even ''the mere suggestion of plagiarism can result in extremely
weighty consequences'' (p. 35).
Chapter 3 outlines a steep learning curve of ''knowledge and skills that novice
academic writers need to have, or to acquire'' (p. 56) to avoid plagiarizing.
Learning to write from sources provides background to Pecorari's investigation
of source use in participants' writing that aimed to answer five research questions.
Chapter 4 examines the source use in the seventeen texts produced by the
participants. These were early drafts for the MA student writers and final
drafts held by university libraries for the PhD student writers. The research
methods consisted of the following: (a) analysis of student writing, (b)
interviews with some students, and (c) interviews with students' supervisors.
Details of the methodology are provided in the Appendix. Findings show that
participants varied greatly in their approaches to writing (p. 96) and that
textual plagiarism was common: ''the writers had not learned, and were unlikely
to learn, that their source use was not only unacceptable, but was unacceptable
in ways that could get them into trouble'' (p. 122).
Chapter 5 presents the perspectives of individual student writers. Even greater
than the problem of plagiarism in the student corpus (Chapter 4), Pecorari
suggests, was the lack of opportunity for students to learn before it was too
late (Chapter 5).
Chapter 6 presents the perspectives of the supervisors of the nine Masters
students for whom inappropriate source use escaped detection. The author
maintains that ''the problem'' lay not with the supervisors, nor with the students
as previously indicated, but with factors that converged inside the academic
community itself where there is a lack of consensus about ''what sorts of
intertextuality are acceptable in practice'' (p. 141). It is within this context,
the author declares, that ''the problems, solutions and implications [of
plagiarism] must be considered'' (p. 141).
Chapter 7 presents ways of addressing plagiarism that include electronic
detection tools. The researcher asserts that ''institutional support is
particularly needed in four areas: (1) identifying textual plagiarism; (2)
distinguishing patchwriting from prototypical plagiarism [where the intent is to
deceive]; (3) providing options for responding to plagiarism [that include
pedagogy]; and (4) having sensible admission policies'' (p. 148) that do not
mislead students with language tests which lead them to believe they can make it
(p. 159). Not only does the author suggest that a conversation in the academy is
badly needed but she also questions (a) ''whether it may not be in the interests
of universities to keep paying customers happy..., and (b) what students might
come to demand as they pay increasingly high fees'' for their education in
English (pp. 159-160).
Pecorari's text informs the discussion of plagiarism of all university students,
not just international students who are an increasingly important consumer base
for universities in the English-speaking world (for example, Australia's
''international student industry'' is said to be worth $9.8 billion, p. 159). The
text provides a framework for developing a consensus about what constitutes
plagiarism and what measures need to be taken to develop student competences in
writing, citation being only one of them (Howard, Serviss, & Rodrigue 2010). I
agree with Pecorari and other writing researchers that a ''realistic, proactive
response to the endemic problems of plagiarism, misreferencing, and
misappropriation of others' work is to facilitate the long-term development of
the complex skills required for writing from sources and the ethical practices
involved in making use of other people's words and ideas, starting in elementary
school and continuing through graduate education'' (Pennington 2010, p. 153).
This leads to the second important contribution of Pecorari's book: the idea
that patchwriting can be a developmental stage in student writing, both for
novices and for international graduate student writers across academic domains
(''academic domains'' are defined as ''recognized fields of study and the knowledge
and experience central to those fields'' (Alexander 2006, p. 118).). Pecorari is
not the first to see patchwriting as a stage in the process of acquiring
academic literacy (Howard 1999). This text, therefore, is useful not only for
program administrators and recruiters (who need to be informed about what
constitutes writing, plagiarism and language proficiency) but also for academic
writing instructors and supervisors of Masters' theses and doctoral
dissertations. My only criticism is that the author left it to the reader to
discover that her text is a monograph. I was surprised in Chapter 4, for
example, when I had to shift gears from interested reader to peer reviewer of
research methodology, but the effort was well worth it.
Lo Castro, V. (2010). A solution based on data-driven research [Review of
''Academic writing and plagiarism: A linguistic analysis''] Writing & Pedagogy
Moore Howard, R., Serviss, T., & Rodrigue, T. K. (2010). Writing from sources,
writing from sentences. Writing & Pedagogy 2.2, 177-192.
Pennington, M. C. (2010). Plagiarism in the academy: Towards a proactive
pedagogy. Writing & Pedagogy 2.2, 147-159.
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