Monday, 21 September 2020

Paraphrasing enough

One copied source (Tanw, 2017)
In English we have a saying that 'copying is the sincerest form of flattery'. We teach artists to paint by copying the work of grand masters. We teach people to write by reading the work of others. But when it comes to turning in work for credit, we must acknowledge the work that we are drawing on, and be clear  in showing where we have copied - by citing and quoting - and where we are drawing on ideas - by citing.

Appropriate paraphrasing and citations show the reader that we understand what our source author was trying to say, that we are growing our mastery of our subject.

Using TurnItIn is useful to help students improve their writing, to understand how using other's words from 'essence' - instead of from structure - helps them to (a) lower their similarity score, but also, over time, (b) makes them a better writer. Any work that is not appropriately cited will show up in coloured highlight. TurnItIn can help to make us a more honest writer, to show us where we have not sufficiently honoured the work of others.

The example below is from a piece of student work where elements were insufficiently rewritten from the source. TurnItIn finds the underpinning structure of the source material, then compares student work with it, and highlights areas where there is similarity. As you can see by the left-hand column in the table below, some of the material has been highlighted. The image accompanying this post shows one source element of the insufficiently paraphrased material that the student used.


Submitted student work (72 words)
Paraphrased (70 words)
As a young woman, Kate Sheppard founded the 'New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union' who in 1885, decided that the reforms concerning the wellbeing of women and children would be more applicable if women were able to vote and represent in Parliament (Malcolm, 2013). At a time when women were expected to just "bear and rear children and attend to the household affairs" (Grimshaw, 2013) Kate Sheppard, a wife and mother herself, ...
Founder of the "New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union", Kate Sheppard, decided that proposed women and children's well-being reforms currently before the 1885 Parliament needed to allow the adults concerned - women - to vote and to represent those interested parties in Government. As women were apparently expected to just "bear and rear children and to attend to the household affairs" (Grimshaw, 2013), Kate Sheppard, a wife and mother herself, ...

There are many benefits to using other authors' work responsibly, but I don't think we talk about them often enough. Those advantages include: 


  • Writing our own work gives us practice at writing, and the more practice we get, the better we get. Practice also means that if our eventual boss asks us to write something, we can write the way they would expect us to be able to, as a graduate. 
  • We improve our ability to think, to critique, to identify argument, to create argument, and to provide adequate evidence. 
  • We learn our subjects well, and hold on better to the knowledge because of the rehearsal and the work of thinking and writing. We also improve our vocabulary, phrasing, spelling, punctuation, and our ability to summarise.
  • Our performance on tests will improve due to the rehearsal of writing.
  • Our ability to debate will improve due to seeking argument and critiquing the writing of others. 
  • We can be absolutely honest, and not need to remember any 'alternative' facts. We lower our personal risk, as we don't have to be worried about being 'caught'. 

As lecturers, we need to be clear in explaining why we should not copy, why there are benefits in learning to write for ourselves, and what those benefits are.


Sam

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