How much rewriting?

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“Plagiarism avoidance” is a term to be avoided.

It suggests that it does not matter what we write and how we write it, the aim of the game is to beat Turnitin.

It isn’t.

This is not a new line of thought. I have voiced it before, in posts such as Plagiarise better?! and Avoiding “plagiarism avoidance.”

Would that we could get rid of the “P” word, or at least use it more wisely, more carefully, more accurately. It is a frightening idea, redolent with thoughts of crime and fraud, and huge punishments for those who get it wrong. And so much of the fright is caused by those who seem themselves NOT to understand what plagiarism is.

One such site is PlagiarismDetect.

Take, for instance, this paragraph, on the Why learn how to cite sources page.

A section on Learning how to cite starts with the paragraph


A common question “how do you cite a source?” can easily baffle an inexperienced writer. Being good at citations is an art. It requires an eagle eye, and it is professors, no matter what field, who are the gurus of citing. The time-proven way to learn how to cite sources in a paper is to go to your professors’ office hours and ask them to explain the conceptual architecture of each citation style. Only having understood it, can you remember it. “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand,” Confucius said as if telling all those struggling with citations to practice more.

and the section ends

Everyone plagiarises (?)

Did you actually know that everyone plagiarizes? Even those who do not attempt to plagiarize. Every single piece of writing has a plagiarism rate, since some phrases are used by many and since some facts are hard to present in many ways. That’s why you should use our service.

The first paragraph seems to imply that citation is an arcane art, its mysteries known only to or by the chosen few. It might even suggest that if you get it wrong, you are plagiarising, and those “eagle-eyed” professors want nothing more than to catch you out. And, as if to demonstrate just how difficult correct referencing might be, this writer (?) gives us an example each of MLA, APA and Chicago,

referencesand manages to get each of them wrong, not just the extraneous word at the end of each, but in confusing the date of publication and the date viewed, and the title of the page. (I won’t discuss the use of upper or lower case in the title, or anonymous authorship; that really does get into eagle-eyed scrutiny, and over-values the HOW of formatting. There is a difference between getting the elements of the reference right and getting the formatting exactly right, Most students below further degree level probably do not need exactitude.)

Even more, the last paragraph suggests that if you use any phrase which has ever been used by anyone else, this too is plagiarism.

The site includes a page of Testimonials. The very first one reads:


It’s a dream come true! People in school should be using this all the time. One reads and rewrites, and then checks if the rewrite was deep enough to not be considered as plagiarism. That’s how papers should be written and that’s what these guys are here for! Wake up ppl!
Oliver, Canada.

Make it difficult, make it frightening, make it laborious, make it wrong.

What is worse, this approach is dangerous, and dangerously misleading. Other people’s ideas need citing, even if paraphrased 100 per cent into your own words. And paraphrase isn’t just your own words, not if you still follow the structure of the original.

Above all, the name of the game is NOT to avoid plagiarism. It is not about beating Turnitin. It is about being honest, when you use other people’s work.

One thought on “How much rewriting?

  1. Pingback: Authentic Authenticity | Honesty, honestly…

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