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Patch writing in Business Communication

We’ve all heard of plagiarism, a problem that’s all too common with so much information available online. But what is patchwriting?

According to an article on the journalism site Poynter, patchwriting verges on plagiarism, but involves paraphrasing (often poorly) after copying text word for word. It’s become a big concern in academia, but it also can affect your business communication.

Dishonest or just bad business?

Although plagiarism is outright lifting of material without permission or attribution, patchwriting walks a finer line. Often, the poor paraphrasing results in using synonyms that make less sense or clunky wording as the patchwriter tries to change the text just enough to get by. People who use the “trick” aren’t intending harm, but lack the skills or time to adequately research and understand a subject. Sometimes, they just get stuck and look for inspiration, then go entirely too far. If a business writer uses a major portion of text from the same source, paraphrasing isn’t enough to make it right.

And think about this scenario: a person on your marketing staff wants to see how your competitor describes their services, really just for information. But then when faced with writing a press release about your new product, the staffer ends up patchwriting most of your competitors’ words. You think customers and your competitor will notice? You bet.

How to spot it

Many editors are skilled at catching patchwriting, and sometimes they can tell because words or ideas simply don’t flow as they should. And an easy way to spot plagiarism or any copied text is to notice if a document’s text color or formatting suddenly changes or looks out of place. This is a sure sign of copying and pasting from the web.

Of course, many universities and publishers rely on software that spots plagiarism. In most cases, the programs or sites highlight verbatim text and provide the source. They also can report the percentage of borrowed text. Patchwriting is easy to spot in these programs – a block of copied text is scattered with a few word changes or flipping of the order of words in a sentence.

How to stop it

Taking time to research and use multiple sources for information helps minimize patchwriting. Make it clear to employees in your organization that it’s wrong to borrow from another source, whether it’s clear plagiarism or patchwriting. You pay your staff for their original thoughts and words, and it’s wrong to borrow those of other writers or companies.

Finally, patchwriting is a sign of struggle with a topic or task and of poor writing skills. Make sure you hire or contract with professionals. And help employees who struggle with writing to gain better outline, idea mapping and basic writing skills with online courses or coaching.

If you would like to talk to Dr. Miller about patchwriting or any other writing issue, please give us a call at 425-485-3221 or email We are here to help you with your business writing needs!

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