Patchwriting: “A restatement of another writer’s text that uses too much of the original vocabulary and syntax.” (Word Spy)
Patchwriting has undergone a semantic shift since the term was coined, in 1993, by Rebecca Moore Howard, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Syracuse University. In “A Plagiarism Pentimento,” published in the Journal of Teaching Writing, Howard contrasted patchwriting positively with plagiarism:
[O]ur adherence to the received definition of plagiarism blinds us to the positive value of a composing strategy which I call “patchwriting”: copying from a source text and then deleting some words, altering grammatical structures, or plugging in one-for-one synonym substitutes. By failing to recognize patchwriting as a valuable composing strategy in which the writer engages in entry-level manipulation of new ideas and vocabulary, we fail to support our students in their efforts to assimilate the constructs of unfamiliar discourse.
(Emphasis in the original.)
Twenty years later, patchwriting has a more negative cast, possibly because the Web has made the practice easier and more pervasive, both on college campuses and in newsrooms. In a 2012 post on the journalism site Poynter.org, Kelly McBride criticized patchwriting as “problematic” writing—“the rearranged work of others”—that is “more common than plagiarism” and “just as dishonest.”
One writing teacher who doesn’t disparage patchwriting is Kenneth Goldsmith, a poet who teaches a course called “Uncreative Writing” at the University of Pennsylvania, in which students retype phone books and menus and plagiarize other writers’ work. (Uncreative Writing is also the title of a 2011 book by Goldsmith.) In a recent interview with The Awl, Goldsmith patchwrote most of his responses to the reporter’s questions and identified his self-poached sources. Here’s Goldsmith’s defense of Uncreative Writing:
The students that take my class know how to write. I can hone their skills further but instead I choose to challenge them to think in new and different ways. Many of them know how to plagiarize but they always do it on the sly, hoping not to get caught. In my class, they must plagiarize or they will be penalized. They are not allowed to be original or creative. So it becomes a very different game, one in which they're forced to defend choices that they are making about what they're plagiarizing and why. And when you start to dig down, you'll find that those choices are as original and as unique as when they express themselves in more traditional types of writing, but they've never been trained to think about it in this way.
“The new creativity is pointing, not making,” Goldsmith summed up.
Rebecca Moore Howard did not give an etymology for patchwriting; it appears to be formed in imitation of patchwork, the sewing technique. As far as I can tell, the name of the hyperlocal news network Patch (owned by AOL) has no relation to patchwriting. Rather, Patch’s sprouting-grass logo gives the impression of “a patch of earth.”
Also see copypasta.