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Paraphrasing with inadequate modification

Original text

Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. (from Collected Essays: George Orwell, 1961, p. 353)

Example 1

Plagiarized text

George Orwell observed, in the first half of the 20th century, that people’s use of written English is marred by a number of bad habits. So he enjoined his readers to take the trouble to be more careful with their word choice, arguing that in so doing they would be able to think more clearly. His concern stemmed not only from his love of the language and of clear thinking, however. Orwell also had a keen concern over the way use of language influenced political messages, and he proposed that to infuse greater honesty in the political realm, clear writing and clear thinking were a necessary first step (1961, p. 353).

Comment on plagiarized text - The attempt at paraphrasing above reveals a common error students make in academic writing. The source has been properly cited, and the writer has taken a fair bit of trouble to render the passage in his or her own words. However, periodically the writer has “lifted” key phrases from the original, as is highlighted below, and this, again, constitutes plagiarism. Instead, these phrases should have had quotation marks around them or, better still, they too should have been paraphrased:

Plagiarized text with errors highlighted

George Orwell observed, in the first half of the 20th century, that people’s use of written English is marred by a number of bad habits. So he enjoined his readers to take the trouble to be more careful with their word choice, arguing that in so doing they would be able to think more clearly. His concern stemmed not only from his love of the language and of clear thinking, however. Orwell also had a keen concern over the way use of language influenced political messages, and he proposed that to infuse greater honesty in the political realm, clear writing and clear thinking were a necessary first step (1961, p. 353).

Example 2

Plagiarized text

As Orwell (1961) puts it, contemporary English, particularly that which is written, is replete with poor habits which get spread when one writer imitates another. He points out that this can be prevented if a person is determined to make the necessary effort. If a person can shed such habits he or she will become a clearer thinker, and thinking more clearly is a crucial initial move towards political rebirth. Therefore, the battle with poor English is not petty nor is it the sole responsibility of those who write for a living (p. 353).

Comment on plagiarized text - This writer has not actually paraphrased the original passage; paraphrasing involves explaining the original in the writer’s own wording and sentence structure. All this writer has done is to replace the words in Orwell’s sentences with words of similar meaning, otherwise merely parroting what Orwell wrote. Consider below Orwell’s actual passage, with our writer’s word replacements set off in bold:

Plagiarized text with errors highlighted

Modern [contemporary] English, especially written English [particularly that which is written], is full of bad habits which spread by imitation [replete with poor habits which spread when one writer imitates another] and which can be avoided [prevented] if one is willing [if a person is determined] to take the necessary trouble [make the necessary effort]. If one gets rid of these habits [If a person can shed these habits] one can think more clearly [he or she will become a clearer thinker], and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration [and thinking more clearly is a crucial initial move towards political rebirth]: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous [Therefore, the battle with poor English is not petty] and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers [nor is it the sole responsibility of those who write for a living].

As the above demonstration reveals, the writer has simply lifted whole phrases from the original, here and there making word substitutions. Such an exercise does not show that the writer has the ability to explain what Orwell has said in his or her own manner of writing, and as such constitutes a form of plagiarism.

Here, then, is a true paraphrase of Orwell’s passage:

Plagiarized text corrected

Orwell was concerned with what he considered a dangerous link between careless language use, fuzzy thinking, and governance. He therefore appealed to his audience to view the thoughtful use of language as a universal civic responsibility (1961, p. 353).

In this passage, the writer, while carefully citing Orwell as the source, has sufficiently internalized Orwell’s message to be able to explain it in his or her own writing style, without “borrowing” Orwell’s sentence structure.

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