Rebecca Moore Howard defines “patchwriting” as a method of composing in which writers take the words of other authors and patch them together with few or no changes (233).* Although associated with plagiarism, it is an extremely useful writing strategy with a very long and noble tradition, and I hope that, by the end of this essay, you will be convinced that the opportunities (great writing) far outweigh the risks (accusations of dishonesty).
Perhaps the risks are small, if one doesn't mind accusations of dishonesty. But what about punishment for dishonesty? Patchwriting passed off as one's own work is cheating and deserves to be punished severely.
The author speaks of an "unshakeable moral dilemma" he had when first embarking on his project. I hope these words were not taken from another author because that would reveal lack of good taste in addition to a lack of honesty.
Mind you, I have nothing against using "the words of others" in learning how to write for oneself. Painters often start by copying the work of others as well. But the perpetration of forgeries is not the ultimate goal here either.
Someone might say that a collage can be a work of art. It can be, but if you produce a collage, clearly identify it as a collage.
1. See Composing the Anthology: An Exercise in Patchwriting. The "textbook" in which these claims are found is by one Christopher Leary. I sincerely hope that this is not going on in "composition" classes.
2. I read in one blog: "Leary’s struggle is easy to get past if we set aside the romantic notion that the individual inspired author imbues the content with value." Perhaps this is true, but it does not make patchwriting any better. In the classroom, at least, the student is supposed to demonstrate that she or he actually comprehends the material and can write.