Not (Entirely) in Their Own Words

Plagiarism, Process, and the Complicated Ethics of School Writing


  • Cary Moskovitz Duke University



composition, plagiarism, student writing


Professionals routinely ask colleagues for feedback on drafts of their written work, and the feedback they receive frequently includes suggestions for changes in wording. By convention, professionals are free to appropriate these suggestions without citation; the suggested words or phrases become, in effect, the author’s own in a transaction this essay terms a textual gift. In contrast, guidelines and policies on plagiarism for student writers are typically phrased in ways that would appear to forbid students from accepting textual gifts or to require that they use citation in doing so – both of which interfere with teaching students how to solicit and make use of feedback in a professional manner. Centered on a case from the author’s own experience, this essay explores the complexities of textual gifts in academic settings through a look at the language of institutional policies, handbooks on writing, and online guides to citation practices, as well as existing scholarship on plagiarism. The essay argues that new scholarship is needed to guide both instructors and institutions, and maps out some potential avenues for this work.

Author Biography

Cary Moskovitz, Duke University

Cary Moskovitz directs the Writing in the Disciplines program at Duke University. He holds a PhD in Aerospace Engineering from North Carolina State University and a Masters of Architecture from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. His scholarship has appeared in College Composition and Communication, Writing Program Administration, BioScience, Journal of Aircraft, and Journal of College Science Teaching. His research interests include writing across the curriculum and writing pedagogy with a focus on undergraduate writing in the sciences.


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How to Cite

Moskovitz, C. (2010). Not (Entirely) in Their Own Words: Plagiarism, Process, and the Complicated Ethics of School Writing. Writing and Pedagogy, 2(2), 163–176.



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