Reyman, Jessica. “Rethinking Plagiarism for Technical Communication.” Technical Communication 55.1 (2008): 61-67. Print.

  • R. begins the article by noting that tech comm’ers are increasingly confronted with an alarmist discourse surrounding plagiarism in the workplace and on college campuses.  Yet, as R. notes, the situation is complex for TC’ers because they write: 1) using boilerplate materials and templates; 2) by relying on existing designs and layouts in creating texts; 3) collaboratively; 4) through ghostwriting for popular media consumption; 5) by assigning the status of ‘honorary authorship’ in published scientific research to lab supervisors or advisors who have contributed little to the writing process; 6) by cutting, pasting, and re-purposing existing content, including collating information from technical documents and product specifications; and 7) by single-sourcing (61).
  • R. notes that single-sourcing reconfigures the notion of authorship in powerful ways.  Relying on Eble’s work, R. notes that, “As single sourcing relies on a more nuanced notion of audience, content, and form, it also necessarily relies on a complex understanding of authorship, ownership, and textual production and use” (62).
  • R. draws attention to an important tension in TC scholarship and practice:  Slack’s work in “The Technical Communicator as Author” does much to empower the TCer as an author; however, recent technological developments that have enabled processes like single-sourcing have fundamentally reconfigured that notion of authorial power.  Herein lies a contradiction in TC scholarship that can be explained by considering technological advance across time and culture.
  • According to R., current TC pedagogy emphasizes plagiarism as “intellectual theft” and vilifies the internet because it inevitably leads to writing that tends toward plagiarized (63).  Relying on Howard’s work of Bakhtinian heteroglossia, R. complicates the notion of authorial originality by explaining education as a process of enculturation into borrowed discourse conventions in newly engaged discourse communities (63).
  • To address the problems she sees in contemporary TC instruction for plagiarism, R. recommends two tacts:  1) revise textbooks and instruction to reflect “a more nuanced view of textual ownership”; and 2) revise policy (64).  To revise pedagogy, R. recommends incorporating a discussion of legal definitions of authorship (work-for-hire, copyright law, fair use analysis, textbook revision)  and using analyses of workplace scenarios as a pedagogical tool (nontraditional acts of composition, ghostwriting, work-for-hire, collaboration, boilerplates, single-sourcing, etc.).
  • In revising policy, R. recommends that each instructor develop unique statements about plagiarism in order to meet the demands and contexts of individual sites of instruction.  These policies might note that plagiarism is a contested concept and that blanket statements about authorship often lack nuance and specificity required to make a determination about responsible source use.

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