This is such a common problem in student writing! When I ask students how they go about writing a research paper I find that a common practice is to begin by creating an outline and paste lots of material–found online–into the outline. It’s no wonder that the result is a lack of original ideas (as suggested in the article cited below).
But I have one additional concern: this practice probably encourages students to simply search out material that fits their predetermined conclusions rather than challenging such presuppositions.
I think I might share the article with my students next term.
The researchers analyzed the students’ 1,832 research citations and assigned each of them to one of four categories:
Exact copying — a verbatim cut-and-paste, either with or without quotation marks.
“Patchwriting” — the copying of the original language with minimal alteration and with synonyms substituting for several original words (patchwriting is often a failed attempt to paraphrase, they said).
Paraphrasing — a restatement of a source’s argument with mostly fresh language, and with some of the original language intact; it reflects comprehension of a small portion, perhaps a sentence, of the source material.
Summary — the desired form of citation because it demonstrates true understanding of a large portion, if not the entirety, of the original text; summarizing was identified by the researchers when student writers restated in their own terms the source material and compressed by at least 50 percent the main points of at least three consecutive sentences.
Only 9 percent of the citations were categorized as summary. “That’s the stunning part, I think: 91 percent are citations to material that isn’t composing,” said Jamieson. “They don’t digest the ideas in the material cited and put it in their own words.”