In the South African context, we tend to to attribute over-quoting and quote dumping to struggles with language and too often forget that these kinds of writing practices are seen in largely first language environments as well. I’ve noticed that while second language writers work is often described as plagiarised on grounds of lack of language competence, first language writers are described as having writers block or being poor writers.
Reading Patter’s “thesis know how – beware the quote dump”, I was reminded that looking more carefully at the causes of a behaviour, essentially, contextualising the practice, rather than simply focusing on the artefact of it, drives us to produce very different support mechanisms for students regardless of their language backgrounds. A first language student, as much as a second, may be struggling with taking ownership of the discourse of a discipline, with the confidence to “rewrite” the greats, and describing their work as writer’s block or poor writing misses the cause.
For a while now, my rule of thumb on quoting has been “If it doesn’t move you to tears, either of joy or anger, paraphrase!” While this is terribly easy to say, finding the courage to rewrite someone else’s words is a struggle for both first and second language writers and cannot be simply attributed to language difficulties.
I very often see first drafts of theses – and sometimes completed ones – which suffer from quote dumping. A quote dump is when the writer inserts a very large extract of someone else’s words into a text and then does nothing with it. The quote sits there, highly visible in its indented and italicised state, inert, unyielding, impenetrable.
The quote dump often occurs in literature chapters and/or when the thesis writer is discussing theoretical literatures. It’s sometimes used when people are explaining their methodology. It can happen when people genuinely attempt to engage with other people’s words and ideas and either challenge them, evaluate them or make them into foundations for their own research.
While quote dumping might have been the way to get good marks in essays in undergraduate and Masters work, it is a learned strategy that doesn’t fly so well in a doctoral thesis. Yes, the…
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