Preventing Plagiarism

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The Web has increased anxiety about plagiarism among instructors: it provides students with several new, easy sources for copying papers. The Web site School Sucks, for example, provides a growing catalog of downloadable college research papers.

The best antidote to student plagiarism is effective assignment design. Plagiarism seldom occurs in classrooms where instructors

  • provide adequate instruction on the role of documentation in the community of scholars,
  • show an active interest in the writing process, and/or
  • respond to drafts before the final paper is submitted.

Most students must be taught that college writers are usually expected to draw upon the published insights and knowledge of others in preparing their own reports. Students must be shown how in their texts to reference their engagement with this prior work using the documentation format each instructor prescribes.

Early and thorough discussion of the tradition of and proper format for citing sources helps decrease both intentional and unintentional plagiarism. Elaine Maimon's suggestion --to require students to include an acknowledgements page for each of their papers (described below) -- emphasizes how most college writing reflects the community of scholars within which it is composed.

Here are some additional strategies instructors can use to discourage plagiarism:

  1. Strategies that emphasize the student’s writing process:
    • Require early submission of a thesis and/or prospectus
    • Require early submission of a plan thatdetails how the student will organize and/or sequence their text
    • Require multiple peer and/or instructorresponses to drafts
    • Require oral presentations on the work-in-progress
    • Require submission of all drafts with the final paper
    • Require submission of all drafts completed with a summary of the changes made on each draft

  2. Strategies that emphasize the instructor’s assignment design:

    • Assign paper projects that are original, that do not repeat the usual research paper structure and design
    • Require the paper include significant references to specific articles or books on the course syllabus
    • Announce and use grading criteria that are specific to the assignment, criteria unlikely to be fulfilled by a generic research paper

  3. Strategies that introduce supplemental requirements:
  • Require a reflective journal in which students analyze their learning process and/or require an appendix in which students examine the strategies that did and did not help them succeed
  • Require submission of an annotated bibliography of the sources cited
  • Request photocopies of title pages and/or entire articles cited
  • Require the inclusion of an acknowledgement page listing all classmates, friends, family members and instructors who have helped (See "The Acknowledgements Page" below).

(Some of these strategies have been adapted from the University of Kansas Writing Center Newsletter.)

The Acknowledgements Page

 Elaine Maimon (from Yale website explains why she requires student writers to compose an acknowledgements page:

We know from reading the acknowledgments of published writers that consultation on work-in-progress is a respected tradition. We recommend requiring students to prepare an acknowledgments page that can help to teach intellectual honesty from a positive perspective. Students would note the help of instructors, classmates, friends, and family members who have commented on work-in-progress. We suggest that you prepare students for writing pages of acknowledgment by assigning them to read published versions, especially those written by the authors of their textbooks. Some fine examples of graceful and witty writing appear on published pages of acknowledgment. Reading some examples to your students makes at least two good points: (1) that sharing ideas helps to nurture ideas; (2) that even famous authors of all those closely printed pages are human beings who needed the reassurance of friends and colleagues while they were drafting their manuscripts.

Links to other pages containing plagiarism information are listed on our "Help for Writers" page.