Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Deconstructing Attitudes towards Plagiarism of Japanese Undergraduates in EFL Academic Writing Classes

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Deconstructing Attitudes towards Plagiarism of Japanese Undergraduates in EFL Academic Writing Classes

Article excerpt


In this study, a qualitative analysis of 276 first-year Japanese university science major responses to plagiarism to deconstruct prevailing generalizations regarding the incidence of plagiarism by Japanese university students. These students were enrolled in a compulsory yearlong English academic writing course. While utilizing a contextualized incident, rather than generalized statements, to gain a more thorough understanding of students' perceptions of plagiarism, this study also seeks to address the current imbalances in English-language analyses on plagiarism in Japan which fail to incorporate Japanese-language sources and studies. In contrast to previous research based on hypotheses of cultural conditioning which assume students are ambivalent towards plagiarism, the students surveyed displayed a complex awareness of the educational and societal issues that frame occurrences of plagiarism and a desire to receive effective training in academic writing techniques, similar to their native English-speaking counterparts. Finally, the paper makes suggestions for pedagogy that empowers students with tools to critically navigate the dominant academic world.

Keywords: academic writing, ESL, EFL, culture, Japan, plagiarism, science majors, university

1. Introduction

In recent years, how to handle plagiarism is a growing concern throughout the world (Bretag et al., 2013), especially in English as a Foreign Language classes (Day, 2009; Pennycook, 1996; Wheeler, 2009). In Japan particularly, the recent controversy regarding the potentially fabricated and plagiarized work of a Japanese stem-cell biologist Dr. Haruko Obokata, who reported the discovery of a new type of pluri-potent stem cell that can repair human tissue, has flooded the airwaves while shaking scientific communities world-wide. The implications of this incident are a cause for concern, as previous and often cited examination of attitudes towards plagiarism by Rinnert and Kobayashi (2005) indicate that students in Japan do not take plagiarism seriously. Furthermore, other scholars have made sweeping generalizations to the effect that plagiarism is accepted in Asian cultures (Dryden, 1999; Connolly, 2009, Sowden, 2005). The moral standing of Dr. Obokata put aside, given the stricter regulations being enacted in regards to academic honesty in universities and research institutes nationwide since the incident, from first-year to doctoral level, scholars are now provided an opportunity re-examine student attitudes towards plagiarism and develop effective academic writing teaching devices to ensure future scholars now how to avoid plagiarism.

Therefore, using the Obokata incident as a prompt for exploration, this paper will examine the attitudes towards plagiarism of first-year science majors enrolled at a leading national university in Japan. Based on 2012 data, since 85-95% of these students matriculate onto graduate school and of these students over 50% carry on to doctoral studies tutelage on ethics in academic paper writing and publishing is necessary. First, it will examine existing literature on plagiarism education in the Japanese context and analyze previous studies conducted on attitudes towards plagiarism. Next, it will detail and analyze the results of a qualitative study on students' attitudes regarding plagiarism derived from short essays responses on student attitudes towards plagiarism. A thematic narrative analysis (see Boyatzis, 1998; Riessman, 2005, 2008) will be conducted on the student accounts.

Furthermore, throughout the paper, the author will attempt to address the lack of incorporation of Japanese language sources in the study of plagiarism in Japan. While highlighting the rich and multi-layered interactions that university students maintain with the concept of plagiarism, it will present further evidence to challenge common discourse that asserts that Japanese students are ambivalent towards copying and plagiarism due to their improperly and stereotypically termed "culture of memorization. …

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