Tactics and Resources to Help Students Avoid Plagiarism

By McCullen, Caroline | Multimedia Schools, November-December 2003 | Go to article overview

Tactics and Resources to Help Students Avoid Plagiarism


McCullen, Caroline, Multimedia Schools


TOP 10 lists may be popular these days, but, recently I was fascinated by one teacher's clever prototype, "The Plagiarism Hall of Fame," and his top 10 examples of plagiarized work. Jeff Derda, of Apex High School, Apex, North Carolina, was frustrated by his students' misguided attempts to copy text directly from the Internet and submit it as their own. He decided to get everyone's attention by making light of a serious topic.

Jeff began by keeping copies of the most notorious ... and surprisingly obvious ... cases of plagiarism among his students. Each year, he gleefully shares his own "top 10" with his classes as examples of failed attempts to turn in plagiarized work. Students get the point pretty quickly: Don't submit plagiarized work in this class!

One of his most humorous cases, in which a student copied literally every word of a report, included a statement by the author, "... and in my years of research at the University of XXX, I discovered...." Now that one was easy to spot, but the typical case is much more difficult to identify. The issues are far from clear-cut, and with the availability of the Internet, the lines are blurred even further. These issues present dilemmas that trouble many educators: How can we discourage plagiarism without stifling creativity? What tools or services do we need? What policies?

Definitions and School-Wide Policies

A sensible approach begins with awareness, and a logical first step consists of simply defining plagiarism for your students: To plagiarize is to present someone else's work as your own. Simple enough, yet it is not so easy to draw a hard and fast line between what is a deliberate case of plagiarism and an unintentional error in citation.

Make it easier for students to recognize plagiarism by giving them concrete examples of both intentional and accidentally copied work. Which of these is an example of plagiarism?

* To change a few words at the beginning and end but copy the rest of a paragraph

* To paraphrase without a citation

* To purchase a term paper and turn it in as original work

All of the above situations are plagiarism, but students often have difficulty recognizing the first two examples. There are several Web sites that provide excellent help. The Writing Place at Northwestern University [http://www.writing.nwu.edu/tips/ plag.html] clarifies these types of "accidental plagiarism" and offers steps for avoiding two of the most common errors--paraphrases without citations and misplaced citations. Indiana University provides models of acceptable and unacceptable paraphrases at http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/wts/ plagiarism.html. Looking at these models together offers students the chance to ask questions about their own techniques for paraphrasing and to gain a better understanding.

Establish school-wide or district-wide policies and procedures for how to deal with plagiarism, and make sure parents receive a copy early in the school year. Make your policy a part of orientation each year, and send it home for parental signatures along with other permission slips, handbooks, and school folders.

Students plagiarize when they are given assignments that make copying easy, if not likely. The implication is clear: Give students a generic assignment, and they're likely to include some copied work.

Increasing the Likelihood of Original Work

The best strategy is to set students up for success by offering thoughtful assignments that require critical thinking. Make assignments that will cause them to process information and draw conclusions rather than simply regurgitating facts.

A report "about" the space program is likely to tempt students to copy because the topic is so general. On the other hand, to research the space programs history and propose a destination for the next mission would require more original thinking. Gaining knowledge that could bring the greatest improvements in living conditions on Earth would make the assignment even harder to copy. …

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