Most instructors have been urged to include a statement on every course syllabus saying that academic dishonesty—including plagiarism—will not be tolerated. Some refer their students to the definition of academic dishonesty appended to the Code of Student Conduct in the Student Handbook. It is available on the Office of Community Standards and Student Conduct website.
Despite such warnings, students still occasionally submit written assignments that fail to acknowledge their sources appropriately. They do so for several reasons.
Much student plagiarism is unintentional. Even when students have covered the topic in high school and college writing classes, they may not yet have an entirely clear sense of what constitutes fair use of others’ words and ideas—particularly as they begin working with unfamiliar concepts in new subject areas. For these students, spending a few minutes in class looking at the way writers in the field handle outside sources may be useful. It might be worthwhile to distribute a handout defining and illustrating acceptable practices. (Some models are available in the WAC office.)
International students sometimes face additional difficulties in this area. In some cultures, for example, students are taught to memorize and copy the work of respected figures as a mark of respect for them. For more information on this topic—along with suggestions for working with these students—see issue 6 of Writing Matters, published by the University of Hawaii Manoa http://www.mwp.hawaii.edu/resources/wm6.htm.
At times, however, plagiarism is deliberate, especially when desperate writers rush to complete work at the last minute. Certain teaching strategies can help reduce the occasions (and temptations) for that sort of plagiarism. The following suggestions are adapted from Steve Reid and John Pratt’s “Coping with Plagiarism” (Composition Chronicle, December 1988) and Robert Harris’s “Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers” (www.virtualsalt.com/antiplag.htm).
- Limit choices of topic and change the list often.
- Don’t accept papers deviating from a clearly specified format.
- Be very specific about the kind of paper you want and provide a copy of your criteria for grading it.
- Require a number of very recent sources.
- Require that writers incorporate certain sources, perhaps data that you provide to the class.
- Require a working bibliography early in the term and have students note where they found each source.
- Ask for a tentative outline well before the final version of the paper is due.
- Specify a date after which students cannot change topics.
- Assign an oral presentation as part of the project.
- Give an unannounced test on the paper topic shortly before the final version is due.
- Have students submit notes and all drafts with the final paper.
- Along with the final copy, ask for photocopies of outside sources (or a printed version of downloaded files), with quoted passages highlighted.
- Require a second copy of the paper you can keep on file.
While nothing will completely prevent plagiarism, strategies like these should reduce its likelihood. In addition, requiring that students submit materials as they work on a project should improve the quality of the final product.