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Best Practices for Teachers

Summary: 

Suspecting a student of plagiarism is never pleasant; proving a student has plagiarized is even worse. It's common for teachers to feel offended and hurt when students act unethically in their courses. But there are some things you, as a teacher, can do to minimize plagiarism in your classes. Click here for more resources on how to prevent plagiarism in the classroom. 

Developing a strong course policy on plagiarism

One can never be too direct in explaining to students what actions can be considered plagiarism in their class. Writing and providing students with a course policy statement that includes a section on plagiarism is an excellent first step. Be sure to include and cite any school policies that might be suspect. 

Here, for example, is a statement that Professor Irwin Weiser of Purdue University has used with his Introductory Composition courses, from the Introduction to First-Year Composition Courses: 

When writers use material from other sources, they must acknowledge this source. Not doing so is called plagiarism, which means using without credit the ideas or expressions of another. You are therefore cautioned (1) against using, word for word, without acknowledgment, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, etc., from the printed or manuscript material of others; (2) against using with only slight changes the materials of another; and (3) against using the general plan, the main headings, or a rewritten form of someone else's material. These cautions apply to the work of other students as well as to the published work of professional writers. Of course, these cautions also apply to information you find on the Internet, World Wide Web, or other electronic or on-line sources. Since we will be discussing how to acknowledge and cite sources, you should be able to avoid accidentally plagiarizing anyone else's work. If you are in doubt, please ask me, since the consequences for plagiarism are severe. The university policies about plagiarism include penalties ranging from failure of an assignment to expulsion from the university. In this class, anyone who plagiarizes fails the course, and I will probably inform the Office of the Dean of Students of the reason for the failing grade. 

Teaching the Why of Citation 

When plagiarism is unintentional, it is usually because students don’t understand why they are doing what they’re doing. They usually know that they need to cite their sources, but they don’t know how to do that on an elemental level (“I need a signal phrase, an in-text citation, and a bibliography”). This leads to a bibliography but no in-text citations, or in-text citations but no bibliography, etc.  

Teaching students why they are including each of the main elements of source attribution can help alleviate this issue. Partly, students need to be exposed to the theory behind citation styles, as well as the full range of elements included in these styles. Perhaps more importantly, though, attribution is so built into academic writing that students need to be able to see it in context and understand how it works if they are to write well in their academic discourse communities.  

The why of citation also includes quotation, paraphrase, and summary — students often misunderstand the differences between these three types of source engagement, and this leads to unattributed direct quotes or poor paraphrase. The link at the top of this page to resources for teaching citation includes some resources for teaching quotation, paraphrase, and summary. 

Build Barriers to Plagiarism into Assignments 

Unintentional plagiarism is usually a result of students not knowing better and can be mitigated with explicit teaching. Intentional plagiarism such as purchasing a paper from an online paper mill or stealing/copying a classmate’s work, though, often isn’t helped by explicit teaching. One way to block this is to build assignments in such a way that these kinds of plagiarism are more difficult. Some options include: 

  • Avoid assignments that paper mills cover. Opinion papers, research papers on common topics, and literature papers on single canonical texts are all pretty easy to buy online, so you can either avoid these entirely or change them such that students can’t easily find a paper that satisfies the assignment. For an opinion or research paper, this might mean banning certain topics or narrowing the assignment to local issues. For a literary analysis, you might have students analyze two texts at once, or deviate from typical canonical works.  
  • Build scaffolding into the assignment. Students often resort to buying or stealing papers when they run out of time on a deadline. If they have to turn in scaffolding work such as a proposal, annotated bibliography, outline, or draft along the way, they will have to work on the assignment a little at a time and will be prepared for the upcoming deadlines. This also usually means better work for the final draft, since you’ve been able to give feedback along the way, and students learn to internalize the writing process. 
  • Build one-on-one contact into the assignment. Like scaffolding, this kind of support can help keep students from waiting until the last minute to do their work. If they have to meet with you or with a tutor, if your writing center is open to this kind of partnership, during the writing process, students are less likely to plagiarize.