Writing@CSU Guide

Dealing with Plagiarism

As access to documents on the Web has grown, the issue of plagiarism and the enforcement of the consequences for academic dishonesty have become important concerns for writing teachers and teachers who use writing in their courses.

Plagiarism means "to use and pass off (the ideas or writings of another) as one's own; to appropriate for use as one's own passages or ideas from (another); or to put forth as original to oneself the ideas or words of another" Dictionary.com.

Beyond that, "plagiarism, a form of intellectual dishonesty, involves unintentionally using someone else's work without properly acknowledging where the ideas came from (the most common form of plagiarism) or intentionally copying someone else's work and passing it off as your own (the most serious form of plagiarism) (Palmquist, 2003, The Bedford Researcher, pp. 173-174)".

This guide can help you deal with the concept of plagiarism before it becomes an issue in your classroom as well as deal with enforcing its consequences if the situation should occur.

Why Students Plagiarize and What to do if You are Suspicious

Instructors often suspect plagiarism when they note obvious changes in the quality of a student's work (such as style, vocabulary, and content). These changes serve as an indicator that a student might have plagiarized, either intentionally or unintentionally. For example, students might attempt to paraphrase to convey information obtained from research but fail to cite their sources. Or they might fail to identify passages as quotations when they are conducting research for a writing project and later treat the passage as though it were a paraphrase. In still other cases, students will knowingly attempt to pass off the work of other writers as their own.

Students often feel the need to cheat or plagiarize when they don't understand an assignment or concept or when they don't have the time to adequately prepare for turning in an assignment (Dornan et al. 145). Offering ample time in class for questions or doing one-on-one conferences outside of class with students can help alleviate this feeling. However, students often cheat and plagiarize because it's easy or they think they won't get caught.

Regardless of what the student intended, it is difficult as teachers to detect plagiarism once a paper has been turned in.

Conferencing and Using Questions

You might set up a conference time with the student and ask him or her to bring complete sources and rough drafts so that together you can compare drafts and the use of sources.

Harris suggests asking specific questions about the content of the paper ("What do you mean here by the phrase...?" or "In what sense are you using the word...?"). He also provides examples of questions that you can ask about sources during a conference:

Tell me how you researched and wrote this paper. What process did you use?

Where did you look for your sources? Which libraries or databases did you consult?

Where did you find this article...? ...Can you bring me a copy at the next meeting? (Harris 97)

Lastly, Harris suggests asking specific questions about the context of a quotation or a student's "overall opinion" of a book (97). Whichever method of questioning you choose, a non-aggressive approach and allowing room for the student to tell the truth will help make the conference most successful on all counts.

Detective Work

There are quite a few ways to detect plagiarism when it's severely suspected.

Sources and Citations

Always require a Works Cited or References page. Discuss the importance of these in class or on your policy statement. If at all possible, teach students how to cite or at least point them in the direction of style guides. Style guides are available on the Clearinghouse.

Check the availability of sources: Have they been checked out? Do they really exist? (Burwell, et al.)

Be aware of mixed citation styles. Harris notes that these could be indication of confusion on the student's behalf, but they could also be mixed direct copying of sources. To the same end, be sure that each source cited in the body of the paper is cited in the Works Cited or References Page. Also check the URL's provided; if they don't work, it could be an indication that the paper is very dated or that the sources don't exist at all (Harris 62-3).

Internet Detection

When teaching a large lecture, it can be impossible to monitor students' writing and research processes. One way to keep track of paper integrity is it use the Internet. Since the availability of papers to be bought from the Internet and the ease of "cut-and-paste" is something our students are familiar with, be Internet "savvy" yourself (Keir).

Harris suggests using the "Google-Plus-Four" method: "Find a four-word phrase that appears to be unique to the paper or paragraph you suspect...Next, take the phrase to Google and perform an exact phrase search by typing the phrase into the search window, and surrounding it with quotation marks." If the paper is available online, it will usually come up in the search. He also suggests using sites suich as EssayFinder at www.essayfinder.com*.

Along the same lines, Keir also suggests using online scanning mills like Turnitin (www.turnitin.com), Plagiaserve (www.plagiaserve.com), or Glatt Plagiarism Services (www.plagiarism.com/INDEX.HTM) to determine if a paper has been copied or bought.

Plagiarism Detection Programs

Particularly for large lecture classes, a "plagiarism detector" program can be useful. Harris includes many of these in The Plagiarism Handbook. A few examples are Plagiarism.org (www.plagiarism.org), Vericite (https://vericite.com/), and Turnitin.com)). These programs compare uploaded student writing assigments against databases of published work in databases and on the web as well as collections of student work. To use one, instructors (or their institutions) must usually buy its software or buy a subscription to the service and then register a class. For each assignment a student turns in, the paper must be entered into the software or uploaded to the site and then the program will run a check of the integrity of the content and provide matches to existing websites or papers.*

*Be aware that some of these are for-profit sites and do charge for their services. Findsame, HowOriginal, and EssayCrawler are free at this time.

Strategies for Preventing Plagiarism

A helpful general rule provided by Stephen Reid's The Prentice Hall Guide for College Writers: Sixth Edition is to advise students to cite anything they did not specifically know before they began research (594). For example, a student may have an idea before beginning a project that more than half of underage college students have consumed alcohol, but if, through research, s/he discovers that precisely 72% of underage students have consumed alcohol, that information would need to be properly cited. During the research process, be sure your students are aware of the need to differentiate between what they "knew before" or what is "common knowledge" and what they have learned through their sources.

Discussing Plagiarism

One of the most effective strategies for preventing plagiarism (intentional or not) is to discuss the concept of plagiarism with your students.

Early in the semester (maybe the second week) ask your students to describe or define "plagiarism." This could be done in a Write to Learn activity that precedes a class discussion. You may find that student conceptions of plagiarism are very different from academia's or your own. However, discussing these conceptions with your students provides the opportunity for you to clarify misunderstanding and to reinforce why plagiarism is unacceptable.

An open discussion also allows students to engage with the concept of plagiarism instead of merely having it imposed upon them; it helps create an atmosphere in the classroom that is conducive to learning and academic integrity. After discussing the concept, everyone can be clear about the expectations concerning plagiarism. That way, a student is never caught off guard if the issue arises, and, moreover, students can be held accountable for maintaining academic integrity since they are aware of the expectations set for them.

Starting the Discussion

You can use the following Write to Learn to jumpstart your discussion about plagiarism:

Take 5 minutes to answer the following questions:

What is plagiarism?
Why is plagiarism inappropriate?
Why might a student plagiarize?
What do you feel the consequences for plagiarism should be?

Establishing and Enforcing Consequences

Establishing the consequences of plagiarism early in the semester is the best way to start, but you also must enforce them.

Of course, we only want to confront a student when we have concrete evidence of plagiarism. But sometimes the first step is simply talking with the student. Dornan et al. suggest questioning students about methods used or understanding of the citation process (147). Approaching students from an inquisitive stance instead of a condemning one will keep students off the defense as much as possible and will open the lines of communication so that you can determine what/how much they did not understand and where the line of integrity may have been crossed.

Encouraging Academic Integrity

The Center for Academic Integrity (CAI) also supports the "shared responsibility" of academic integrity. The CAI points to the "10 Principles of Academic Integrity" created by Donald McCabe and Gary Pavela:

  1. Affirm the importance of academic integrity
  2. Foster a love of learning
  3. Treat students as ends in themselves
  4. Promote an environment of trust in the classroom
  5. Encourage student responsibility for academic integrity
  6. Clarify expectations for students
  7. Develop fair and relevant forms of assessment
  8. Reduce opportunities to engage in academic dishonesty
  9. Challenge academic dishonesty when it occurs
  10. Help define and support campus-wide academic integrity standards

(McCabe n.p.)

Modeling Proper Citation Strategies

In an April 2003 PBS teleconference titled "Cheating and Plagiarism Using the Internet," panelists Hope Burwell, William L. Kibler, and Jessica A. Keir, advise teachers to place the responsibility for upholding academic integrity on the student. They suggest that just mentioning plagiarism and its consequences is not enough. Instead, going over examples of what is or is not plagiarism and teaching ways to avoid plagiarism is most effective. Modeling the use of citations in your own work (overheads, handouts) also helps establish the importance and use of attribution (Keir).

Beverly Lyon Clark, in "Plagiarism and Documentation: A Self-Instructional Lesson," provides examples and guidelines that could also play a part in class discussions or can be adapted to group or class activities to this end. Clark addresses common misconceptions about quoting or paraphrasing. One such misconception is the assumption that quotations are usually self-explanatory, to which she responds: "False. Quotations should illustrate your points, not explain them for you. You need to do the explaining yourself and you need to provide clear contexts for the quotations" (292).

Another common misconception is that paraphrasing simply requires changing a few words; to this she responds: "False...Paraphrasing requires more than just changing a word here and there-most of the words and also the sentence structure [in a paraphrase] need to be your own" (Clark 293).

Clark also provides a rule of thumb: "...as soon as you've written three words in a row that are identical with three consecutive words in your source, you're doing more than paraphrasing-you're quoting" (293).

Additionally, the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University provides helpful practice worksheets for students (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/589/01/). Consult this site for printable resources.

Worksheet Suggestions

To help students with these concepts, you might create a worksheet of situational questions or examples for students to answer about documenting. Among many, Clark provides the following:

Question: Does this need to be cited? Answer:
"Should you document your source...When you directly quote what an author has said? Yes...You're clearly using someone else's words.
Should you document your source when you paraphrase what the author said (that is, [when] you put the author's ideas into your own words)? Yes. You may not be using someone else's words, but you are using his or her ideas.
Columbus sighted America in 1492. No...this fact is commonly known.
The per capita national debt has grown from $61.06 in 1870 to more than $9,600. Yes. Specific statistics, not generally known, require documentation. ([The] source is 1989 World Almanac and Book of Facts.)

(Clark 287-289)

Making Plagiarism-Proof Assignments

As many teachers and writers have said in the past, the key to eliminating plagiarism in our classrooms is not threatening or pestering our students, it is in creating assignments that do not allow for plagiarism. While this may involve more initial work on our part, strong assignments will ultimately provide students with the best writing and research skills for academia and beyond.

Strategies for a Writing Classroom

Burwell, Kibler, and Keir suggest the following:

  1. Avoid open-ended topics.
  2. Emphasize the recursiveness of writing.
  3. Clarify to what extent collaboration is acceptable.
  4. Have students create the expectations or rubric for the assignment with you.
  5. Require specific formatting.
  6. Use unusual combinations of terminology or texts.
  7. Use class discussion(s) as a source.
  8. Provide source restrictions.
  9. Use opening Write to Learns that ask students to synthesize their knowledge about a source or set of sources are also a possibility.
  10. Require disk copies that can be fed into scanning services on the Internet.
  11. Add oral presentations.
  12. Have students keep a paper or project log that documents and engages with the research process.
  13. Require significantly revised multiple drafts.
  14. Along with the idea of multiple drafts, break the assignment into parts that are to be turned in at different stages of the process. Examples of parts include short Summary/Response papers for each source or a set of sources or an Annotated Bibliography. The Annotated Bibliography can be broken down into sets of sources as well. For example, students might be required to turn in 3-4 sources at the end of the first week of the assignment, 3-4 at the end of the second, etc. As Reade W. Dornan et al. points out, the individual parts do not need to be graded, but they will help hold the student accountable and will also familiarize you with the student's thinking and writing about h/er subject (146). Portfolio grades, or, as Robert Harris suggests, assigning points for each component so that a student without them will not pass the portfolio, are also helpful.
  15. Require photocopies of sources. Students don't need to turn in an entire book; a copy of the page(s) from which they quoted will suffice. Be sure to let students know of this requirement at the start of the assignment so they aren't surprised.

Postscripts for Writing Projects

Harris also adds that prohibiting students from changing topics at the last minute is a proactive strategy for avoiding plagiarism. Lastly, requiring a postscript on the day the paper is due, or, as Harris calls it, a "metalearning essay," that asks students to describe what they learned from the assignment, is effective in not only getting students to reflect on their writing and researching process, but allows for more insight into whether or not they accomplished that progress truthfully:

What problems did [you] face and how did [you] overcome them?
What research strategy did [you] follow?
Where did [you] locate most of [your] sources?
What is the most important thing [you] learned from investigating this subject?
            (Harris 57-58)

Additionally, a common postscript might include the following questions:

What was the most difficult part of writing this paper?
What do you feel the strongest aspect of this paper is?
If you had more time, on what aspect of the paper would you continue to work?
How did this paper change from its first draft?

Getting Students Engaged with the Research Writing Process

One way to help students engage with the research process is to create an Inquiry Journal assignment. You might begin by discussing the process of inquiry as follows:

Example: Research Process Assignment

Inquiry is a process. Through it, we aim to earn our position about the issue we're arguing about by considering all the options instead of only pursuing those that might support our initial ideas.

Inquiry starts by listening to the conversation going on around and about our issue. It then involves engaging with the texts in that conversation. Engaging can take the form of dialoguing (thinking critically about what we've read, asking questions of the text, comparing our values with the values presented in the text) and/or being critical of the text (analyzing the text using the analysis skills we learned in Unit 1). The goal of the Inquiry Journal is not only to record your process of inquiry but also to facilitate it by foregrounding the parts of the inquiry process and keeping everything organized.

Based on the type of assignment the students are doing, you should specify how many sources you want them to consult and how many sources should end up being used in the final paper. Then you might provide guidelines such as the following:

The first entry of the journal should record your initial thoughts or opinions on your topic (2-3 paragraphs).

Each subsequent entry in your journal should clearly document the text with which you're engaging by citing the text in bibliographic format and briefly summarizing it (2-3 sentences).

The majority of each entry should demonstrate how you're engaging with the text (1-2 paragraphs). You can choose to do this a number of ways by:

  • Analyzing of the thing(s) that stood out to you the most
  • Explaining what influenced you the most and why
  • Listing questions you have (particularly questions you're asking of the text)
  • Comparing your previous thoughts with the ones the text presents

The last component of your Journal should briefly sum up (2-3 paragraphs) how the process of inquiry has shaped the claim you wish to make in your argument-in other words, how the process influenced what you think about your issue or how your opinion on the issue has changed based on what you read.

The total journal should be approximately 7 pages in length.

The Inquiry Journal assignment can be turned in with a final draft or prior to the submission of a final draft. Through this assignment, you can see how closely and critically a student is reading sources, and you can familiarize yourself with the sources before reading the student's final product. Additionally, if none of the sources end up in the final product, you have a red flag that can clue you in to the integrity of the text.

The sites listed below will give you additional information on plagiarism.

Sites that Help Students Understand and Avoid Plagiarism

Avoiding Plagiarism by Sharon Williams

Offers general information and advice for avoiding plagiarism with examples of paraphrasing and quoting from sources.

Northwestern University on Avoiding Plagiarism

Provides links to plagiarism information including definitions, tips for avoiding it, and examples of acceptable paraphrasing.

Plagiarism: What Is it and How to Recognize and Avoid It

Indiana University defines plagiarism and details ways to identify and avoid it.

Purdue University on Avoiding Plagiarism

Explains common contradictions in academic writing, degrees and definitions of plagiarism, and practical self-checks for student writing.

UC Davis on Avoiding Plagiarism

Offers help on mastering the art of scholarship by defining plagiarism and offering tips for avoiding it.

What Is Plagiarism?

A useful discussion of plagiarism and related issues; offered by the Honors Program at Georgetown University.

Sites that Help Instructors Address Plagiarism

The Council of Writing Program Administrators Statement on Plagiarism

Available as a PDF (Adobe Acrobat) file, "this statement responds to the growing educational concerns about plagiarism in four ways: by defining plagiarism; by suggesting some of the causes of plagiarism; by proposing a set of responsibilities (for students, teachers, and administrators) to address the problem of plagiarism; and by recommending a set of practices for teaching and learning that can significantly reduce the likelihood of plagiarism. The statement is intended to provide helpful suggestions and clarifications so that instructors, administrators, and students can work together more effectively in support of excellence in teaching and learning."

Thinking and Talking about Plagiarism by Nick Carbone

A useful, detailed discussion of plagiarism and related issues.

Plagiarism and the Web by Bruce Leland

Bruce Leland's useful discussion of plagiarism. Includes a list of plagiarism links.

Cheating 101: Paper Mills and You

A comprehensive resource developed by Margaret Fain and Peggy Bates of Kimbel Library, Coastal Carolina University. Includes an extensive list of "paper mill" sites.


Focuses in particular on Web-related plagiarism.

Plagiarism: What it is and how to recognize and avoid it.

Discusses teaching strategies for avoiding plagiarism.

Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers, by Robert Harris

A useful discussion of strategies for preventing plagiarism.

Plagiarism Resource Site

Archived resource site on plagiarism.

Sites that Support, Promote, and/or Profit from Plagiarism

Cheating 101: Paper Mills and You

A comprehensive resource developed by Margaret Fain and Peggy Bates of Kimbel Library, Coastal Carolina University. Includes an extensive list of "paper mill" sites.

Google Search: Term Papers

Check out the latest list of "term paper" sites listed on Google, including sponsored sites that offer custom term papers.

Works Cited

Anonymous. Dictionary.com. Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. 2003. August 18, 2003. (www.dictionary.com).

Burwell, Hope, and William L. Kibler and Jessica A. Keir. Cheating and Plagiarism Using the Internet. PBS Teleconference. April 2003.

Clark, Beverly Lyon. "Plagiarism and Documentation: A Self-Instructional Lesson." Teaching the Research Paper: From Theory to Practice, From Research to Writing. Ed. James E. Ford. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1995. 286-298.

Dornan, Reade W., and Lois Matz Rosen and Marilyn Wilson. Within and Beyond the Writing Process in the Secondary English Classroom. Pearson Education Group: Boston, 2003.

Harris, Robert. The Plagiarism Handbook. Pyrczak Publishing: Los Angeles, 2001.

McCabe, Donald L., and Gary Pavela. Ten Principles of Academic Integrity. College Administration Publications. 2002. August 18, 2003. (http://www.collegepubs.com/ref/10PrinAcaInteg.shtml).

Palmquist, Mike. The Bedford Researcher. Bedford St. Martin's, 2003.

Reid, Stephen. The Prentice Hall Guide for College Writers. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall, 2003.

Citation: Please adapt for your documentation style.
Story-Jackson, Liz, Cathy Ackerson Rogers, & Mike Palmquist. (1999). Dealing with Plagiarism. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University. https://writing.colostate.edu/teaching/guide.cfm?guideid=103