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Understanding & Beating Plagiarism

1.  Three Suggestions for Understanding & Beating Plagiarism
2.  Online Articles & Discussion of Plagiarism
3.  For the especially anxious:
1.  Three Suggestions

Recently, the always generous & creative folks on Chaucernet had one of the finest discussions about plagiarism I’ve ever read. Here are a few of the highlights, including one of my own suggestions.   I've dressed up the copy just slightly so it's easier to follow.

Suggestion Number 1

At 04:11 PM 4/24/99 -0400, Elza C. Tiner wrote:

In my teaching, I am trying to understand the student thinking that generates plagiarism. Here are my observations about students.

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) 1).  As many on this listserve have pointed out, many students come to college or university to earn a degree, to get a job, to push all the right buttons to finish successfully. Courses are treated like computer programs or fast food operations: push set buttons and an A should come out. Recently, I heard one student saying, "I took notes on it. I can't understand why I got it wrong on the test."

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) 2).  Students often compartmentalize their learning: they take an interest in one subject, but do not see how it connects to other subjects. They then jettison the other subjects and pay attention to the area(s) of interest, usually their major/minor. One of my students wrote a paper on the development of character in preparation for acting. I happened to be at a college production and I saw her acting in a play. She never used her own process of developing a role to illustrate her paper, which she could have done. Her acting class was a separate world.

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) 3).  Students often lead parallel lives. One life is in the classroom: World 1. Another life is "real," focused on their relationships and activities outside the classroom. World 2 often involves much higher levels of motivation than World 1.

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) 4).  For students used to audio/visual interactions, reading/writing are difficult activities. Thus, the "dudes" who had not read the _Aeneid_, or _Moby Dick_, have avoided what looked like a massively difficult project.

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) 5).  Students who despair of their ability to communicate with the academic community will turn to whatever language sources they can find: ghostwriters, editors/proofreaders, other people's language in books and on the net, which they try to paste together into their papers, and hope that it will satisfy the requirement and that their absence will not be noticed.

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) 6).  Some students will take notes and just mimic what the teacher says, again, to avoid any disclosure of their own language and ideas, for fear of being "wrong."

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) 7).  Procrastination is the result of a task being placed low on a list of priorities. Students will set higher priorities for things that they enjoy. Why is "enjoyment" a prerequisite to doing anything?

None of the above excuses students from doing the required work! I am NOT advocating that we water down our subjects to please the masses. Instead, how do we raise the students up?

Resulting questions:

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) How can we help students to make connections before/during college, grounding them in solid practice in reading and writing?

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) How can we help them to learn the academic discourse needed to use the sources correctly, but to have confidence in their own arguments in response to the sources?

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) How can we help students to connect the parallel lives in college?

I am struggling to break these barriers in my students' thinking. Ideas? How do we teach students to take responsibility for their work, to do work that is not necessarily "fun," to work at areas of weakness, and, at the same time, how do we make the work as enjoyable as possible, so that the students can connect it, become one with it?

Elza C. Tiner

Suggestion Number 2

Date: Mon, 26 Apr 1999 22:42:20 -0800
From: Daniel T Kline afdtk@UAA.ALASKA.EDU
Subject: Plagiarism & Prevention

I think one of the things we can do to disrupt the circuit of untrouthe between students, web sources, paper mills, and other easily abused resources is to structure our assignments in ways that minimize a student's ability simply to turn in a "finished" paper for a grade.

I guess it's the years of teaching writing courses that have taught me to require students to submit various kinds of materials at different stages of completion, including a project proposal, rough drafts, and critical summaries of research materials. Then, and this is the kicker (and it's carefully detailed in my syllabi), students not only have to turn in the sources they use in the paper, they have to identify (usually with a highlighter) and to briefly annotate *on the photocopied page* (1) where that source appears in their essay and (2) how they have used it (whether quotation, paraphrase, or summary). Students know from the outset that I will not accept any paper without accompanying source material, properly documented.

I know it's a lot of paper (especially with 4 classes per term) and the folders can get really thick, but since the student is put in the place of showing *me* where the source appears and *how* it is used, all I really have to do is check rather than police the source. Plus, we have some very intense discussions about proper use and documentation of sources.

The plan isn't foolproof, but it certainly provides a number of disincentives for those looking for an easy way out.

Dan Kline
University of Alaska Anchorage

Suggestion Number 3

Date: Sat, 1 May 1999 10:26:47 -0500
From: laura f hodges lfhodges@JUNO.COM
Subject: Re: Solutions for plagiarism

Henry Griffy asks 'what would be the best solution' to the problem of plagiarism--

We've had several very workable solutions offered already. It seems to me that the best way to deal with the problem is to use _all_ workable solutions at one time--at least those that would not involve someone in possible ethical or legal complications. I list a few that have caught my eye--but I might be forgetting a good one--because I think it would be good to compile a list of strategies. And I apologize because I will be forgetting, some of the time, who suggested what.


First, I'd like to say that, in the short run, some of the following will seem more time and energy consuming than one might wish, but that, in the long run, sponsoring true scholarship is a goal worth working towards.

If we don't teach scholarship, then what are we doing? If we teach subject matter _through_ these strategies--isn't this the goal we really want to reach?

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) 1a.  Assign paper topics/types that can't have a ready-made paper somewhere on the net. If there's nothing, or not much on a topic, then the students will _have_ to do their own thinking or research. [I agree that this will stretch your imagination.]

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) 1b.  Don't assign the same paper topics semester after semester.

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) 2.  Foster independent student thinking in the classroom from day 1. Don't make a secret of that goal. Create a classroom climate that supports student thinking/contributions to the discussions. Ask open-ended questions. Don't jump in with "the" answer, but ask the kinds of questions that generate student answers. Let the students practice generating theses orally and backing them up orally, before just expecting them to do it in writing.

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) 3.  Avoid the lecture mode as an _only_ or predominant teaching technique--lectures sponsor the idea that the professor has all of the answers and that it is enough for the student to just give those ideas back on tests or in papers. Students really can come up with the answers or with answers that are 'close' , and then it's very easy to supply the one or two details that give them the 'aha!' experience. Also--sometimes students have known more than I have on a topic, and _I_ had the 'aha!' experience. And sometimes the discussion is just a set-up for all of us to look a bit further and report back to the class, under 'old business.'

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) 4.  Dan Kline's method of requiring xerox copies for everything that appears in a paper that was quoted, summarized, or paraphrased, with appropriate highlighting and annotation is one that I know from experience. It works. He also recommended that the _process_ of paper writing be checked at every stage. That, too, works. If the total grade for a paper is earned in increments for each stage, then it is a reinforcement for the idea that each stage of true scholarship is valuable in building a solid scholarly paper. Also--this method avoids the need for any professor to have to hunt down a source in the library. If anyone wants a copy of Dan's posting, I'm sure he'd send you one.

When I used to use this system, I told my students that they didn't have to footnote anything they could find in the Encyclopedia Britannica + one other encyclopedia of their choice [name had to be supplied]--that we'd call that "general knowledge." Other than that, the only other thing that didn't have to be footnoted was their thesis which then had to be supported by the substance of the rest of the paper.

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) 5.  If you want scholarly papers from your students, you'll have to teach them exactly what constitutes scholarly." Don't expect them to already know. Some will/some won't. No need to wait until after the first paper which made abysmal reading for you and a "failure experience" for them. Begin day 1 teaching the parts of scholarship that are vital and give them plenty of actual practice in using them with your subject matter content. You want quotation marks?--then make them generate short paragraphs using them, not just once, but several different times—with the appropriate footnotes. Yes, they should already _know_ this--but it needs to be emphasized that nothing less is acceptable; as our good student listmember has already said: Don't accept anything less.

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) 6. Alan Baragona's downloading of a canned paper and subsequent class analysis of its content and style sounds like a wonderful strategy. And the outcomes he listed certainly look good.

I know there were other suggestions that were good, but this is all I can recall right now.


Laura F. Hodges

2.  Online Articles & Discussion About Plagiarism

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) For advice on developing good study habits, respect for sources, and preventing plagiarism in the elementary grades, see the excellent Writing and Plagiarism:  Advice for Lessons, at the Apple Learning Interchange website.

3.  The WWW Problem & Solution!

smttr_bk83A3.gif (843 bytes) If you're especially anxious about the possibility of plagiarism from Internet and WWW sources, especially from "term paper mills," you might consider the services of  Recently highly rated by Yahoo! Internet Life magazine, can check individual paper or be incorporated into the framework of a class: 

1.  An instructor registers his/her class with Each instructor then requests that her/his students upload their term papers or manuscripts to the web site.

2.  Each student in the instructor's course accesses the web site.

3.  From the web site students can upload their work into our database designed
specifically for their particular class. Students can also access information regarding plagiarism and information concerning intellectual property.

4.  Our proprietary technology converts each manuscript into an abstract representation; essentially, we 'finger-print' each paper.

5.  Each term paper submitted for a class requirement is statistically checked
against a database of other manuscripts collected from different universities,
classes, and from all-over the Internet. Only cases of gross plagiarism are
flagged. This means that papers using some identical quotes or papers written
on similar topics will NEVER be flagged as unoriginal.

6.  A report is then emailed (or mailed) to the instructor detailing the degrees of
originality for each paper checked with

Although I have not personally used this service, they offer a free evaluation, and their website houses a helpful collection of online articles from the popular press and academic journals on plagiarism, term paper mills, intellectual property, and academic honesty that are well worth reviewing.

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