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Preventing and Responding to Plagiarism

How can I help my students understand and avoid plagiarism?

  • State your expectations explicitly and more than once. Conventions and expectations for attribution of sources vary across disciplines. They also vary across courses. You can't assume previous coursework has taught your students how to work with sources the way you want them to. All students need to be clearly introduced to your specific expectations for citation, as well as the rationale behind your expectations. Remember that learning how to attribute sources is linked with a number of complex values held within each discipline about what role the ideas or findings of other thinkers should or shouldn't serve in writing, and novice writers need to be taught about working effectively with texts in your field. We strongly recommend beginning the conversation with your students about how to work with sources in your field and course in your syllabus, but we also advise you to revisit and discuss these expectations when students begin writing. Here are some of the questions you should consider answering somewhere in writing for your students.
  • What citation style should students use? Must they use the most recent version of that style?
  • Where is the line in your class between kinds of information that should be explicitly cited and kinds of information that do not require citation? What is considered “common knowledge” and what is not? (This varies from course to course to a surprising extent, which is one reason students are often confused about this issue.)
  • Will the expectations for citation vary from assignment to assignment? (Should informal response writing be treated differently from a formal final draft of an essay?)
  • Must drafts of an assignment include complete, correct citation, or is it ethical to omit all or some citation until the final draft?
  • What is your policy on students re-using ideas or language that they previously composed in other contexts?
  • Are there sources that you would forbid students to consult at all, even if they do not incorporate them in their writing, such as text summary websites like Sparknotes or essays written by former students in your class?
  • Are there sources you expect students to consult or include in their writing? This comes up in the assignments themselves, but it may merit mentioning here as well.
  • Develop a collaboration policy specifically for the writing in your class. Who can give a student feedback on her writing? What kinds of feedback are acceptable for the assignments you're giving? This is a valuable chance to teach students that receiving critical feedback on writing is part of the academic writing process, but that letting other writers edit their work is generally unacceptable.
  • Consider consulting professional resources on this topic. There are many books and scholarly articles about the causes of and responses to plagiarism. The Writing Program Administrators' Council very helpful statement of Best Practices for Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism distills current research findings into practical advice for faculty. It offers a number of concrete steps you can take to make sure your students understand what plagiarism is and do not commit it.
  • Ask students to read the Hixon Writing Center's statement on plagiarism. 
  • Share models of correctly cited writing in your field with students. Check out these annotated model essays and consider sharing them with students as appropriate, or create your own models.
  • Encourage students to see you with questions about working with texts before submitting their work. Make time and space in class and in office hours for questions about writing when appropriate.

What do I do when I find plagiarism in student writing?

Cases of plagiarism involving academic dishonesty should be reported immediately to the Board of Control.