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Addressing Plagiarism

Plagiarism, the academic community's capital crime, undermines the development and transmission of knowledge--what academia is all about. Many academics may moan about plagiarism, but some, including Edward M. White in "Too Many Campuses Want to Sweep Student Plagiarism Under the Rug," argue that faculty can do more to fight it. To combat plagiarism, White suggests that we need to work on two fronts: "prevention through education, as well as punishment for violations." We can explain the problem, teach tactics to avoid it, design assignments to combat it, and then punish it with consistency when it occurs.

Explain the Seriousness of Plagiarism

Plagiarism, the academic community's capital crime, undermines the development and transmission of knowledge--what academia is all about. Many academics may moan about plagiarism, but some, including Edward M. White in "Too Many Campuses Want to Sweep Student Plagiarism Under the Rug," argue that faculty can do more to fight it. To combat plagiarism, White suggests that we need to work on two fronts: "prevention through education, as well as punishment for violations." We can explain the problem, teach tactics to avoid it, design assignments to combat it, and then punish it with consistency when it occurs.

Teach the Role of Research

Well-intentioned students may stumble into plagiarism because they don't understand the need for their own insight and reflection. White explains that students need to learn that "sources should support, not substitute for, their own work." They also need to learn the research process as it operates in a specific discipline.

Review Conventions

The tactics to avoid plagiarism are best taught in the individual disciplines. There, students can learn the relation of research to their writing in the particular discipline in which they are working and can be introduced to the conventions that will allow them to credit the origin of their information. White observes that "even when the composition course does a careful job, that instruction must be reinforced by other courses before students will take the message to heart. Further, different disciplines follow different systems for making citations, reflecting not just differences in format, but also in the ways in which disciplines pose and solve problems and what they accept as 'common knowledge'."

Design Assignments that Discourage Cheating

Teachers can educate themselves to recognize and, thus, avoid assignments that promote plagiarism, White suggests. For example, he advocates that "professors should discuss assignments in detail with students and explain why the retelling of knowledge will be insufficient." Other strategies include:

  • reviewing with students appropriate citation strategies for the discipline.
  • segmenting a large assignment: This discourages plagiarism by requiring that students submit evidence of their work as it progresses.
  • monitoring the assignment subject matter: Assignments lacking clearly stated subject-matter boundaries are sometimes given in the name of encouraging student creativity. However, such open-ended assignments fuel the business of term-paper mills. Instead, consider stating boundaries for the assignment and selecting a topic that is not summarized in popular student analyses. An assignment that demands discussion of a topic in terms of class theory and discussion is difficult to plagiarize.
  • varying the assignment from year to year.
  • incorporating in-class writing with the out-of-class assignment.
  • As Walvoord reminds instructors, not only does in-class writing help prevent plagiarism as such, but if students know that they need to submit in-class work as part of a major project, they are much less likely to be tempted to purchase a paper. In-class writing might include journal entries, brief progress reports, or exam responses on mid-terms and finals.

Punish Plagiarism with Consistency

Certainly, we agree that academia is more than a diploma mill, yet White notes that, although many institutions publish strong policy statements, they are often not enforced by either individual teachers or the institution: "We give too much weight to the passive adoption of others' ideas, to the mindless repetition of slogans as if they were thoughts, to the view that education is merely a means to a degree or a certificate, not something important for its own sake." If we regard plagiarism as an affront to our intellectual values and our students' intellectual development, perhaps we will be more cognizant of the need to combat plagiarism through education and consistent enforcement.

References:
Walvoord, Barbara E. "Considering Goals and Options for Writing in Your Course."
Helping Students Write Well. New York: Modern Language Association, 1986. 6-32.
White, Edward M. "Too Many Campuses Want to Sweep Student Plagiarism Under the Rug." The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 24, 1993. A44.

Revised 11/2011


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