June 13th, 2011

Tips for Preventing Plagiarism among College Students

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For some students, a writing assignment takes weeks of research, writing and revisions. For others, the ingredients are more along the lines of Google, CTRL+C and CTRL+V. And for others still, the assignment is nothing more than a transaction with an online essay mill.

Errol Craig Sull has taught online courses for more than 10 years and during that time has seen his share of copy and paste and essay-for-hire plagiarism. In some cases, the students don’t even realize they’re doing anything wrong or were never taught proper citation practices.

During the online seminar How to Detect and Prevent Plagiarism in the Online Classroom, Sull shared tips for spotting instances of plagiarism as well as how to minimize it from happening in the first place.

“The first thing you need to do is get students’ attention,” said Sull. “Let them know you are going to actively work to detect plagiarism and that there are software tools like Turnitin that you’ll be using.”
In addition to talking with your students about plagiarism, and teaching them how to correctly cite their sources, the ways in which you structure your assignments can go a long way in preventing plagiarism, Sull said.

Here are some of the plagiarism prevention strategies Sull uses in his courses:
Get to know your students. Early on in the course, low-stakes assignments that ask students to introduce themselves or discuss their goals for the course help provide a baseline if you need to compare a suspect essay against their writing style and stated interests.

Require up-to-date research. Paper mills often use older sources or don’t pay attention to the dates. Make it harder for students to buy their papers by requiring that all sources be no more than five years old.

Require revisions. Writing is a process and by making students submit an outline and drafts of a paper, you’re creating another barrier to plagiarism.

Require a journal. If students know they will need to discuss their research, how they arrived at their topic and thesis statement, and the problems they encountered, they will be less likely to submit unoriginal work, Sull said.

Vary the audience. Require students to write papers for different audiences and to use specific vocabulary, structural approach and research components in each paper.

“Remember: A teacher has always been a mixture of Socrates, Helen Keller, Confucius, Horace Mann, Galileo, Booker T. Washington, and Ayn Rand … but now must also add Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones, and Wyatt Earp,” Sull said.