December 8th, 2009

Beyond the Prohibitions: Teaching Students not to Plagiarize


“I don’t think teachers teach it well enough. I don’t think they teach well enough citing, and what to do, and how to take the words, and how many words you can take without being considered plagiarism. They just say, ‘Don’t plagiarize.’ But they never tell you what to do to not plagiarize.” (p. 655)

This assessment was offered by a student named Amy who, along with 60 other students, participated in a study that explored student understandings of plagiarism. It’s an interesting study design with equally important findings, one of them being ably summed in the opening quote. The students in this study reported that their teachers did get the “don’t plagiarize” message across clearly, but like Amy, many students reported that teachers didn’t help them learn how to not plagiarize.

Another finding revealed how student and teacher definitions of plagiarism are not the same. The researcher raises some interesting questions about this (I’ll be doing a summary of this article in the February issue of the newsletter), but one implication of the finding is that teachers and students need to get themselves on the same page definitionally. And what better way to do that than by using some of the interview questions developed for this study? How about having have students write responses to these questions (and there are more like them in the article) early in the course, and then use their responses in an open discussion of the topic? If you assign writing and want to help students learn why plagiarism is wrong as well as how not do it, this could be time very well spent.

  • How do you define plagiarism?
  • Describe the circumstances in which you have copied and pasted from electronic text, and say whether or not you believe this constitutes plagiarism.
  • Have you ever deliberately plagiarized a paper? What were the circumstances?
  • Why is plagiarism wrong?
  • What advice would you give faculty to help students prevent plagiarism?

Reference: Powers. L. G. (2009). University students’ perceptions of plagiarism. The Journal of Higher Education. 80 (6), 643-662.