As educators, we’re responsible for maintaining the integrity of our classrooms.
An important first step is to recognize that citing sources and understanding plagiarism may be difficult for incoming students. Helping students achieve and maintain mastery of these concepts requires sustained attention.
Helping Students Avoid Plagiarism
Many students arrive at the university uncertain of expectations. This uncertainty may have multiple origins. Students:
- May not have received explicit, thorough, or effective instruction about plagiarism in high school;
- May have been trained in a different national or cultural tradition, which can result in very different expectations about citation and textual ownership (Ballard & Clanchy, 1991, adapted in Hyland, 2003, p. 39);
- May have difficulty understanding variations among disciplines—for example, that an acceptable paraphrase in their psychology class may look like plagiarism to their English professor (Jamieson, 2008).
Plagiarism is not an easy concept to fully grasp without considerable experience working with sources.
While the general principle of “not cheating” is easily understood and recognized in some forms of academic dishonesty (copying answers on a test, bringing a “cheat sheet” to an exam, etc.), knowing how to adequately cite the sources of one's expanding knowledge base is not easy. Even expert writers can be found to have misquoted or misdated/paged the ideas and words of others (Pennycook, 1989). Additionally, the concept of paraphrase while not difficult in principle is extremely difficult to execute when the academic language resources of the writer are limited.
Within the context of avoiding plagiarism as a developing skill, there are a number of principles and practices faculty can use to help their students avoid the problem.
In all cases, one should distinguish between what the Council of Writing Program Administrators calls "misuse of sources" and an instance of a student willfully trying to cheat on an assignment. A misuse of a source is when a student "attempts (even if clumsily) to identify and credit his or her source, but . . . misuses a specific citation format or incorrectly uses quotation marks or other forms of identifying material taken from other sources." Misuse of sources is a developmental writing problem, attempting to cheat is an act of academic dishonesty (see also Teaching about Citation, below).
There is an extensive and sometimes conflicting body of research on academic integrity and plagiarism (see Scholarly Resources). Some widely shared ideas for effectively addressing academic honesty are summarized below.
- Be fully aware of the university's policy on plagiarism including all the consequences for the student and obligations of the instructor.
- Devote class time throughout the semester to supporting students as they learn the conventions of your field.
- Be clear and explicit in your expectations (account for a learning curve with novice writers; decide whether to have a warning stage or not and inform the students).
- Provide a definition that distinguishes weak use of citation format from plagiarism.
- Design assignments to be very specific to course content, to synthesize ideas, to apply knowledge, and to require drafts.
- Change assignments from semester to semester.
- Require drafts of major assignments (treat misuse of sources differently on final drafts than on intermediate drafts).
- Be consistent from student to student in enacting your policies.
- When grading, hold firm in your commitment to promoting academic honesty and in holding students accountable for their actions and coursework; reward originality and proper citation.
Faculty members can best promote academic integrity by devoting class time to supporting students as they learn the conventions of our fields. Attention to the issue of plagiarism should be sustained through the semester (rather than dispensed within a single session or lesson), and should be supported by activities, exercises, discussion, homework assignments—in other words, supported pedagogically as we would support any other important topic. Don’t assume that students already know the expectations of U.S. universities or of your particular field.
- Include a definition of plagiarism (required by USF) and be sure to spend time discussing the definition, with examples. As DiPietro (2010) notes, research shows that faculty members often "disagree on what constitutes cheating or on the severity of the infraction. What is forbidden in one course, or discipline, or culture, might be allowed or even encouraged in another, especially when it comes to appropriate vs. inappropriate collaboration or rules for citing sources." USF’s Honor Code defines plagiarism as follows: “Plagiarism is the act of presenting, as one’s own the ideas or writings of another; plagiarism, in any of its forms, violates academic integrity. While different academic disciplines have different norms of attribution, all strive to recognize and value individuals’ contributions to the larger body of knowledge. It is the responsibility of students to consult with their professors in order to understand the norms of attribution in each discipline and area of study.”
- Include an honor agreement that students must sign.
- Include a policy on addressing cases of plagiarism. Remember that not all instances of errors in source or citation use are equal. Some may be a case of cheating and others may be misunderstanding or a novice attempt to master a complex academic skill. In either case, be sure that you are fully aware of USF’s guidelines for addressing instances of suspected plagiarism. (Link to that)
Below is a syllabus statement used by the Department of Rhetoric and Language.
As a Jesuit institution committed to cura personalis—the care and education of the whole person—USF has an obligation to embody and foster the values of honesty and integrity. USF upholds the standards of honesty and integrity from all members of the academic community. All students are expected to know and adhere to the University's Honor Code. You can find the full text of the code online at myusf.usfca.edu/fogcutter. As it particularly pertains to the Department of Rhetoric and Language, the policy covers:
- Plagiarism — intentionally or unintentionally representing the words or ideas of another person as your own; failure to properly cite references; manufacturing references.
- Working with another person when independent work is required.
- Submission of the same paper in more than one course without the specific permission of each instructor.
- Submitting a paper written by another person or obtained from the internet.
- The penalties for violation of the policy may include a failing grade on the assignment, a failing grade in the course, and/or a referral to the Dean and the Committee on Student Academic Honesty. In addition, a letter will be sent to the Associate Dean for Student Academic Services; the letter will remain in your file for two years after you graduate, after which you may petition for its removal.
Academic integrity is threatened more readily in some contexts than in others. Students are more likely to engage in plagiarism when they do not understand expectations and policies. When academic stakes or rewards are very high or when students have a low personal commitment to subject matter (Nathan 2005), they may be tempted to use poor source practices. Also, if assignments make cheating easy, students are more likely to do it. DiPietro (2010) observes that "assessments based on memorization and regurgitation or employing multiple choice and true/false questions are easier to cheat on." Here are a number of useful practices that can mitigate such situations:
- Use assignment sheets with reiterated plagiarism policies.
- Change assignments regularly (even modest changes within each semester or between sections of the same course).
- Use occasional in-class writing assignments.
- Have students paraphrase and cite a text you assign early in the semester to check if they understand the concepts of paraphrase and citation, and to observe their writing. Keeping this will help in noting anomalies later.
- Let students write extemporaneously on reading or lecture material to use "their own words".
- Practice using sources with short writing assignments.
- Avoid using an open topic research paper assignment. Provide a question (or series of questions to choose from) that limits the students' option for sources.
- Consider having several shorter assignments assigned rather than one long research paper, or have parts of the longer research paper due earlier in order to check the students' use of sources and writing.
- Limit the sources students may use to those you have locally or know well. For example, require sources involving San Francisco or the USF campus—or in connection to a recent current event.
- Require a list of references before a longer source-based assignment with an indication from the student about how the source will fit into their assignment.
- Require students to turn in all print or printable sources with final draft
- If you give exams, don't give the whole class the same exam, and don't give the same exam year after year.
- Include observations or interviews (as in some of the sample assignments, below)
- Use interview assignments that require action and thought, but no referencing:
- About two weeks prior to submission of the first referenced paper, assign an open-book, take-home quiz on the citation style that you are using for the course assignments.
- Make assignments specific.
Here are a few examples from the Indiana University's Center for Innovative Teaching: https://citl.indiana.edu/ #syllabusdesign
Consider a less well known piece:
Rather than: Discuss the importance of literacy to freedom in Frederick Douglass's Narrative.
Try: Discuss the connection between literacy and freedom in Poynter’s abolitionist tract.
Pose a more focused question:
Rather than: What artistic movements influenced the Impressionists?
Try: In what ways does this particular Impressionist painting reveal the influences of earlier movements?
Ask a question that requires application, rather than explanation of knowledge:
Rather than: Explain the basic functions of the vascular, skeletal, muscular and nervous systems.
Try: A cat jumps off the end of a table onto the floor. Describe how its vascular, muscular, skeletal and nervous systems contribute to this action.
Rather than: Write a review of The Matrix (reviews are especially common on the Web).
Try: How well does The Matrix exemplify Smith's "nostalgic futurism" in contemporary film?
Consider a tight comparison:
Rather than: Analyze Douglass's attitude toward white abolitionists.
Try: How does Douglass's notion of audience change between the Narrative and his Life and Times, and how do these two texts differ as a result?
Use a "touchstone" assignment:
Ask students to connect their ideas to another aspect of the class—use a point from lecture, a quotation selected from one of your readings (try to choose a less-obvious quotation), an image, or a graph.
Rather than: Discuss how the accused/condemned were treated in Salem.
Try: Using Mary Easty's petition, explain the condemned’s perspective of the Salem trials.
Helping Students Avoid Cheating
1. Research suggests that students want to maintain a positive self-image. A simple variation in language can make a difference whether students cheat or not by triggering their desire to preserve their self-image as good and honest. For example, telling students not to be a cheater is more effective than telling them not to cheat (Bryan, et al. 2012).
2. Students may cheat because of inattention to or disengagement from moral standards (Mazar et al. 2008; Shu et al. 2001). Consequently, engaging students to think about a moral code can be an effective strategy to prevent academic dishonesty. For example, Ed Munnich, USF Associate Professor of Psychology, has students sign a simple form before his first exam. The form invokes both the USF honor code and God or someone whom students respect the most as a witness. Below is a version that he created:
USF's motto is "Change the World From Here." To change the world in a positive way, we must start here at USF with honesty and integrity. To emphasize this, USF has implemented the Honor Code. To ensure that all Learning, Memory, and Cognition exams are taken with honesty and integrity, you must sign the statement below in order for your exam to be counted (in other words, you will receive a zero on the exam if you do not sign).
Please think of God, or the person you respect most, as your witness as you read and sign the following: I have not looked at another student’s answers during this exam, nor have I shared my answers with any other student during this exam. I have not discussed the questions or answers from this exam with any other student before I took this exam, I will not discuss the questions or answers from this exam with any students outside of my section (except TAs) after the exam, and I will not post any questions or answers from this exam either physically or electronically. If I become aware of any student who has violated this statement, I will bring her/him to the attention of Dr. Munnich.
Thank you for helping to maintain the honesty and integrity of our community!
3. Qualitative research indicates that both instructors and students share similar views on how to manage cheating in the classroom. Furthermore, instructors and students can work together to establish an ethical community. Such strategies include clearly communicating expectations regarding cheating behavior, establishing policies regarding appropriate conduct, creating challenging and engaging forms of learning and assessment, and involving students in reducing cheating. For more principles and strategies, see McCabe, Treviño, and Butterfield (2001) and McCabe & Pavela (2004).
Helping Students Cite Accurately
We generally agree that it is crucial to teach undergraduates about citation. To do so effectively, we need to recognize a few facts.
First, citation practices become "second nature" to seasoned scholars—and as a result, we can underestimate their complexity for novice writers (Blum 2009).
Second, citation and reference practices vary widely between fields. While the underlying goals of citation are widely shared (see the list below), the details can differ substantially. For example:
- In the humanities and social sciences, it's common to alphabetize a bibliography (which may also be known as a "Works Cited" or "References" list), while in some fields in the sciences bibliographic entries are listed in the order they are cited in the paper.
- In many fields in the sciences or social sciences, paraphrasing is common and direct quotation relatively rare; in many fields in the humanities, direct quotation is essential, along with exhaustive discussion and analysis of the quotation.
- In English, book and article titles are capitalized according to a complex and arcane system, while in biology, titles are capitalized like sentences.
Not only must students master disciplinary citation systems with limited explicit instruction, but they must be an historian in the morning and a biologist in the afternoon—in other words, they must master many different and often conflicting systems.
Accurate Citation Practices
- If mastery of a particular citation style is important to you, devote class time to supporting students as they learn the system of your field. Attention to citation systems should be sustained through the semester (rather than dispensed within a single session or lesson), and should be supported by activities, exercises, discussion, homework assignments—in other words, supported pedagogically as you would support any other important topic.
- Make your expectations—and the rationale for them—clear to students. The list below is one model for sharing expectations with students. Without explicit instruction, students may see varying citation systems as a collection of randomly idiosyncratic preferences by individual instructors. See below for some arguments for the importance of meticulous citation. Feel free to share this list with students, adapting it as you see fit.
- Have patience. Students may have devoted substantial effort to mastering the citation style taught at their high school, whether a public high school in Fremont or and international school in Uganda. It may take time for students to adjust to new practices, or to the idea that the knowledge they painstakingly accumulated in high school may have little value at USF.
The Importance of Correct Use of Citations
Be explicit about why you regard careful citation as important. The list below gives some of the most commonly cited reasons for careful citation.
- Recognize and give full credit to the words of authors who are already published in any form of media (books, articles, Internet, film, presentations, etc.) (http://csulb.libguides.com/style).
- Avoids any question of plagiarism.
- Gives you increased credibility as a writer and gives evidence of your research in preparation for your written work.
- Allows readers of your work to easily find the original sources of your references by presenting agreement between in-text references and reference lists or bibliographies.
- Shows your ability to follow the assigned format (APA, Turabian, MLA, Chicago, Harvard, etc.) (http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/instruct/guides/citations.html).
- Necessary not only for course assignments, but also any published work you may do in the future.
- Complete instructional manuals exist for the different citation styles. You can also find more abbreviated forms of the different styles on the Internet.
Teacher/Tutor Resources on the Purdue Online Writing Lab
Avoiding Plagiarism Practice 1 (Pearson/Longman)
Avoiding Plagiarism (Rio Salado College)
Best Practices to Avoid Plagiarism
Request a classroom training session:
Center for Writing and Learning (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Academic English for Multilingual Students Program (email@example.com)
Rhetoric and Language Department (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Gleeson Library provides access to citation style guides as well as citation management systems like RefWorks and Zotero.
Faculty members can request a library instruction session on RefWorks or Zotero by filling out an online request.