Plagiarism & Student Cheating

Ask a Librarian

Ways to Discourage Cheating and Plagiarizing from the Internet and Other Electronic Resources

Define and discuss plagiarism

  • On your syllabus, and in going over your expectations for the course, give as clear definition of plagiarism as you can. Here's one from Teresa Fishman, Director of the Center for Academic Integrity: Plagiarism occurs if an author "uses words, ideas or work products, attributable to an identifiable person or source, without attributing the work to the source from which it was obtained, in a situation in which there was a legitimate expectation of original authorship, in order to obtain benefit, credit or gain" (stated in “Is it plagiarism? Well, it is Rather Difficult To Say,” by Hannah Fearn, Times Higher Education Supplement, July 1, 2010, a report on the 4th International Plagiarism Conference.)
  • Provide examples, and clearly state penalties. See "Factors Influencing Engineering Students' Decisions to Cheat By Type of Assessment," by Honor J. Passow, et al. Research in Higher Education v. 47, no. 6 (September, 2006): 643-684. "[I]n the absence of enforced policies, they [students] do cheat on types of assessments for which policies are least defined and enforced, such as homework....Students don’t see cheating as a single construct and their decisions to cheat or not to cheat are influenced differently depending on the type of assessment. Therefore, faculty and administrators should carefully define for students what does and does not constitute cheating for each type of assessment, such as exams, homework, term papers, projects, laboratory reports, and oral presentations."
  • Discuss prominent cases accusing students, professors, and other authors of plagiarism, including some that were discovered years after the fact (ex: current case involving former graduate students in Mechanical Engineering at Ohio University -- see "Student Plagiarism, Faculty Response," by Doug Lederman, in Inside Higher Education, June 1, 2006, and coverage elsewhere -- and what the discovery can do to degrees, careers, etc.
  • Recognize that foreign students may need special help understanding plagiarism. Numerous recent articles discuss different attitudes toward authorship, scientific writing, and uncertain English-language skills:
    • A Different Perspective on Plagiarism,” by Dahlia Syahrani Md. Yusof. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XV, No. 2, February, 2009. Plagiarism is a Western concept that has come to prominence since the 18th cent. Other cultures consider intellectual property communal, or revere the words of an authority. Argues for forming a “new perspective on plagiarism that is solidly based on our cultural views.”
    • Deconstructing Plagiarism: International Students and Textual Borrowing Practices,” by Dawn Amsberry, Reference Librarian v. 51, no. 1 (Jan.-Mar., 2010): 31-44. Besides collectivist view of text ownership, there is wide variety in what is considered “common knowledge” (and therefore in no need of citation), and cultures where memorization (and then copying) of an essay may signify “deep grasp of a text’s meaning.” Students with general understanding of plagiarism may not identify some practices as falling within the definition; it is best to give out examples of appropriate and inappropriate use as well as a definition.
    • "The Perception of Referencing and Plagiarism Amongst Students Coming from Confucian Heritage Cultures," by Molly Yang and Stephen Lin. 4th Asia Pacific Conference on Educational Integrity (4APCEI) 28–30 September, 2009, University of Wollongong NSW Australia. Some of the "key ideas" in this paper: "Borrowed ideas are widely accepted to advance their argument, esp. ideological ones; [r]eferencing has less importance in their scholarship and academic accomplishment; [t]o contribute to the mutual pool of human knowledge is perceived as a duty and privilege, to be widely copied or quoted are good indication of their success; and [i]ntellectual properties are bestowed by some sacred blessing, traditionally, so to reap financial awards are not part of Confucianism."
    • Rules of the game of scientific writing: fair play and plagiarism,” by Vessal K, Habibzadeh F. Lancet 2007: 369: 641 Argues that non-English-speaking authors in writing their methods and results sections of scientific articles might insert phrases and even sentences from a previously published article “simply because he or she is disinclined to sacrifice quality and accuracy for want of linguistic expertise.” . Different view: “Plagiarism is not Fair Play,” by Mustafa Afifi. Lancet 369 9571: 1428: “Reviewers should not be tolerant of suspected plagiarism from such authors even if they have little limited access to editorial assistance.”
    • " Ethnicity, Acculturation, and Plagiarism: A Criterion Study of Unethical Academic Conduct," by Daniel E. Martin, Asha Rao, and Lloyd Sloan. Human Organization, Vol. 70, No. 1 (2011): 88-96. Abstract available in SSRN, at Argues that it isn't the ethnicity, it's the degree of acculturation that determines propensity to plagiarize or not (foreign students who identified more with their heritage culture, plagiarized more.
  • Even with all of the above, also admit that deciding whether something constitutes plagiarism or not isn't always straightforward. See, for example, "The Plagiarism Perplex," by Barbara Fister, Inside Higher Education, 9/6/2012, who uses group work and the practice of citing journal publishers' websites over library databases, when in fact, you found the article cited in a database, as two examples that are murky. See also "Creative Plagiarism," by Paula Marantz Cohen, Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/22/2012. In looking at creative fiction where one author has relied heavily on another, she concludes "there must be a way to disapprove of uncredited borrowing while being empathetic toward writers struggling to find a creative path through the thicket of existing expression."

Assign a tutorial on plagiarism

  • Students who completed an anti-plagiarism tutorial before submitting their papers substantially reduced the likelihood of plagiarism (“Rational Ignorance in Education: A Field Experiment in Student Plagiarism,” by Thomas S. Dee and Brian A. Jacob. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper no. 15672, Jan. 2010. Abstract: paper: ) "A follow-up survey of participating students suggests that the intervention reduced plagiarism by increasing student knowledge rather than by increasing the perceived probabilities of detection and punishment. These results are consistent with a model of student behavior in which the decision to plagiarize reflects both a poor understanding of academic integrity and the perception that the probabilities of detection and severe punishment are low."
  • Here are numerous examples of tutorials, plus hand-outs and related articles. A web search for plagiarism tutorial will turn up additional examples.

Practice good pedagogy

  • Sally Cole & Elizabeth Kiss, "What Can We Do About Student Cheating?" About Campus, May/June 2000: 5-12. They found that students are less inclined to cheat where they see tasks as worth doing, when the admire their teachers, and when they are excited about what they are learning.
  • Plagiarism: A Good Practice Guide, by Jude Carroll and Jon Appleton (May 2001) reviews research on reasons for cheating. They state: "[r]esearch at Sheffield Hallam University showed that students saw cheating as 'relatively legitimate where a course is seen as of marginal importance or badly taught'" (citing R. Macdonald,"Why Don’t We Turn the Tide of Plagiarism to the Learners’ Advantage?", Times Higher Education Supplement, Nov. 24, 2000). Additionally, P. Bannister and P. Ashworth ("Four Good Reasons for Cheating and Plagiarism" pp. 233-241 in Improving Student Learning Symposium," ed. by Chris Rust, Oxford Centre for Staff Development, Oxford Brookes University, 1998) say students cheat "because they feel alienated and ignored by lecturers, disengaged by assessment tasks and disrespected by assessment that does not 'require original thought ...but rather the reiteration of well established ideas and concepts' (p. 239). Where students felt the subject had been exhausted, where the assignment had been set year after year, and where the lecturer did not seem to value what was being taught, students’ commitment drops and they become 'open to cheating' (p. 239)."
  • “The literature clearly suggests that when students can shift the blame away from themselves, cheating is more likely to occur. As such, good instructional practices are a key to reducing cheating. Clear learning objectives and fair assessment procedures reduce the likelihood that students will see the teacher as creating conditions where cheating can be rationalized.” Murdock, Tamera B. and Eric M. Anderman, “Motivational Perspectives on Student Cheating: Current Status and Future Directions,” Educational Psychologist 41, 2006: 121-145.
  • Try to focus more on learning outcomes than on grades...

Craft assignments wisely :

  • DOS

    • Put papers through drafts/revisions whenever possible.
    • Make understanding plagiarism just one element in the research and writing process. There are some commercial products that claim to help in this regard. Examples:
      • NoodleBib from Noodle Tools is web-based MLA and APA bibliographic software that instructs all phases of the research process, including correct citing. Calls itself "a proactive antidote to plagiarism."
      • Citation management systems, such as RefWorks, are also thought to reduce plagiarism by keeping track of sources and formatting them according to established styles.
    • Discuss criteria for evaluating web resources. See the UW-Madison Libraries' Worksheet for Evaluating Websites or use the tutorial "Evaluating Web Search Results". Be familiar with sites such as Wikipedia that students may draw from. Have them look at entries for course-relevant and/or controversial topics several times over the course of the semester to see how they've been "edited."
    • Connect something read or discussed in class to something published rather recently
    • Have students do some in-class writing; compare the writing style to out-of-class writing.
    • Have students turn in photocopies/downloads of several pages from each source used.
    • Have students include their search strategy or where they found the actual material (ex: campus library and classification number for books, including page numbers for bibliographies within books that were sources of additional articles; which periodical databases they used and which search terms in those databases -- if they used web sources, which search engine and search terms did they use, etc.)
    • Have students exchange papers (or redistribute anonymously) and ask them to locate all the articles cited on the bibliography.
    • After papers are turned in, have students write in class about something they learned while doing the research for their paper but had not included in the paper, or have them write an abstract for the paper (suggestions from jffoster to article at
    • Turn web term papers into a student project: have students locate and critique a paper related to the course subject, or have students compare and contrast several websites on the same topic but from very different perspectives. Librarians can help find such examples. One good topic is plagiarism itself (see "A Positive Solution for Plagiarism," by Jeff Karon. Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 18, 2012.)


    • Don't have students turn in their papers into an insecure box outside your office.
    • Don't offer "write on any topic you want" or use the same assignment and topic year-after-year.

Create a climate in your institution and in your classroom that discourages plagiarism

  • Encourage your campus to create an honor code if it doesn't already have one. See "Honesty and Honor Codes," by Donald McCabe and Linda Klebe Trevino. Academe v. 88, no. 1 (Jan/Feb 2002), p.37, 5p. Survey of 2,200 students on 21 campuses (9 without honor codes, 8 with traditional codes, one a hybrid between a traditional and modified code, and 3 large public universities with modified codes) found that self-reported cheating was lower at schools with codes. (Article is accessible in Academic Search and in Proquest Research Library on campuses whose libraries subscribe to these databases.) See also "New Honor Codes for a New Generation," by Donald L. McCabe and Gary Pavela, Inside Higher Ed (March 11, 2005), and the International Center for Academic Integrity's site.
  • Stress the values underpinning (academic) honesty. See David Callahan's The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead (Harcourt, 2004) or perhaps assign a reading by him, such as "On Campus: Author Discusses the "Cheating Culture" With College Students," Plagiary v. 1, no. 4: 1-8 (8 March 2006), whose abstract states: "[h]is concrete suggestions for leveling the playing field and resisting the cheating culture are a challenge to college students to 'Be the change you want to see in the world'". [Plagiary has ceased publication but is available as archived at the University of Michigan.]
  • Urge students to view academic honesty as a test of character. Cornell is doing this; see discussion in “To Stop Cheats, Colleges Learn Their Trickery,” by Trip Gabriel, New York Times, July 6, 2010. Dan Ariely says “When we get people to contemplate on their morality, they reduced their cheating” (“TED: Dan Ariely on Why We Cheat, by Kim Zetter, Wired, Feb. 7, 2009.
  • Model academic values (in lectures, give credit to others when you use their ideas, etc.)
  • Establish an honor code for your class even if your campus does not have one.
  • Stress the intellectual enterprise involved in scholarly communication (a positive) rather than dwell on plagiarism (a negative) (Russell Hunt, "Four Reasons to be Happy About Internet Plagiarism," Teaching Perspectives v. 5 (Dec., 2002): 1-5
  • Encourage campus programs and activities that foster and teach ethical behavior. For high school application, see Smart & Good High Schools: Integrating Excellence and Ethics for Success in School, Work, and Beyond (2005) report on character education from the Center for the 4th & 5th Rs: Respect & Responsibility, SUNY Cortland.
  • Do all of the above!
    • For a full discussion, see McCabe, Donald, Butterfield Kenneth, and Trevino, Linda K. Cheating in College: Why Students Do It and What Educators Can Do about It (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).
    • See "Strategies to Promote a Climate of Academic Integrity and Minimize Student Cheating and Plagiarism," by Craig Scanlon. Journal of Allied Health v. 35, no. 3 (Fall, 2006): 179-185. Scanlon argues that "further reduction in student cheating and plagiarism can be achieved only via a comprehensive strategy that promotes an institutional culture of academic integrity."
    • Read "The Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity," from the Center for Academic Integrity, Clemson Univesity. The values described are honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility.

New Approach to Penalties for Cheating

  • Rehabilitate Instead of Punish
    • See "Traffic School for Essay Thieves," by Paul D. Thacker, Inside Higher Education, Nov. 29, 2006. This is a report on a program at Pima Community College, where students who have plagiarized have the option of attending a five-step plagiarism program instead of receiving academic punishment. They "[w]rite a detailed, self-exam on 'Why I plagiarized,' read case studies of plagiarism ... [w]rite a paragraph defining plagiarism, meet with a tutor to discuss proper citation etiquette and complete a short worksheet on citations, [and] [m]eet with a faculty committee to talk about how to avoid plagiarism and lessons learned."
    • Programs based on this model are now in use elsewhere, including at the University of Arizona, where professors have the option of sending offenders to such workshop (“Sanctions Change at U. Arizona for Academic Dishonesty,” by Rachel Steingard, Arizona Daily, Feb. 24, 2009, viewed in Lexis-Nexis.)
  • Advocate for consistency of treatment across courses, departments, etc., for comparable offences
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