Best Practices for Plagiarism
College writing is a process of goal setting, writing, giving and using feedback, revising, and editing. Effective assignments construct specific writing situations and build in ample room for response and revision. There is no guarantee that, if adopted, the strategies listed below will eliminate plagiarism; but in supporting students throughout their research process, these strategies make plagiarism both difficult and unnecessary.
1. Explain Plagiarism and Develop Clear Policies
*Talk about the underlying implications of plagiarism. Remind students that the goal of re search is to engage, through writing, in a purposeful, scholarly discussion of issues that are sometimes passed over in daily life. Understanding, augmenting, engaging in dialogue with, and challenging the work of others are part of becoming an effective citizen in a complex society. Plagiarism does not simply devalue the institution and the degree it offers; it hurts the inquirer, who has avoided thinking independently and has lost the opportunity to participate in broader social conversations.
*Include in your syllabus a policy for using sources, and discuss it in your course. Define a policy that clearly explains the consequences of both plagiarism (such as turning in a paper known to be written by someone else) and the misuse or inaccurate citation of sources.
*If your university does not already have one, establish an honor code to which all students subscribe; a judicial board to hear plagiarism cases; or a departmental ombudsperson to hear cases brought between students and instructors.
2. Improve the Design and Sequence of Assignments
*Design assignments that require students to explore a subject in depth. Research questions and assignment topics should be based on principles of inquiry and on the genuine need to discover something about the topic, and should present that topic to an audience in the form of an exploration or an argument.
*Start building possible topics early. Good writing reflects a thorough understanding of the topic being addressed or researched. Giving students time to explore their topics slowly and helping them to narrow their focus from broad ideas to specific research questions will personalize their research and provide evidence of their ongoing investigations
*Consider establishing a course theme, and then allow students to define specific questions about that theme so that they become engaged in learning new ideas and begin to own their research. A course theme (like "literacy" or "popular culture") allows students and instructor to develop expertise and to support each other as they read, write, and engage in their research. Grounding the theme in a local context (such as the campus, or the neighborhood or city where the campus is located) can provide greater relevance to students' lives. Once students have defined a topic within the course theme, ask them to reflect frequently on their choice of topic: about what they already know about the topic when they begin their research; about what new ideas they are learning along the way; and about what new subjects for re search they are discovering.
*Develop schedules for students that both allow them time to explore and support them as they work toward defined topics. As researchers learn more about their subjects, they typically discover new, unforeseen questions and interests to explore. However, student researchers do not have unlimited time for their work—at some point, they must choose a focus for their papers. Conferences with students (sometimes held in the library or computer resource center) are invaluable for enabling them to refine their focus and begin their inquiry.
*Support each step of the research process. Students often have little experience planning and conducting research. Using planning guides, in-class activities, and portfolios, instructors should "stage" students' work and provide support at each stage—from invention to drafting, through revision and polishing. Collecting interim materials (such as annotated photocopies) helps break the research assignment down into elements of the research process while providing instructors with evidence of students' original work. Building "low-stakes" writing into the research process, such as reflective progress reports, allows instructors to coach students more effectively while monitoring their progress.
*Make the research process, and technology used for it, visible. Ask your students to consider how various technologies—computers, fax machines, photocopiers, e-mail—affect the way information is gathered and synthesized, and what effect these technologies may have on plagiarism.
*Attend to conventions of different genres of writing. As people who read and write academic work regularly, instructors are sensitive to differences in conventions across different disciplines and, sometimes, within disciplines. However, students might not be as aware of these differences. Plan activities—like close examinations of academic readings—that ask students to analyze and reflect on the conventions in different disciplines.
3. Attend to Sources and the Use of Reading
*Ask students to draw on and document a variety of sources. Build into your assignments additional sources, such as systematic observation, interviews, simple surveys, or other data gathering methods. Incorporating a variety of sources can help students develop ways of gathering, assessing, reading, and using different kinds of information, and can make for a livelier, more unique paper.
*Consider conventions. Appropriate use of citations depends on students' familiarity with the conventions of the genre(s) they are using for writing. Design activities that help students to become familiar with these conventions and make informed choices about when and where to employ them.
*Show students how to evaluate their sources. Provide opportunities for students to discuss the quality of the content and context of their sources, through class discussions, electronic course management programs or Internet chat spaces, or reflective assignments. Discuss with students how their sources will enable them to support their argument or document their re search.
*Focus on reading. Successful reading is as important to thoughtful research essays as is successful writing. Develop reading-related heuristics and activities that will help students to read carefully and to think about how or whether to use that reading in their research projects.
4. Work on Plagiarism Responsibly
*Distinguish between misuse of sources and plagiarism. If students have misused sources, they probably do not understand how to use them correctly. If this is the case, work with students so that they understand how to incorporate and cite sources correctly. Ask them to re write the sections where sources have been misused.
*Ask students for documentation. If a student's work raises suspicions, talk with him or her about your concerns. Ask students to show you their in-process work (such as sources, summaries, and drafts) and walk you through their research process, describing how it led to the production of their draft. If they are unable to do this, discuss with them the consequences of plagiarism described in your syllabus (and, perhaps, by your institution). If you have talked with a student and want to pursue your own investigation of his or her work, turn to sources that the student is likely to have used and look for evidence of replication.
*Use plagiarism detection services cautiously. Although such services may be tempting, they are not always reliable. Furthermore, their availability should never be used to justify the avoidance of responsible teaching methods such as those described in this document.
5. Take Appropriate Disciplinary Actions
*Pay attention to institutional guidelines. Many institutions have clearly defined procedures for pursuing claims of academic dishonesty. Be sure you have read and understood these be fore you take any action.
*Consider your goal. If a student has plagiarized, consider what the student should take away from the experience. In some cases, a failing grade on the paper, a failure in the course, academic probation, or even expulsion might achieve those goals. In other cases, recreating the entire research process, from start to finish, might be equally effective.
Council of Writing Program Administrators, January, 2003