Plagiarism is a difficult concept to define because it encompasses a wide variety of actions, ranging from merely writing incorrect citations to the wholesale theft of someone else's work or ideas. Also, the type of plagiarism deliberate or unintentional has an impact upon the perception of the offense for both faculty and students. The exact causes of plagiarism are complex, but worth examining. Reasons for academic dishonesty can include poor writing and research skills; misunderstanding key concepts; and external, internal, or cultural factors.
Poor Writing and Research Skills
Lack of Research Skills: Many undergraduate students do not know how to search the library catalogue, search databases for journal articles, or use other reference sources. Faculty can help students acquire these skills by working in conjunction with their library. NSCC Library Services offers instructional sessions on a variety of topics that can be tailored to specific courses. These sessions can include an introduction to the library and instruction on how to search the library catalogue and databases. To arrange for a library instruction session for your course, please contact your campus librarian
Problems Evaluating Internet Sources: Many students do not know how to critically evaluate Internet sources, and this can impact the research process and the student's writing. It is important to remember that there is no quality control on the Internet. The NSCC Library Research Guide is an excellent resource for students.
Confusion Between Plagiarism and Paraphrasing: Studies indicate that up to 60% of students cannot distinguish between paraphrased and plagiarized text (Roig 914). The problem is magnified when students need to paraphrase unfamiliar vocabulary and technical terms. A study published in Psychological Reports found that "students will use writing strategies that result in plagiarism when they face the task of paraphrasing advanced technical text for which they may lack the proper cognitive resources with which to process it" (Roig 979). The inability to distinguish between plagiarized text and paraphrased text, and incorrectly citing sources, are often the root causes of unintentional plagiarism.
Confusion about Terminology: "Terminology is another problem that perplexes students and compounds their confusion and anxiety. Many do not understand the difference between a report and an essay, between exposition and argumentation, between a theme and a thesis . . . And 'analyse' and 'discuss' must surely rank at the top of the list of all-time confusing terms." (Robertson D4)
Careless Notetaking: Many students inadvertently plagiarize while doing preliminary research. During the notetaking phase, paraphrased material and directly quoted material can easily be mixed up if students aren't careful. At a later date when students begin writing their essays, they may no longer be able to distinguish what material is theirs and what material came from other sources. In addition, a student may record incomplete or incorrect bibliographic information and may later be unable to locate the source they quoted to ensure that they have not plagiarized.
To alleviate this problem, some writers use only direct quotations while taking notes. This practice insures that the writer knows when to paraphrase and when to directly quote. Other methods of keeping track of direct quotes and paraphrased material include writing a "P" beside paraphrased material, plus the page number after every note taken, or placing quotation marks around everything copied word for word, even if it is only a phrase.
Confusion about how to Properly Cite Sources: The lack of consistency among the different style guides compounds the problems that students experience when citing sources. A student may use several different style guides in a year, and each guide may give conflicting information.
In addition, online sources can be particularly difficult to cite. First, there is no consensus among the style guides about citing online sources. Second, URLs are unstable. It is possible that a Web site address can change, or the URL may be long, complex, and confusing.
Misunderstanding Key Concepts
Misconception of Plagiarism: Students may erroneously assume that the act of plagiarism only involves written text. However, the theft of or lack of attribution for someone else's ideas is also plagiarism.
Misconception of Intellectual Property, Copyright, and Public Domain: Students may not be able to decipher what information is in the public domain, what materials and ideas are copyrighted, and what materials and ideas are the intellectual property of their creators and thus require proper attribution.
Misconception of Common Knowledge: Students may not have the ability to distinguish what materials, facts, and ideas are considered common knowledge.
Perception of Online Information as Public Knowledge: Because some students perceive information found online as public knowledge, they do not realize that Internet resources must be referenced. Journal articles and books found in online databases often do not get properly cited for the same reason. Students need to know that information found online is the intellectual property of its creator and requires proper attribution.
Pressure from Family, Competition for Scholarships and Jobs: Family members and personal expectations can place a great deal of pressure on students to maintain a certain grade point average, regardless of what is learned. Often, grades are all that matter to students when they are competing for scholarships, jobs, or entry into graduate school.
In addition, "Students may also not be as personally interested in their own education versus their career aspirations . . . Even students who are concerned about the learning part of their education may justify plagiarism based on the fear that others are already cheating, causing 'unfair competition' ." (Fain and Bates qtd. in Auer and Krupar)
Student Ethics and Relationship with the University: "Students lack a basic reference point for ethical academic behaviour. Too often, learning and the evaluation of learning - namely grading - are considered one rather than two distinct processes. For some students, getting the grade becomes the goal, and they might see any behaviour as appropriate which results in good grades. Thus, lacking clear guidance from faculty and confused about the goal of education, students do not know what constitutes academic dishonesty." (Peterson qtd. in Lathrop and Foss 115)
The Commodification of Knowledge and Education: The move to business and market-models coupled with a consumer mentality can result in some students viewing their education as a commodity. There has been a shift from valuing education for the sake of learning to valuing education so that career aspirations can be fulfilled. As a result, some students expect to pay their tuition and cruise through post-secondary education on their way to becoming a professional in their chosen field. Education can be viewed as the passport to a desired job rather than a learning experience.
Poor Time Management and Organizational Skills: Undergraduate students often do not have the time management or organizational skills necessary to complete a large research paper. They can become overwhelmed by the large task and procrastinate. To help alleviate the problem of procrastination, faculty may ask students to hand in an outline of their paper at least a week before the paper is due.
Culturally-based Attitudes Towards Plagiarism: The idea that an author has "ownership" of language may be a ludicrous concept to students from different cultures. In some cultures, copying someone else's words or ideas is a high form of flattery. The notion that words can be "owned" is a facet of Western culture.
"Many non-Westerners have a very difficult time understanding that a person can 'own' discourse. For many Asian students in composition classes, proper acknowledgement of the language and ideas of others is a very difficult concept to understand, much less master . . . Furthermore, in the West, . . . there is a strong connection between ownership and selfhood, with the implication that whatever one owns (language included) makes up one's personal identity." (Bowden 13)
This is not a justification for anyone handing in plagiarized work, but it is useful to remember that it may take more time and different approaches for some students to master proper attribution.
This page is adapted with permission from University of Alberta Libraries, 2014
The following are some strategies that faculty can use to prevent plagiarism:
Some students do not know what plagiarism is. Explain the concepts of plagiarism, intellectual property, copyright, collaboration and fair dealing.
NSCC Library Services offers instructional sessions on a variety of topics that can be tailored to specific courses. These sessions can include an introduction to the library and instruction on how to search the library catalogue and databases. To arrange for a library instruction session for your course, contact your campus librarian
At the beginning of the term, tell students that matters of academic dishonesty are taken very seriously at the NSCC. Faculty can reinforce this message by including a statement on academic integrity in the course syllabi. This statement should, however, be couched as fair warning rather than a threat.
In addition to reviewing The Student Code of Conduct, think about what special issues may arise in a specific class. For example, is collaboration on assignments permissible or not? Faculty must make their expectations clear.
Refer students to the Academic Honesty & Integrity Subject Guide as well as the Research Subject Guide located on the NSCC Library Services website.
Partner with your Campus Librarian to deliver the Academic Honesty & Integrity Workshop + Assessment.
Faculty can help students learn how to properly cite materials, particularly Web sources, by providing information on style guides.
Discuss academic integrity as a moral and ethical issue. The relationship between faculty and students is based on trust; teach students the value of academic honesty and outline the responsibilities of being a junior member of the academic community.
Discuss the benefits of citing sources properly. Proper attribution shows that the student has done thorough research and that the student has been exposed to a diverse range of thought and opinion. As a result, the paper will likely be stronger.
Print a paper from one of the paper mills and critique it in class. This exercise accomplishes two things: first, it shows students that you are aware of paper mills and corresponding plagiarism detection services and second, you can teach them good writing skills by critiquing the paper.
Before the first assignment is due, outline the penalties for handing in plagiarized work and give examples of what the penalties have been for academic dishonesty in the past. The threat of being suspended or even expelled from university or receiving a permanent mark on a transcript may be enough to deter a person from plagiarizing
Address the problems that students may have with citing sources from the Web. Some students may think that by citing a single Web page they are also citing any other links included in the Web site. Stress that students must cite any page or link that they use.
Prior to the first major assignment, request an instructional session on how to use library resources. Many students do not know how to search the library for materials.
The following list is comprised of suggestions only. Faculty can help students successfully complete assignments by giving clear instructions, providing fair warning and enough time to complete the assignment, and offering to look at drafts or outlines. Other suggestions include the following:
Assign narrowly focused topics rather than broad general ones, or ask students to write about current events as they relate to class materials.
Change the paper topics each time the course is offered. This practice will prevent students from appropriating work done by former students.
Tell students in advance that you will randomly check sources in the bibliography.
Request that students hand in a photocopied page from the sources cited in their paper, or include an annotated bibliography as part of the assignment, or tell students that they can only use references that have been published within the last five years.
Require students to hand in notes or outlines with their paper, because you are looking for evidence of original thought.
This page is adapted with permission from University of Alberta Libraries, 2014.
The following are indicators of possible plagiarism:
A student's paper exceeds his or her research or writing capabilities, sounds professional or journalistic, or is too scholarly.
The student's paper contains complex or specialized vocabulary, jargon, technical terms, or other words and expressions beyond what would be expected from a student at that level.
The quality of writing is inconsistent. For example, the introduction or conclusion may be well written compared to the body of the paper.
The title page, font, references, format, or layout of the paper is inconsistent.
There are embedded links, page breaks, or incorrect page numbers in the paper.
The topic of the paper isn't consistent with the assignment, class lectures, or class handouts.
The bibliography is odd in some way. For example, it may be long, the style guide used for the bibliography is different from the one used in class, the citations are all from older sources, or few or none of the materials referenced can be accessed in the library.
There are URLs at the top or bottom of the paper, or greyed out letters or areas.
As a general rule, follow your instincts. Most instructors can gauge the general abilities of their students.
The same searching techniques that students use for locating papers on the Internet can also be used to retrieve plagiarized papers. Try typing in an unusual phrase or sentence from a suspect paper into a search engine like Google or Bing. Because no search engine can index the entire Web, it is advisable to use more than one search engine.
Try using Google's Advanced Search feature. You can specify limits including format and language, allowing you to construct very specific searches. You can also use a phrase search (use of quotations) to locate suspicious sentences or paragraphs.
Another resource to search is the Invisible Web. Web sites including The WWW Virtual Library offers links to thousands of databases and Web sites that aren't indexed by regular search engines (Harris 172).
Although it may be tempting to submit student papers to a free detection service, it is strongly recommended that searchers only submit phrases or a few sentences to these search engines. There is evidence to suggest that some of these detection services may be taking submitted student essays and re-selling them from paper mills.
In addition, try searching some of the paper mills for a suspect paper.
If the quality of writing appears to exceed the level of the student, faculty may initially check both print and electronic reference sources like encyclopedias and dictionaries. Online reference sources like AskJeeves.com or Encyclopedia.com offer links to other Web sites, newspaper and magazine articles, pictures, and books on selected topics. Faculty may be able to locate plagiarized sources searching some of these sites.
In addition to checking print sources, faculty may also want to search in a few online databases. The suspect paper may have been taken directly from an article found in a database accessed via the library, rather than the Internet. The database may also retrieve articles that were omitted in the bibliography but have obviously been used by the student.
Other sources students can use to plagiarize both ideas and text are usenet groups and Listservs. Some search engines will automatically search some of these Internet sources, but usually they will only search the Web unless the researcher chooses usenet groups and Listservs as the formats to be searched (Stebelman 49).
Ask your campus librarian for help if there is difficulty searching for a suspect paper.
This page is adapted with permission from University of Alberta Libraries, 2014