Preventing Plagiarism

Maintaining academic integrity as an instructor involves understanding how it impacts your class and the university as a whole. Avoiding plagiarism is one crucial way to uphold academic integrity and help guide students toward success in and beyond your course.

What is plagiarism?

 According to UIUC’s Student Code, plagiarism is one type of academic integrity infraction and entails reproducing “the words, work, or ideas of another as his or her own in any academic endeavor” (UIUC Student Code, Article 1, Part 4 “Academic Integrity and Procedure”). Plagiarism, whether intentional or unintentional, can take several forms, including:

  • Copying: Submitting someone else’s work as one’s own
  • Direct quotation: Failure to properly quote and/or cite material from another source
  • Paraphrase: Failure to cite material that has been paraphrased or summarized
  • Borrowed facts or information: Failure to cite information that is not considered common knowledge (e.g., names of national leaders, scientific laws, etc.)

Why is preventing plagiarism important?

Preventing instances of plagiarism is not just about enforcing another academic rule. It is also about raising students’ awareness of how to successfully engage with research in the classroom and in their future professions. Learning how to follow academic integrity standards is an ongoing process, especially when participating in new writing contexts. To effectively provide students with the tools they need to do so, it is helpful to first recognize some common reasons plagiarism occurs.

Why does plagiarism happen in the first place?

Understanding the underlying causes and motivations for plagiarism can help instructors make decisions about how to foster prevention in their classes, even though these motivations may not necessarily reduce the consequences of an infraction. Some common causes include:

  • Students’ fear of failure on an assignment or fear of risk-taking in their original work.
  • Poor time-management skills in preparing for a research-based writing assignment.
  • Perception that the course, assignment, academic documentation standards, and/or the consequences of academic integrity infractions are not serious or important.
  • Assumption that other students in a course are plagiarizing without consequence.
  • Previous courses/instructors may have responded to plagiarism with varying levels of severity.

Many students try in good faith to acknowledge others’ work but may inadvertently produce text that looks like plagiarism when they’re still learning conventions for integrating and citing sources and gaining academic vocabulary that will help them accurately read and paraphrase texts. Common causes of inadvertent plagiarism include:

  • Students may not understand how to document or use sources appropriately for the writing situation.
  • Students may have insufficient note-taking practices during the research process that lead to lack of appropriate documentation.
  • Students may make mistakes when learning to apply academic documentation standards—this is a normal part of the learning process.
  • Students may struggle with the course content and/or may not be prepared to meet course/assignment expectations.
  • Other cultures may not adhere to American universities’ expectations for source attribution; some settings recognize referencing others’ work without attribution as a sign of respect and/or accept use of others’ ideas as one’s own in certain texts (e.g., organizational documents).

(see Council of Writing Program Administrators, “Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices”).

How can I teach toward academic integrity?

Implementing strategies to help students practice academic integrity in your class starts with recognizing factors that can lead to plagiarism and addressing them in your instruction.

Communicating with your students about academic integrity is a helpful step:

  • Discuss academic integrity with your students and its value in their academic and professional lives.
  • Develop a clear policy stated in your syllabus.
  • Provide information about UIUC’s Code of Conduct.

The following best practices can also prepare students for success in your course:

  • Assess what students already know about working with sources to determine what “gaps” you can fill in your instruction.
  • Recognize that students may have a range of experiences with engaging with research and academic documentation.
  • Teach students how to find, evaluate, and cite sources.
  • Illustrate practices for effective reading and note-taking.
  • Assign writing projects with ample time for students to engage in the reading, note-taking, and research process.
  • Break assignments down into manageable tasks through scaffolding, providing feedback, and offering opportunities for students to reflect on their work-in-progress.
  • Provide space for students to ask questions.

As an instructor, you play a central role in conveying the value of academic integrity in the university community. While providing students with the tools they need to be successful, instructors can also foster room for growth and learning in this process.

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