Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology

Preventing Plagiarism

Tips for Supporting Authentic Student Writing

The best practices in teaching writing are ones that help student writers generate and develop original ideas and effectively integrate the use of relevant sources. These practices are intertwined and mutually reinforcing. The CTLT can assist instructors in implementing these practices.

Put it in writing.

Your syllabus should have a clear statement about the consequences of plagiarism and the role that writing plays in your course. Along with a syllabus statement, course assignments should be accompanied by clear grading criteria that include policies and expectations for integrating and documenting sources.

Talk about it throughout the term. 

Spend time in class talking about plagiarism. Explain why it’s a major breech of academic integrity. But go beyond warnings and admonitions. Talk about the purpose and importance for using sources in your field and how sources can add ethos (authority) to one’s own writing. The Princeton handbook, Teaching with Writing, advocates meta-teaching, “stepping back and explicitly naming the intellectual operation that is being performed.” These moments help students to see models of effective practice – “to see methodology where before they only saw content” (4). When you are discussing readings in class, spend some time talking about the effective ways those readings use and cite other sources. Talk about your own experiences as an academic researcher and writer. Finally, talk about the proper use of sources just before students begin an assignment. Research shows that this technique of priming can reduce plagiarism and other forms of cheating.

Design original and authentic writing assignments.

As the old adage states: “the best defense is a good offense.” Research shows that plagiarism is much more apt to occur in courses where assignments are recycled, generic, or highly unstructured and simply topic-driven. The prototypical term paper that is assigned every semester is especially prone to producing what John Bean characterizes as “all-about papers without arguments or quasi-plagiarized data dumps with long, pointless quotations and thinly disguised paraphrases” (224).

The most effective means to teach our students are also the most effective means to reduce the incentive and opportunity to cheat.

— James Lang, Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty

Features of Authentic and Original Writing Assignments

o   Inquiry-based: Driven by question(s) at issue, not by topic. When students are involved with articulating the inquiry questions, there is more intrinsic motivation. As Ken Bain notes in What the Best College Teachers Do, “people learn best when they ask an important question that they care about answering, or adopt a goal that they want to reach… If we are not seeking an answer to anything we pay little attention to random information” (31). Inquiry-based writing prompts enable stronger, more genuine lines of reasoning.

o   Problem-and scenario-based: Assignments that ask students to write from the position of a professional in training to an audience that knows less about the content are very effective and can be easily adapted across disciplines. Writing prompts that simulate specific and recent workforce (applied) situations are also beneficial.

o   Grounded assignments: As James Lang argues, grounded assessments are perhaps the greatest single deterrent to plagiarism (76). Grounded assessments are situated and particular to each course. For example, if students are writing for and/ or presenting to a specific audience (e.g. an 8th grade class, a group of concerned residents in Paso Robles) that changes each time the course is offered, the assessment is deeply grounded. A few ways to ground assignments:

Time -- Connect the writing assignment to specific events or conversations in the course or specific events that happen during the time span of the course. 

Place -- Connect the writing assignment to the local scene, such as a dorm, the campus, or the city

Personal -- Connect the writing assignment to a personal experience for the student writer.

o   Genre-based assignments: When assignments are rooted in particular academic genres with clear and specific purposes, audiences and conventions, faculty are better equipped to tailor their instruction of the content to the needs of the writing assignments. Good genre-based assignments enact or operationalize the learning in the course. Research shows that students find such assignments more purposeful and integral to their learning.

Require and reward the entire writing process.

Have students produce notes, drafts and revisions and turn them in with the final assignment. Asking students to include a brief reflection (cover letter) for the assignment is also very effective.

Teach the conventions of integrating and citing sources.

Preventing plagiarism is more than helping students to cite a source correctly. Students often need to be taught how and why to frame and integrate sources. 

Useful Sources

Bain, Ken. What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge: Harvard, 2004.

Bean, John. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking and Active Learning in the Classroom. (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009.

Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices.” Council of Writing Program Administrators.

Gottschalk, Katherine and Hjortshoj, Keith. The Elements of Teaching Writing: A Resource for Instructors in All Disciplines. Boston and New York: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2004.

Lang, James. Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty. Boston: Harvard UP, 2013.

Soliday, Mary. Everyday Genres: Writing Assignments across the Disciplines. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2011.

Walk, Kerry. " Teaching with Writing: A Guide for Faculty and Graduate Students.” The Trustees of Princeton University, 2007.

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