throughout the world have become concerned with the question of
how to minimise and respond appropriately to student plagiarism
and other forms of cheating. Australian universities are highly
active in educating students about plagiarism and in detecting breaches
of their academic expectations. The advice and resources provided
here are designed to assist these efforts.
and academic staff are advised to focus around four main strategies,
all underpinned by the central principle of ensuring fairness:
collaborative effort to recognise and counter plagiarism at
every level from policy, through faculty/division and school/department
procedures, to individual staff practices;
educating students about the expected conventions for authorship
and the appropriate use and acknowledgment of all forms of intellectual
approaches to assessment that minimise the possibility for students
to submit plagiarised material, while not reducing the quality
and rigour of assessment requirements;
highly visible procedures for monitoring and detecting cheating,
including appropriate punishment and re-education measures.
The first three strategies
are proactive and intended to help reduce the incidence of plagiarism.
The fourth strategy is reactive and while it might include efforts
to reduce the incidence in the longer term, it also includes immediate
responses when plagiarism does occur.
How widespread is
It is clear that plagiarism
occurs in Australian higher education. However, in the absence
of trustworthy quantitative data, it is impossible to determine
whether it has risen or is rising. Plagiarism does seem to be
widespread, and there is evidence of it occurring across the range
of disciplines. There is a perception among some academic staff
that increasing student disengagement from university life has
led to an increase in plagiarism. Further, there is a perception
among some staff and students that there is more plagiarism in
some disciplines and/or subject areas than in others.
There is also evidence
that the modes of plagiarism have changed in recent years. Specifically,
the advent of the Internet has made plagiarism in written assignments
easier for students. Full papers can be downloaded for free or
at a relatively small cost and students can cut and paste from
a range of sources, without acknowledgment. In addition, the current
emphasis in higher education on group work may have inadvertently
led to an increase in students plagiarising each other's work.
Finally, the increase in class sizes means that at times students
may not have ready access to their teachers and sometimes rely
on a network of past students who provide "form guides"
for full assignments for loan or purchase.
Plagiarism in higher
education can take many forms. Some of the more common forms
are listed below, however it should be noted that definitions
of plagiarism vary somewhat across the disciplines in accordance
with differences in knowledge authorship conventions and traditions.
in an exam either by copying from other students or using
unauthorised notes or other aids.
as one's own, an assignment that another person has completed.
information, text, computer code, artwork, graphics or other
material from the internet and presenting it as one's own
or paraphrasing material from a source without acknowledgment.
a correctly cited and referenced assignment from individual
research and then handing part or all of that work in twice
for separate subjects/marks.
There are also forms
of plagiarism that relate directly to student participation
in group work.
from other members while working in a group.
less, little or nothing to a group assignment and then claiming
an equal share of the marks.
plagiarism is not equal
There is much that
universities can do and are doing to reduce plagiarism. In order
to evaluate the different approaches and strategies being used,
a consideration of three dimensions of plagiarism is useful.
These dimensions are,
1. the student's
intent to cheat,
2. the extent
of the plagiarism an individual student has committed and
3. the response that
might be made by the university to deal with each case of plagiarism
Each of these dimensions
is discussed below.
do students plagiarise?: Understanding student intentions and
There are many reasons
why students plagiarise but one central question is, 'Did they
intend to do so?' They may have. Table 1 outlines some of the
possible reasons for intentional plagiarism in higher education.
1: The context of plagiarism in higher education
Noah and Eckstein (2001) identified five
factors that influence dishonesty among academic staff:
these pertinent to students?
on the individual to succeed and the penalties for failure
expected reward to be gained
opportunities to be dishonest
probability of getting away with it
social norms governing such behaviour
In addition, or conversely,
there may be other unintentional reasons that students
limited or incorrect understanding of what, exactly, plagiarism
incorrect understanding of citation and referencing conventions
limited skill base in:
There is a potentially
complex combination of factors that might contribute to plagiarism
by a student.
It might be safely assumed that some students 'copy and paste'
and participate in other forms of plagiarism deliberately because
they are lazy, sneaky and/or competitive. It might also be assumed
that some students plagiarise deliberately in desperation because
they are under pressure from their academic workload requirements,
or simply run out of time. However, a proportion of the incidence
of plagiarism in higher education is also attributable to misunderstanding
and ignorance among students about why they should avoid plagiarism
and how they can do so.
the following continuum:
representing the work of others as one's own
the work of others accidentally without acknowledgement
1. Intent to cheat continuum
useful reminder, should detection of plagiarism occur, is:
assume plagiarism is necessarily intentional.
special case of group work
In group work, students
seem to be at particular risk of unintentional plagiarism. Australian
students are confused about what constitutes plagiarism in a group
setting. There are many cases cited in the popular media where
students' confusion about what was acceptable behaviour in group
assessment tasks is evident. Students are often uncertain about
where cooperation and collaboration stops, or should stop, and
where copying begins.
Culwin and Naylor (1995)
have developed a continuum that illustrates the issue well:
point may be
point is [definitely]
4: Co-operation/Collaboration/Copying Continuum
(Culwin and Naylor, 1995)
It is an enlightening
experience for individuals to determine where, exactly, they understand
that plagiarism begins and to consider how this information could
be clearly communicated to students working in groups. Walker
(1998) suggests that it should be made clear to students when
collaboration is allowed and when it is not. It should also be
made explicit how, exactly, the commonly requested individual
reports from group work should differ.
Having taken all of
this into account, the question then arises: if a student plagiarises
during individual efforts or group activities, how does a staff
member know whether it was done with or without intent?
One method of determining
intention is to simply ask a student whether he or she understood
their use of the work of others without acknowledgment was inappropriate.
Of course, some academics
believe that a student who deliberately cheats is perhaps more
likely to be a liar as well and asking such a question may not
always result in a truthful response. However, it is equally possible
that a student did not deliberately cheat and being unfamiliar
with the conventions of academic work, might simply not have understood
the requirements of referencing and citation, or appreciated their
centrality to presenting an argument.
First year students
and international students, in particular, come to mind. Rather
than focusing on catching and punishing, it might be more appropriate
to provide genuine opportunities for these students to learn the
appropriate academic conventions, and the rationale behind them.
One way to provide such opportunities is to refer students to
the learning support services of the university or to liaise with
these services to develop instructional materials and workshops
tailored to the discipline and other requirements particular to
have students crossed the line?: The seriousness of the breach
The second dimension
of plagiarism that it is useful to consider is the extent or degree
of individual acts of plagairism. What can be considered to be 'serious'
plagiarism? Definitions of plagiarism and views on what constitutes
minor and extreme examples vary widely so it is not surprising that
there is enormous confusion among students on this issue. And if
they don't know what it is, how do they avoid it?
Consider the extent of
essay handed in
Misuse of quotes,
2. Extent of plagiarism continuum
Carroll (2000) suggests
that students need to work with and closely consider definitions
of plagiarism to understand them and evidence gathered from Australian
students tends to support such a suggestion. Try this exercise (and
ask colleagues and students to try it as well):
THE EXTENT OF PLAGIARISM
Here are six ways
to use sources. Number one is plagiarism; Number six is not.
Where do you cross the line?
- Copying a paragraph
verbatim from a source without any acknowledgment.
- Copying a paragraph
and making small changes - e.g. replacing a few verbs, replacing
an adjective with a synonym; acknowledgment in the bibliography.
- Cutting and
pasting a paragraph by using sentences of the original but
omitting one or two and putting one or two in a different
order, no quotation marks; with an in-text acknowledgment
and a bibliographical acknowledgment.
- Composing a
paragraph by taking short phrases from a number of sources
and putting them together using words of your own to make
a coherent whole with in-text acknowledgments and a bibliographical
a paragraph by rewriting with substantial changes in language
and organisation; the new version will also have changes
in the amount of detail used and the examples cited; citing
source in bibliography.
- Quoting a paragraph
by placing it in block format with the source cited in text
and in bibliography.
based on an exercise in Swales and Feak, 1994).
It is likely that academic
staff 'cross the line' at different points, even within the same
discipline or department. The point is, if the definition of plagiarism
is difficult for academic staff to agree on and articulate in detail,
it is little wonder that some students accidentally participate
in what appear to be extreme cases of plagiarism.
Carroll (2000) also suggests
teaching students the skills of paraphrasing and summarising, giving
students opportunities for practice, to get feedback, to see others'
efforts and to refine their own. Kalusman (1999) agrees, claiming
it is necessary to teach students about the different types of plagiarism,
including what he calls 'paraphrase plagiarism' and 'patchwork plagiarism'
and how to avoid them by working through examples. Once again, university
learning services may be employed to assist in these endeavours.
a considered response to plagiarism: A comprehensive framework
As with determining
the intent to plagiarise, deciding on the response to make once
plagiarism has been suspected or detected may be difficult and
may have to be carried out on an individual case basis, as often
happens in Australian universities.
The possible responses
to plagiarism can be divided into two broad categories:
1. Renewing educative
strategies - for example, teach (or re-teach) students the rationale
for supporting arguments with evidence and referencing and other
necessary, related skills. This approach can also be used pro-actively
to deter students from plagiarism.
2. Penalising offenders - detect and punish students caught breaching
incidences of plagiarism are dealt with in a range of ways by
Australian universities. Often, when serious plagiarism is suspected,
the student and their case are referred to a senior level within
the academic structure and dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
The issue of intent is central and extenuating circumstances,
extent and other factors are also often considered before a response
is decided upon.
In the graph below,
the primary focus of the approach to take to deal with committed
plagiarism is suggested, but punitive and educative responses
should not be seen as mutually exclusive. It is possible, for
example, to penalise a student for extensive plagiarism whilst
concurrently offering education in the conventions of citation
and referencing. Depending on student intent to cheat, and perhaps
to a lesser degree, on the extent of the plagiarism, individual
academics, departments/schools, faculties/divisions or universities
will need to make choices, in terms of response, that adequately
deal with each situation. The graph below depicts the three dimensions
described above in relation to each other.
5: Plagiarism Intent-Extent-Response Graph © Devlin,
The assumptions underpinning
these suggested responses are that:
student who deliberately commits 'minor' plagiarism has done
so because of time and workload pressures and therefore should
initially be offered support to manage these.
student who deliberately commits 'major' plagiarism may well
have the same time/workload pressures but their work constitutes
a more serious breach of accepted academic practice and the
appropriate first response would need to acknowledge this. Direction
to support and advice can be offered concurrently.
student who accidentally commits any form of plagiarism needs
first and foremost to be educated about why and how to avoid
doing so again.
In terms of what response
an individual staff member might choose, some questions worth
Where to start?
Dealing with plagiarism
can seem overwhelming, particularly for a new academic. Some simple,
yet effective, suggestions:
strategies to minimise plagiarism
The strategies below
have been gathered from a range of sources, including suggestions
and advice from the Australian academic community. It is recognised
that some of the strategies are likely to add significantly to
academic workload and that the adoption of suggested strategies
will depend on local context.
Together these thirty-six
strategies can be summarised into a three-point plan:
expectations clear to students.
assessment to minimise opportunities for plagiarism.
monitor, detect and respond to incidences of plagiarism.
students about authorship conventions
and about how to avoid plagiarism
- Create a climate of
involvement and interest rather than of detection and punishment
- Warn students of the
possibility of their work/programs/files being stolen/copied if
left on the hard disks of university computers and teach them
how to delete this work when they have finished.
- Teach the skills of
summarising and paraphrasing (Carroll, 2000).
- Teach the skills
of critical analysis and building an argument.
- Teach the skills
of referencing and citation.
- Include in assessment
regimes mini-assignments that require students to demonstrate
skills in summarising, paraphrasing, critical analysis, building
an argument, referencing and/or citation.
plagiarism through the design of assessment tasks
think that some of the assignments are just asking for students
- 'Design out' the
easy cheating options, for example, using the same essay/prac
questions year after year (Carroll, 2000).
- Avoid assignments
that ask students to collect, describe and present information
as these are more prone to plagiarism than those that ask for
analysis or evaluation (Carroll, 2000).
- Randomise questions
and answers for electronic quizzes/assignments.
- Ensure assessment
tasks relate to the specific content and focus of the subject
(and therefore the students) so students are less tempted to simply
copy something from the web.
- Set the assignment
specification on a unique or recent event on which there is unlikely
to be much material available (Culwin & Lancaster, 2001).
- Use essay/assignment
topics that integrate theory and examples or use personal experience
(Carroll, 2000). For example, a field trip report, a task with
no right answers or a personal reflection on a task.
- Use assignments that
integrate classroom dynamics, field learning, assigned reading
and classroom learning (Gibelman, Gelman and Fast, 1999).
- Use alternatives
to the standard essay, such as case studies, which present more
difficulties in locating suitable material to plagiarise (Culwin
& Lancaster, 2001).
- Assess work produced
in class, possibly with preparation allowed beforehand, to reduce
the opportunities to plagiarise (Culwin & Lancaster, 2001).
- A timed open book
essay in class is a variation on the above theme (Carroll, 2000).
This is possible with large classes as long as the class is in
one room at one time or parallel groups have different questions
to answer. Administration and marking are considerations.
- Where feasible and
manageable, viva (i.e. orally examine) a random selection of the
students briefly in order to check what they have learned and
that they are familiar with the ideas in the submission (Culwin
& Lancaster, 2001).
- Ask students to make
brief presentations to the class based on their written assignments
(Gibelman, Gelman and Fast, 1999).
- Require all students
or a random sample of students to submit essay outlines and/or
non-final versions of assignments. Ensure that all students are
informed that they may be called on to submit such drafts.
- Minimise the number
of assessment tasks - continuous assessment and overassessment
contribute to plagiarism. While three pieces of assessment per
subject might ease the emphasis on the exam, this number multiplied
by four subjects means a student faces the equivalent task of
completing a serious piece of work each week of each semester
students for evidence that they have not plagiarised
- Ask students to include
the library site and call number of each paper source they use
and to include the date they accessed each website.
- Ask students to supply
photocopies of any references used as part of an appendix (or
to have such an appendix available). This helps to ensure all
their references are genuine (Culwin & Lancaster, 2001).
- Collect an annotated
bibliography before the submission is due. This can be hard to
construct from a supplied paper and ensures that the students
have done some work before the submission date (Culwin & Lancaster,
- Insist on evidence
for significant claims and let students know that the assignment
will not be marked if this evidence is missing.
- Return assignments
to students to redo if requirements for providing evidence of
sources are not met. If they are never met, disallow students
from using the assignment as part of their assessment for the
- Evans (2000) suggests
using a meta-essay or meta-assignment where students are asked
to answer the question "What did you learn from your assignment?"
or "What problems did you encounter while undertaking this
assignment and how did you overcome them?"
positive use of collaborative work
- Make a virtue of
collaborative work in subjects with large student numbers and
common assignments. Use group work or syndicates. Ensure that
both the criteria for assessing group work and the difference
between collaboration and copying are transparent and clearly
- Ask students to work
on a task in groups but to submit individual assignments. Ensure
the division between collaboration and collusion is clear - give
examples of each. Have a mechanism in place to account for 'shirkers'.
familiar with resources that may be used for plagiarism
- Educate yourself about
electronic options available and attractive to students in your
discipline. Culwin & Lancaster (2001) suggest checking that
you are familiar with available resources related to the assignments
- Use a search engine
to help find the sites students are likely to find. Simply choose
a phrase that students are likely to use - a history example is
"Thomas Samuel Kuhn was born".
- Demonstrate to your
students your awareness of electronic resources available to them.
Evans (2000) suggests downloading examples of the sorts of information
students are likely to find in relation to the assignment and
distributing it to them - to show that you are aware of their
existence. You might even consider discussing the quality of the
prepared work with students. As Evans (2000) says, the 'meat and
potatoes' of most [undergraduate] research papers can be found
on the sites below.
use of detection software and other deterrents
- Require all students
to submit essays and assignments electronically, while making
students aware of the plagiarism checking software that exists.
Limits on document size may be an issue. The threat of using such
software, even on a random sample of essays, may be sufficient
- Archive electronic
student essays and assignments to enable later crosschecking across
students or between pieces of work submitted by an individual
student (to establish an authorship index). Issues of expense
and IT skills may arise. However, the threat of checking may be
- Use deterrence penalties.
For example, a first offence results in failing the assignment,
a second means failing the subject (Langsam, 2001).
- Request that all
work outside of examinations be submitted with a cover sheet defining
plagiarism and requiring the student's signature.
quickly to incidents of plagiarism
- Do something about
blatant examples of plagiarism immediately (Carroll, 2000).
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