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Plagiarism: A Guide for Faculty

Questions?
Ask a Rosen Librarian!

Tim Bottorff
Department Head
407-903-8100

Many faculty members are worried about plagiarism--and justifiably so. In today's world of networked information and cutting-edge technology, plagiarism is easier and more common than ever before. But the more you know about plagiarism, the more easily you can prevent, detect, and (if necessary) report it. We hope this page helps you better understand this important problem.

If you have questions or comments about this document, please stop by the library, call 407-903-8100, or email the library at rosenlib@ucf.edu. However, this document is for informational purposes only and does not purport to be exhaustive or authoritative. Questions that we cannot answer will be referred to the UCF Office of Student Conduct, the official office for such matters.

Definition and Statistics

Webster's Third New International Dictionary (2002) defines the word plagiarize as follows:

  • to steal and pass off as one's own (the ideas
  • or words of another)... [to] use (a created
  • production) without crediting the source... to
  • commit literary theft... to present as new and
  • original an idea or product derived from an
  • existing source

Clearly, there are many different types of plagiarism, many of which might not rise to the level of "literary theft." Nonetheless, instances of plagiarism, no matter how small or unintentional, can undermine the mission of the academy, negatively impact student learning, and tarnish the reputation of students or faculty members.

Moreover, some research suggests that plagiarism, especially "cut & paste" plagiarism (using one or more sentences from Internet sites in a paper without attribution), among college students is alarmingly common and on the rise.

In a 1997 study by St. Johns University professor Miguel Roig, 36% of undergraduates admitted to having plagiarized written material at least once (Roig). Two years later, a survey conducted by the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University found that "of 2,100 students on 21 campuses across the country, about one-third of the participating students admitted to serious test cheating and half admitted to one or more instances of serious cheating on written assignments" (Clemson). In a 2001 survey by the same group, 41% of students admitted to engaging in "cut & paste" plagiarism and 68% did not think it was a "serious issue" (Clemson). Finally, of college students who took the 2003 National Survey of Student Engagement, 87% reported that their peers engaged in "cut & paste" plagiarism "at least some of the time" (Sterngold). (Of course, it is not known whether this last percentage is so high because students overestimate the extent of the problem among their peers or because students are more likely to be honest when asked about their peers' habits rather than their own habits. Clearly, however, "cut & paste" plagiarism remains a problem.)

Why Students Plagiarize

The statistics presented above are grim. But it is important to understand the reasons behind student plagiarism, especially since both research and anecdotal evidence suggests that most students plagiarize unintentionally.

Common reasons for plagiarism among students include:

  • Poor research skills
  • Confusion between plagiarism and paraphrasing
  • Inability to distinguish between "common knowledge" and information that should be cited
  • Careless note-taking
  • Confusion about how to properly cite sources
  • Poor time management and planning skills
  • Confusion about assignment requirements or expectations, especially in "group" projects
  • Cultural attitudes towards plagiarism
  • Belief that most students do not get caught

Preventing Plagiarism

The good news is that there are many ways to prevent both intentional and unintentional plagiarism. Some of the most effective measures include:

  • Schedule customized library instruction sessions with a trained librarian. We can help improve students' research skills, suggest strategies for critically evaluating information, and eliminate some of the confusion regarding citation styles. See our Information Literacy page for more information.
  • Talk with your class about plagiarism, academic honesty, and related topics in the first class and include discussion of such topics in your syllabi. If you never mention these topics, many students will assume that you don't care about these issues or won't pursue possible instances of dishonesty. The UCF Office of Student Conduct has developed a number of helpful resources for faculty, including an Academic Dishonesty flyer that some professors regularly include in their syllabi.
  • Design good assignments with clear expectations. For individual written assignments, time-honored strategies such as staggering due dates for different parts of the paper, reviewing early drafts, and specifying what types of resources may be used make plagiarizing very difficult. For group projects, make it clear what degree of collaboration is appropriate and stress that similar standards as for written assignments (e.g., turning in a bibliography) should be followed (University of Alberta Libraries; Franklin & Marshall College Library).
  • Follow up on likely instances of academic dishonesty. Many faculty members prefer not to pursue potential instances of plagiarism because they believe that "catching" students is too time-consuming, that pursuing disciplinary action could tarnish their or their students' reputations, or that students who cheat are only "cheating themselves." Each of these reasons has some merit, and certainly faculty members cannot (and should not) take the time to examine every paper for plagiarism. However, students will tend to take your message more seriously if you can back it up with real examples or have established a reputation for not tolerating cheating.

Detecting Plagiarism

Detecting possible instances of plagiarism is often not especially difficult or time-consuming if you concentrate mostly on papers that have one or more of the following suspicious qualities:

  • The quality of the writing or research in one or more sections of the paper seems to exceed a student's ability (based on your previous experience with the student)
  • The style and formatting used in different sections of a paper vary greatly
  • The paper contains unusual imbedded links, page numbering, or page breaks
  • The topic of the paper was not approved and is not consistent with the assignment or class objectives
  • The bibliography was not prepared according to an approved style, mixes different citation styles, and/or contains many materials that are not accessible at the library or other available sources (University of Alberta Libraries; Franklin & Marshall College Library)

When qualities such as those above are present, you can try one or more of the following detection strategies:

  • Try typing a few suspect phrases or sentences into popular Internet search engines (such as Google or Yahoo)
  • Try searching a few known "paper mill" websites where students can purchase research papers. Kimbel Library at Coastal Carolina University has a comprehensive list of paper mill sites
  • Try using one or more commercial detection services. UCF has an arrangement with one called turnitin.com. The service compares the text of papers to a known database of papers and to Internet sites. Faculty may inquire about setting up a turnitin account the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, at 407-823-6960 or osrr@ucf.edu.

Reporting Plagiarism

This cannot be stressed enough: If you believe a student has engaged in dishonest conduct, including but not limited to plagiarism, you should consult the UCF Office of Student Conduct. Their website provides informational flyers, links to relevant sections of the student handbook, contact information for staff, incident report forms, and much more. In addition to handling formal allegations of wrongdoing, the Office of Student Conduct may be able to assist with informal or less binding types of action (for instance, you can submit an incident report form for "information purposes" only OR to "initiate the Student Conduct Review process").

Bibliography

Sources used in writing the foregoing sections include:


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Last updated August 15, 2013 4:17:39 PM

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