Best Practices for Preventing Plagiarism

Include a statement in your syllabus

Webster University strives to be a center of academic excellence. As part of our Statement of Ethics, the University strives to preserve academic honor and integrity by repudiating all forms of academic and intellectual dishonesty, including cheating, plagiarism and all other forms of academic dishonesty. Academic Dishonesty is unacceptable and is subject to a disciplinary response. The University reserves the right to utilize electronic databases, such as Turnitin.com, to assist faculty and students with their academic work.

Discuss plagiarism in your class

In addition to having a statement in your syllabus, discussing the issue of plagiarism in class reinforces that this is an issue that both you and the university take seriously. Discussing plagiarism in class can also help avoid confusion among students about exactly what actions are considered plagiarism- i.e. buying papers on-line, cutting and pasting from multiple sources, paraphrasing material but not citing it, etc. Surveys show that many students have an unclear definition of plagiarism.

Make plagiarism resistant assignments

The best way to avoid plagiarism is to design assignments and class activities that make it a challenge for students to plagiarize. Well-designed assignments can make it more difficult for students to copy ideas from other sources indiscriminately. They can also make plagiarism easier to spot for the instructor. The following are some suggestions of ways that you can design assignments that make plagiarism less likely.

Keep Aware of Student Progress

Practice: Make sure the first time you learn about the topic and nature of a student's assignment isn't when they turn in the final product.

Rationale: By working with the students at various stages of the assignment, you can better tell which ideas are their own. Forcing students to begin a project before the final deadline can also help them to avoid procrastination, a major incentive to plagiarize.

Practice: Ask students to turn in materials before the final paper-for example, a topic proposal, an annotated bibliography, or an initial draft.

Rationale: Linking multiple assignments together means that the final paper is not the only exercise that has required the student to work with that subject, making it harder for students to compile a paper by cutting and pasting from the internet.

Use Group Work

Practice: Have students complete assignments in pairs or groups.

Rationale: Collaboration can promote honesty, since a student who might plagiarize alone may find it harder to do so in front of their peers. Properly designed, group work does not necessarily mean that the student is doing less work than an individual assignment.

Practice: Use peer review and have students incorporate their peers' feedback into their work.

Rationale: Requiring students to incorporate feedback from their peers can make it difficult for the student to hide the fact that they have not developed their ideas individually.

Practice: Have students turn in their peer-reviewed drafts or comments along with the final project to determine if the work has progressed.

Rationale: The peer-review comments can let the instructor get a sense of whether the work has grown since the first draft, even if the instructor did not review the earlier draft.

Go Beyond the Essay

Practice: Use non-traditional formats where appropriate. For example, instead of an essay, have students write a letter or proposal.

Rationale: This type of assignment encourages students to interpret their research into their own words in order to match the format of the assignment. Students will also find it much more challenging to find papers in such non-traditional formats on-line.

Practice: Have students prepare a cover letter for the assignment, summarizing their findings and explaining the process behind their research.

Rationale: In addition to encouraging students to be more reflective about their methods and writing, an assignment like this makes it easier for the instructor to detect papers purchased on-line. A well written, thoughtful paper with a cover letter that seems confused about the paper's argument or methods can be a red flag.

Practice: Have students give an oral presentation over their project, either in class or in an oral examination with you.

Rationale: As with a cover letter, having to present their work orally as well as in writing requires students to be more engaged with their project. This may discourage students from buying papers on-line or blindly cutting and pasting material, since they know that they will have to explain the material in their paper in person.

Make Source Expectations Part of the Assignment

Practice: Require students to use a variety of sources for their projects, including print resources.

Rationale: Print resources are harder for a student to copy and paste from. Expecting students to use full citations and provide a bibliography also encourages them to keep track of where they found their information more rigorously, which can help cut down on plagiarism due to sloppiness.

Practice: Require the inclusion of specific texts or sources.

Rationale: Requiring students to use certain sources will make it harder for students to find material to copy, making it both less profitable to plagiarize and easier to detect if they do.

Keep Things Fresh

Practice: Change/tweak assignments from term to term or for different sections.

Rationale: If the assignment changes, student work from previous semesters will no longer meet the requirements of the assignment.

Practice: Ask students to select a topic that is timely or relevant to their personal lives.

Rationale: Topics from recent headlines or related to personal details make it difficult for students to misrepresent others' ideas as their own.