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Services for Faculty at the Bern Dibner Library: Preventing Plagiarism

The extent of the problem

Plagiarism has become a prominent problem on campuses nationwide. While the ease of copying and pasting from the Internet has undoubtedly contributed to the rise in plagiarism, today's students are also more likely to commit plagiarism because they simply don't recognize what they are doing is wrong (only 29% of students surveyed believed that copying from the Web constitutes “serious cheating.” Source: New York Times).

As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure that our students understand what plagiarism is and how they can avoid it. Knowing why students plagiarize is the first step in preventing it.

Common reasons students plagiarize include:

  • misconception of what constitutes plagiarism, paraphrasing, and common knowledge
  • careless note taking
  • pressure from peers/parents to excel
  • not knowing how to properly cite sources
  • poor planing, not allowing enough time to complete the assignment
  • differing cultural attitudes (see below)

Cultural perspectives

While plagiarism is widely recognized as wrong here in the United States, this is not necessarily the case elsewhere in the world. The Western notion that one can own ideas may seem unusual to students of Eastern cultures where there is a more collective sense of identity. In some cultures, copying someone else's words or ideas is considered a form of flattery. Differing cultural attitudes towards ownership of ideas is important to keep in mind when communicating with your students about the perils of plagiarism.

Read the articles below to gain further insight into this issue.

Articles for discussion

Deterring plagiarism

Promote Academic Integrity to Students

  • Include a statement on plagiarism in your syllabus and explain what it means in class.
  • Inform students of NYU-Poly's Policy on Academic Dishonesty and discuss the penalties for plagiarizing.
  • Set clear standards for assignments, citations, and grading.

Design Assignments that Discourage Plagiarism

  • Give fair warning and enough time to complete assignments.
  • Stagger due dates for different parts of the paper.
  • Change the paper topics each time the course is offered.
  • Require students to hand in notes or outlines with their paper.

Educate Students in Research Practices  

Help Students with Citation Styles

  • Inform your students which citation style they should use and show them how to properly cite print and electronic sources.
  • Show them the Style Guides and Citation Management guide on the library website.
  • Refer students to the Writing Center for help.

Detecting plagiarism

Be aware of possible plagiarism indicators:

  • A student's paper sounds overly professional or contains complex vocabulary, jargon, or technical terms.
  • The quality of writing is inconsistent. For example, the introduction or conclusion may be poorly written compared to the body of the paper.
  • The title page, font, references, format, or layout of the paper is inconsistent.
  • There are embedded links, page breaks, or incorrect page numbers in the paper.
  • The topic of the paper isn't consistent with the assignment, class lectures, or class handouts.
  • The bibliography is odd in some way. For example, it may be long, the style guide used for the bibliography is different from the one used in class, the citations are all from older sources, or few or none of the materials referenced can be accessed in the library.
  • There are links or URLs at the top or bottom of the paper.
  • As a general rule, follow your instincts. Most professors can gauge what level their students are at.

Adapted from University of Alberta Libraries Guide to Plagiarism and Cyber-Plagiarism.

Prevention service: Turnitin

Instructors at NYU have access to Turnitin, a plagiarism detection tool. In addition to acting as a plagiarism deterrent by detecting unoriginal content in student papers, it also has features designed to aid in educating students about plagiarism and the importance of proper attribution of sources.

For help and training opportunities using Turnitin contact the Center for Faculty Innovations in Teaching and Learning (FITL).

Additional resources