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What Can Colleges Do to Deter Students From Plagiarism?

by Ralph Heibutzki

At most colleges and universities, individual instructors shoulder the responsibility of combating plagiarism. Many of their strategies focus on education and deterrence. An instructor may use special software to check students' work or have them take online tutorials, which include strategies to avoid plagiarism. Getting familiar with a student's writing style and narrowing the scope of individual assignments can make plagiarism a less attractive option than submitting original work.

Create Online Tutorials

A National Bureau of Economic Research study suggests that online tutorials can reduce plagiarism. Students in randomly selected classes had to view definitions of unacceptable use and take a quiz about its key concepts before they could submit any work. In analyzing 1,200 research papers, the authors found that students using the tutorial were less likely to plagiarize -- with education playing a greater role than fear of getting caught. The study also confirmed that students with lower admissions-test scores were more likely to plagiarize.

Focus Assignment Guidelines

Focused assignments are difficult to plagiarize because a student can't recycle other people's words to complete them. For this reason, Indiana University recommends giving students the chance to write extemporaneously in class. Similarly, it's best to avoid assigning reviews of well-known books or movies, which are pervasive on the Web. Alternatively, the instructor can ask a more focused question or pose one that requires students to apply concepts rather than repeat basic knowledge.

Require Extra Documentation

Plagiarism is less likely when students must document every step of their work. An instructor might request an annotated biography, multiple rough drafts, an outline and a proposal, according to guidelines posted by DePaul University. A professor can then evaluate how closely students are adhering to the assignment's guidelines. The process also provides multiple opportunities to check for stylistic variations that may indicate plagiarism.

Tighten Grading Policies

Grading policies communicate an instructor's definition of acceptable coursework, which further reduces the risk of plagiarism. Assignment sheets should explain that students must follow all instructions, including proper citation of sources, to receive a passing grade. Conversely, students understand that an F grade is likely for any work that doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Students who fail an individual assignment may then see handing in original work as the better option.

Use Detection Software

Instructors can use plagiarism-detection software to compare students' texts to previously submitted papers and external websites, as well as certain academic journals and databases. An instructor can require students to submit all assignments, rough drafts or samples for such double-checking. Any matches that occur will then generate a report. You should outline this policy in your syllabus, as well as a definition of plagiarism and the consequences for misconduct.

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