Communicating About Plagiarism

15571090899_080f29427aPlagiarism is one of those things I don’t get through to students as effectively as I wish to.

I know they say in advertising that it takes seven exposures to a brand name for it to make an impression. I think it might be the same thing with the concept of plagiarism.

As you know if you’re a regular visitor, I’m not teaching right now, but I am assistant teaching in an academic writing class again (and loving seriously every minute of it!).

My lead teacher and I were talking about plagiarism – how do we keep our students on the straight and narrow of original work that incorporates the work of others? We had two divergent thoughts, which I think both have merit:

  • Addressing it when students have handed in drafts seems much more effective than addressing it in the first week. The introduction is certainly necessary, but it’s sort of “blah blah blah” hypothetical. When students have their draft essay and Turn It In results in hand, and hear that if they don’t change what’s highlighted they will get a zero as a first consequence, it’s much more real.
  • It’s so real that it can be quite upsetting. Threats and fear are not the forces we want to be dominating our classes and assignments.

So… how can we make our introductions to plagiarism more real? And how can we make avoiding plagiarism less about its scary consequences?

A Few Ideas

Introduction to plagiarism –

  • Aim for several exposures to the idea of plagiarism over the first few sessions.
  • Show an example paper with example Turn It In results and explain that if this example were handed in, it would earn a zero.
  • Relate this back to how things are done in the students’ previous experience. Is it totally new? Slightly different? Have students talk about it in class or on the discussion boards.

Addressing their drafts that contain plagiarized writing –

  • Emphasize fixing it as an opportunity for students to  develop their own voices.
  • Focus on all of the supports there to help students internalize and follow the college’s policy: the teacher(s), writing center, tutoring center, etc. Nobody wants any of the negative consequences to happen to the students.


Please add to this brainstorm in the comments, even if you’re reading this years after I initially posted it! Thank you!


Photo Credit: Junior-10 on Flickr

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