Monday, August 2, 2010


As a composition and creative writing instructor, plagiarism comes up in every class almost every day:

Explaining what it is and how to avoid it
Noticing it in a paper and deciding how to deal with the issue

It is easy, especially with technology today, to plagiarize not just words, but ideas. Sometimes it is done on purpose out of laziness and sometimes it is because the student writer didn’t understand how to properly cite a source.

Trip Gabriel’s recent article in the New York Times “Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age” explores this topic and its many facets. What do *you* think is the best way to work with students to help them learn to avoid plagiarizing text or ideas?

Luckily, in freshman composition writing courses, the goal is to teach students how to avoid it, not search them out and fail them for it. Through courses that require many drafts, errors can be caught in an early draft and corrected by the student. If the plagiarism persists, then yes, it potentially becomes a more punishable offense.

I require students in some writing classes to post their rough and final drafts on a class Blackboard Discussion Board. I encourage them to read each other’s papers and even cross-pollinate ideas. Of course, they are required to cite each other’s work, if they decide it is valuable for their own papers’ development. This group sharing of ideas and discussion of how to organize those ideas helps to make paper writing easier and the writer’s role in the process more important. The students understand that by supporting their claims and presenting their ideas clearly allows them a strong and valuable voice in an academic conversation.

It is hard to plagiarize a large part of a paper (bought or stolen) if a class requires drafts to be written. The tricky part often comes when sentences or ideas or lifted from online sources that are easy to cut and paste. Gabriel writes, “It is a disconnect that is growing in the Internet age as concepts of intellectual property, copyright and originality are under assault in the unbridled exchange of online information, say educators who study plagiarism. Digital technology makes copying and pasting easy, of course. But that is the least of it. The Internet may also be redefining how students — who came of age with music file-sharing, Wikipedia and Web-linking — understand the concept of authorship and the singularity of any text or image.”

Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab offers clear explanations on how to properly cite material. This resource helps instructors to quickly lead students to instructions on how to cite different kinds of texts, like those online, that might be tricky at first.

I always encourage students to think of writing as a part of a dialogue. Future readers can respond to original ideas through a new piece of writing that was crafted based on a response to a published piece. Therefore, material must be properly cited as the writer would want to be given credit for original ideas and valid sources.

How do you, as an instructor or student of writing, keep plagiarism at bay?

No comments: