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Plagiarism-proof Assignments

There are many places we can send our students to learn about what is or is not plagiarism, and how to avoid the pitfalls of plagiarism. Three very useful Internet sites are found at Purdue University, the University of California at Davis and Georgetown University. To the extent that students want to maintain standards of academic honesty and integrity, such resources will provide them with clear models, definitions, and guidelines.

However, preventing plagiarism is a two-way street, and we can't rely upon our students' good intentions to insure that the work they submit is 100% their own. Often the assignments and instructions we provide them with are presented in ways that make plagiarism a more inviting option for them than we would want it to be. Assignments that are vaguely worded or topics that are generic in nature make it all too easy for the student to go from search engine to term paper service, with only a click or two (and a credit-card payment) between them and a final project. One way to at least put an obstacle in the way would be to do some googling of potential paper topics oneself before actually assigning the topic. Another approach is to tailor every assignment to the specific course, perhaps by having students make connections between topics or texts in the course rather than giving them open-ended subjects to research with no specific questions for them to engage in their research.

Perhaps the best preventive measure against plagiarism is to have students communicate with you about an assignment at various stages of the project--not just at the point of submission. We all know that research and writing are processes that unfold over time, so maybe we should be looking at student work at different "check-points" along the way. The temptation to plagiarize is probably strongest at the end, when the student feels the pressure to submit something right away, rather than earlier in the process, when there is ample room for revision and exploratory thinking. The Robert J. Connors Writing Center here at UNH offers a succinct handout containing several suggestions about preventing plagiarism. To download this handout, click here.

These and other similar ideas are presented on the Colorado State University site, "Plagiarism: Understanding and Addressing It" ": For a fuller discussion of this issue in the Teaching Excellence Newsletter, click here. For an expanded statement on plagiarism, including definitions, examples, and advice about how to make writing assignments less "generic," visit the Web site of the Council of Writing Program Administrators by clicking here.

Finally, click here for an article from the May/June 2004 issue of Change entitled Confronting Plagiarism: How Conventional Teaching Invites Cyber-cheating.