Plagiarism Prevention Assignments

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Tips for Supporting Authentic Student Writing

The best practices in teaching writing are ones that help student writers generate and develop original ideas and effectively integrate the use of relevant sources. These practices are intertwined and mutually reinforcing. The CTLT can assist instructors in implementing these practices.

Put it in writing.

Your syllabus should have a clear statement about the consequences of plagiarism and the role that writing plays in your course. Along with a syllabus statement, course assignments should be accompanied by clear grading criteria that include policies and expectations for integrating and documenting sources.

Talk about it throughout the term. 

Spend time in class talking about plagiarism. Explain why it’s a major breech of academic integrity. But go beyond warnings and admonitions. Talk about the purpose and importance for using sources in your field and how sources can add ethos (authority) to one’s own writing. The Princeton handbook, Teaching with Writing, advocates meta-teaching, “stepping back and explicitly naming the intellectual operation that is being performed.” These moments help students to see models of effective practice – “to see methodology where before they only saw content” (4). When you are discussing readings in class, spend some time talking about the effective ways those readings use and cite other sources. Talk about your own experiences as an academic researcher and writer. Finally, talk about the proper use of sources just before students begin an assignment. Research shows that this technique of priming can reduce plagiarism and other forms of cheating.

Design original and authentic writing assignments.

As the old adage states: “the best defense is a good offense.” Research shows that plagiarism is much more apt to occur in courses where assignments are recycled, generic, or highly unstructured and simply topic-driven. The prototypical term paper that is assigned every semester is especially prone to producing what John Bean characterizes as “all-about papers without arguments or quasi-plagiarized data dumps with long, pointless quotations and thinly disguised paraphrases” (224).

The most effective means to teach our students are also the most effective means to reduce the incentive and opportunity to cheat.

— James Lang, Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty

Features of Authentic and Original Writing Assignments

o   Inquiry-based: Driven by question(s) at issue, not by topic. When students are involved with articulating the inquiry questions, there is more intrinsic motivation. As Ken Bain notes in What the Best College Teachers Do, “people learn best when they ask an important question that they care about answering, or adopt a goal that they want to reach… If we are not seeking an answer to anything we pay little attention to random information” (31). Inquiry-based writing prompts enable stronger, more genuine lines of reasoning.

o   Problem-and scenario-based: Assignments that ask students to write from the position of a professional in training to an audience that knows less about the content are very effective and can be easily adapted across disciplines. Writing prompts that simulate specific and recent workforce (applied) situations are also beneficial.

o   Grounded assignments:As James Lang argues, grounded assessments are perhaps the greatest single deterrent to plagiarism (76). Grounded assessments are situated and particular to each course. For example, if students are writing for and/ or presenting to a specific audience (e.g. an 8th grade class, a group of concerned residents in Paso Robles) that changes each time the course is offered, the assessment is deeply grounded. A few ways to ground assignments:

Time -- Connect the writing assignment to specific events or conversations in the course or specific events that happen during the time span of the course. 

Place -- Connect the writing assignment to the local scene, such as a dorm, the campus, or the city

Personal -- Connect the writing assignment to a personal experience for the student writer.

o   Genre-based assignments: When assignments are rooted in particular academic genres with clear and specific purposes, audiences and conventions, faculty are better equipped to tailor their instruction of the content to the needs of the writing assignments. Good genre-based assignments enact or operationalize the learning in the course. Research shows that students find such assignments more purposeful and integral to their learning.

Require and reward the entire writing process.

Have students produce notes, drafts and revisions and turn them in with the final assignment. Asking students to include a brief reflection (cover letter) for the assignment is also very effective.

Teach the conventions of integrating and citing sources.

Preventing plagiarism is more than helping students to cite a source correctly. Students often need to be taught how and why to frame and integrate sources. 

Useful Sources

Bain, Ken. What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge: Harvard, 2004.

Bean, John. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking and Active Learning in the Classroom. (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009.

“Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices.” Council of Writing Program Administrators.

Gottschalk, Katherine and Hjortshoj, Keith. The Elements of Teaching Writing: A Resource for Instructors in All Disciplines. Boston and New York: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2004.

Lang, James. Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty. Boston: Harvard UP, 2013.

Soliday, Mary. Everyday Genres: Writing Assignments across the Disciplines. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2011.

Walk, Kerry. " Teaching with Writing: A Guide for Faculty and Graduate Students.” The Trustees of Princeton University, 2007. PDF file.

How can I prevent plagiarism?

Because writing tasks often feel daunting to students, there is the temptation of plagiarizing written work. Written resources have become more easily available on the internet, and students may not have a clear understanding of what constitutes plagiarism in each of their courses (either because of lack of knowledge or because of mismatches relative to their previous experience). See also CMU's academic integrity website for additional information and resources.

Clearly define plagiarism.

At the beginning of the semester – in the syllabus and verbally – give students a clear definition of what constitutes plagiarism and what is considered appropriate collaboration. Note that these definitions may differ from one faculty member to another and from one course to another, so it is especially important to make our expectations clear to students in each course we teach.

Committing plagiarism.

Your good ideas become better when you test them against others’ ideas. For this course, feel free to discuss your ideas about the assignments with other students. However, using someone else’s words, ideas, or concepts without citing your source is plagiarism. So is presenting part or all of another student’s work as your own. In the world of writing – especially academic writing – this is a serious crime and is treated as such. Anyone who commits plagiarism may receive a failing grade for the entire course and be referred to the appropriate dean’s office for further disciplinary action. [From H. Franklin’s Interpretation and Argument Syllabus, 2008]

Provide examples of proper citation.

Give students examples of how and when they should credit the work of others in their writing. This way, they will have concrete cases to which they can refer when questions arise.

Create original assignments.

The more unusual an assignment (e.g., taking a different perspective on a problem, question, or reading), the less likely students will be able to find something (from the internet or their peers) to submit as their own work. In addition, an assignment that has multiple parts may reduce the likelihood of plagiarism.

Require rough drafts.

Adding milestones to a written assignment where students must submit preliminary drafts of their work discourages them from the prospects of plagiarizing. It also helps them spread a larger writing task over a longer period of time, so students are not as likely to be in the situation where they are sorely tempted to take the easy way out of the assignment.

Suggest that students submit electronic copies of their drafts to Turnitin.com.

Instructors can use this online resource as an instructional and educational tool as well as a detection aid. Turnitin (pdf) can provide valuable information to students on drafts if we allow them to view their “originality reports” where they see how much of the paper is actually written in their own words, and then revise accordingly Many students, especially first year undergraduates, have very narrow definitions of plagiarism, believing that re-ordering, paraphrasing or inserting a portion of another text into their own is not plagiarism. Turnitin can help to educate students about what is appropriate and what is not.

Require that students submit electronic copies of their papers and (where feasible) copies of the material they used as sources.

With electronic copies of students’ written work, it is easier for instructors to detect plagiarism using one of several software packages. In addition, by assigning students to submit their background research material, they will also be less inclined to skip steps and resort to plagiarism.

Inform students about support services.

Academic Development helps students be more effective in their academic work, but not all students know about this resource. Giving a quick endorsement of this kind of help can really encourage students to take advantage of the support that is available. Also, for non-native speakers of English, the Intercultural Communications Center (ICC) offers writing help.

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