Preventing Plagiarism

In the ideal world, none of us would ever have to write a note on a student’s paper like the one in this photo. Since this isn’t the ideal world, we’re likely to have to deal with plagiarism every now and again. Dealing with instances of plagiarism will be the topic of my post for next week.

This week, I’d like to float a few ideas on preventing plagiarism.

The way we approach writing assignments can certainly make a difference. Most faculty are well aware that reusing the same essay prompts from one year to another is a bad idea, and asking students to submit longer papers in stages is useful for catching potential problems before they get a student into real trouble. (Incremental due dates may also reduce the temptation for students to plagiarize, since they force students to get started earlier.)

There are some good suggestions for instructors at pages maintained by the The University of Texas and The University of Alberta Libraries.

Further, I’m convinced that a lot (certainly not all) of the plagiarism committed by undergraduates is less than fully intentional, and that much of it stems from poor information-management practices.

That conviction has persuaded me that I need to change my approach to teaching students how to use Zotero. Some time ago, I wrote a post on teaching tech in Political Science. In that post, I mentioned introducing students to Zotero in order to emphasize the collaborative nature of scholarship and to make it easy for students to format their citations properly.

But Zotero is also a marvelous information-management system, and is therefore well-suited to avoiding the accidental plagiarism that results from not keeping good track of one’s sources. If students get into the habit of keeping both their sources and their notes in Zotero, they’re much less likely to inadvertently neglect to cite a source, or to accidentally cite something as a paraphrase or summary when it’s really a direct quote.

What strategies are you currently using for plagiarism prevention in your courses? Let’s hear from you in the comments.

[Image by Flickr user Digirebelle / Creative Commons licensed]

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