Strategies for Teaching with Online Tools
Bedford Workshops on Teaching Writing Online
Nick Carbone, New Media Consultant
Bedford/St. Martin's
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Thinking About Plagiarism

A better alternative than submitting every paper to a search engine--or worse, a pricey search service that will miss as much as it catches--is smart assignment design. Teaching students how to handle sources, along with regular discussions (not harangues) in courses about plagiarism, cheating, and academic honesty are better pedagogic alternatives to constant policing. 

But rather than restate in this Teaching Tip the usual assignment advice, which most of you likely know and use, let me share instead some WWW resources and recommend a wonderful book that I've found useful in my own teaching and faculty workshops. These resources address in more detail than I can here assignment design, how to talk about plagiarism in the classroom, how to talk to students you suspect might have plagiarized (and your reading of your students' writing is the best detection there is), how to search the WWW and databases for possibly plagiarized e-text, how to tell if the plagiarism is intentional cheating or poor source handling, and how to proceed with plagiarism cases even when you can't find an originating text. 

Resources for Assignment Design and Understanding Plagiarism

You know the the things to do in an assignment: avoid giving hackneyed assignments, have students write multiple drafts, have students maintain annotated bibliographies, and so on. All very good ideas. More on these strategies is available, in more detail and with some slight variations, at the following Web sites:
"Plagiarism: a misplaced emphasis," by Brian Martin ( This scholarly essay looks at the prevalence of ghostwriting, and nonattribution done by teachers and administrators that makes up much of the workaday world of academia (as distinct from the writing done in scholarly journals). 

"Preventing Academic Dishonesty," by Barbara Gross Davis ( A broader view of plagiarism, with good teachng strategies and a good bibliography. 

"Plagiarism in Colleges in the USA," by Ronald B. Standler ( Standler, an attorney in Massachusetts, provides an overview of case law on plagiarism, and offers opinions on legal issues involving plagiarism accusations and procedures. . 

"Plagiarism and the Web," by Bruce Leland ( A good nuts and bolts site; great for a quick reference or as a resource for planning a workshop for faculty. 

Bibliography of plagiarism articles by Rebecca Moore Howard ( Howard is one the leading plagiarism scholars in composition; this page lists several of her most important articles. 

"The New Plagiarism: Seven Antidotes to Prevent Highway Robbery in an Electronic Age," by Jamie McKenzie ( This piece offeres just what it says. I especially like the graphic of six variations of the same house used to explain synthesis. 

"Downloadable Term Papers: What's a Prof. to Do?," by Tom Rocklin ( Rocklin's message: better assignments, better assignments, better assignments. 

"Busting the New Breed of Plagiarist," by Michael Bugeja ( A good overview of how to use search engines to look for those phrases that seem out of place in your students' prose. 

"Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers," by Robert Harris ( This site offers good assignment strategies, a reminder to distinguish between intentional cheating and poor source management and integration (mistakes in paraphrasing and quoting). 

The Plagiarism Handbook: Strategies for Preventing, Detecting, and Dealing with Plagiarism

I've been visiting Robert Harris's pages for years, not only on plagiarism, but also for his advice on teaching research online. I've always found his advice sensible, balanced, and consistent. Harris is also the author of a new book on plagiarism, The Plagiarism Handbook: Strategies for Preventing, Detecting, and Dealing with Plagiarism (2001, from Pyrczak Publishing). Details on how to order it, the table of contents, and other information can be found at the Web site for the book, ( 

I really like Harris's book because he reminds teachers again and again to remember the student point of view. Here are some (not all) of his major points:

  • Don't assume students know what plagiarism is. 
  • Teach plagiarism not from a punitive approach, but rather by emphasizing good writing and source management skills. 
  • Distinguish between writing mistakes and deliberate cheating. 
  • Talk about plagiarism in class, and not just as a hectoring admonishment warning students to avoid it. 
  • Make the writing process visible to students (and you) by collecting drafts, annotated bibliographies, and copies of sources used. 
  • Teach students how to manage sources. 
  • Design assignments to both mitigate against plagiarism and at the same time help students learn good scholarly habits. 
  • Know your school's plagiarism policies and procedures before you begin the course, so you know your options and rights as a teacher in advance. 
  • Remember due process and student confidentiality if you need to make a plagiarism charge. 
  • Put students at ease in office conferences to discuss plagiarism. Give students a chance to explain their paper.
Harris also reminds us that we don't need to have a copy of the plagiarized source in hand. By talking to students about the piece, how they came about writing it and where they got the ideas in it, we can learn enough to determine whether it is likely that they cheated or merely made mistakes in handling their sources. And very often, notes Harris, in the course of answering these questions about their paper's content, when the student is hemming and hawing, perhaps a little bit nervous or defensive, a gently asked, "is there anything you want to tell me?" will lead students to admit they didn't do the work. 

To help you talk about plagiarism with your students, his book offers a collection of cartoons that illustrate various points of views about plagiarism (two examples can be found on the Web site), which teachers are invited to use as handouts, for class discussion, or in teacher training workshops. Harris also includes several appendices with exercises to help with correct quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing; sample plagiarism statements and policies; a list of useful search engines, including databases; a list of term paper mills (which can often be searched by teachers); and useful Web links and articles. 

All in all, Harris offers in this book a good starting place for developing your own wise response to plagiarism, giving you the tools you need to be proactive rather than reactive. Unlike the message from, the book emphasizes the role of good teaching and classroom planning, doesn't assume students are criminals, and offers a range of resources teachers can use to be better prepared. 

[Talking About Plagiarism]