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Faculty Resources for Research Instruction: Plagiarism

A Resource for Faculty

The Internet provides a tempting array of opportunities for students to plagiarize with unprecedented ease:

  • simple no-cost copying & pasting of content from a web browser into a word processor
  • ordering, for a fee easily charged to a credit-card, a pre-fabricated term paper
  • "custom ordering" a paper from an Internet term paper mill such as ""

To empower faculty who are teaching in a time of increasing "cyber-plagiarism" this resource is intended to:

  • increase faculty understanding of why students plagiarize
  • offer faculty strategies and assistance to prevent plagiarism
  • offer faculty strategies for detecting plagiarism
  • alert faculty to F&M resources, policies and procedures regarding academic honesty

Adapted from

Defining Plagiarism

To plagiarize:

  1. To steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own : use (another's production) without crediting the source.
  2. To commit literary theft : present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

(Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online:

Why Students Plagiarize


  • may not understand what plagiarism is
  • may not realize they are doing something wrong
  • might think they will not be caught plagiarizing, and that if they are, there is no penalty, or the professor will not expend the time and effort to pursue the case
  • may not understand that information taken from the Internet needs to be cited--some think it is a free-for-all information source, with no acknowledgement necessary, or copyright restrictions, etc.
  • may not expend sufficient energy for courses not in their major
  • can be natural economizers, looking for the shortest route to accomplishing a task
  • often have poor time management and planning skills
  • may fear their writing ability is inadequate, and would rather not submit what they consider sub-par work

Recommended reading: Guide to Plagiarism and Cyber-Plagiarism (University of Alberta Libraries)


Compiled from the Electronic Plagiarism Seminar (LeMoyne College Library), and the Robert Harris document "Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers".  Adapted from

Detecting Plagiarism

Some clues which may indicate unoriginal work:

Visual Cues:

  • unusual formatting of the paper (odd use of space, inconsistent layout, etc.)
  • variety of citation styles present
  • strange, extraneous text at the top and/or bottom of the page


Content Cues:

  • the content does not address the assignment requirements
  • inconsistent quality of writing (the introduction or conclusion is of poor quality compared to body of the paper)
  • use of vocabulary or jargon with which you do not think the student is familiar
  • significant change in writing style which differs greatly from previous writing
  • in the bibliography- see below

Recommended reading: "Detecting Plagiarized Papers" (Coastal Carolina University Library)

Compiled from the "Detecting and Preventing Plagiarism" (Dalhousie University Library), and "Cheating 101: Detecting Plagiarized Papers" (Coastal Carolina University Library).  Adapted from

Detecting Plagiarism in Citations

After brainstorming ways to use citations to spot plagiarism beyond the standard stuff we all hear about (like changes in writing style, etc.), here is a quick list.  Note: these examples are hardly conclusive evidence, but they might send red flags.
  1. Older material cited.  Many of the for-sale student papers are pretty old, so if you notice that most of the sources are over a decade or more old, then it might be a bought paper. 
  2. Majority of cited material are books.  Students of course use books for their papers, but this might be a sign of an older bibliography.
  3. Library doesn't have access to the articles.  If items (particularly articles) are cited and not easily available in other locations (online or the public library), does the college's library have access or not?  This might be a clue.
  4. Not all of the in-text citations match up to the bibliography.  When students are cutting and pasting, they may end up including portions of text they did not mean to include or they forget to copy the reference along with the plagiarized sentence.
  5. No page numbers provided in in-text citations.  Although many webpages are not numbered in such a way to provide clear page, section, or paragraph numbers, many other items do have some sort of numbering system.  If the student does not include page numbers, is it because they were unaware they needed to do so or because they don't want to make it easy to find the paraphrase?
  6. Bibliography is filled with incomplete citations.  If students are using an older paper, whether their own or someone elses, many of the citations on the old paper will be incorrect by the new style standards.  When students are converting the citations, they may not be able to completely convert them without access to the original cited item, which may no longer exist online or reside at their local library.

Adapted from Karla Aleman's Citing in the New MLA and APA website.

When You Suspect Plagiarism


  1. A simple search of the Internet may confirm suspicions. Search for a suspect phrase, sentence, or paragraph in at least 3 Internet search engines, such as:
    • Google Enclose the phrase in quotation marks.
    • HotBot Select search option: Look for: exact phrase
  2. "Busting the New Breed of Plagiarist" by Michael Bugeja offers more specialized search strategies.
  3. You may also try searching suspect phrases, sentences, and paragraphs in the more popular Library databases, including any EBSCO Host database.
  4. If you are having difficulty finding original sources, have questions about detecting plagiarism, or need assistance in detecting it, please contact the Library.  Our instructional staff are able and willing to assist you. 


Adapted from

Preventing Plagiarism

Talk About It In The Classroom

A simple yet powerful method of preventing plagiarism is to talk about it openly with students.

Discuss with students:

  • what plagiarism is; explain how people ethically and legally use and acknowledge each other's ideas
  • why plagiarism is wrong (as a violation of trust between the student and the professor, as a breakdown in scholarly communication, as illegal use of intellectual property, as violation of "fair use," etc.)
  • how to avoid plagiarizing; alert students to:
  • the moral, ethical and legal consequences of plagiarism
  • your awareness of Internet "term paper mills," and their lack of quality control, grade guarantees, etc.
  • the availability to faculty of plagiarism detection tools

[Compiled from: Electronic Plagiarism Seminar (Le Moyne College Library ), "Cheating 101: Easy Steps to Combatting Plagiarism" (Coastal Carolina University Library), and the Gary M. Galles article "Copy These Strategies to Stop Plagiarism by Students".}

Recommended reading:

Assign Non-Plagiarizable Work

An effective means of prevention is requiring work that cannot be completed by plagiarizing. Librarians are available to consult with you regarding assignment design.

Suggestions for Non-Plagiarizable Research Papers:

  • teach students the processnature of research by portioning an assignment into discrete, graded or reviewed parts to be submitted over the course of the semester:
    • written proposal
    • annotated bibliography
    • rough drafts, or working notes
    • research journal
  • have students discuss their papers in class
  • require submission of all sources consulted

[Compiled from the Robert Harris document "Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers"]

Recommended reading:


Alternatives to the Research Paper:

  • Primary vs. Secondary Sources: assign readings on a topic from both types of sources, and have students compare/contrast
  • Popular Article's Research Root: assign students to find a short article in the popular press which is based on, or makes significant mention of, a "scientific study", and have students research the original study, and compare it to the popular press presentation.
  • Popular vs. Scholarly Information: assign readings on a topic from both types of sources, and have students compare/contrast
  • Citation Hunt: assign students an article or book chapter, and assign each student the task of tracking down an original article listed in the bibliography. Each student must document her/his approach, share the content of the original article, and explain its relationship to the assigned article.
  • Internet vs. Scholarly Database: have students find information on a topic by searching the Internet and a scholarly ("subscription") database, and compare the authority and content.
  • Research Log: have students maintain a record of their research process, including their topic, keywords used in developing search statements, results lists, copies of articles, etc.

[Compiled from "Alternatives to the Research Paper" (Grant MacEwan College Learning Resource Center--no longer online) and "Term Paper Alternatives" (UC Berkeley Library)]

Enhance Student's Information Literacy


Through the Library's Instruction Program, Librarians educate students to become fully:

information literate:  able to recognize when information is needed, and able to locate, evaluate, and use effectively, ethically, and legally the needed information.

The Library also provides citation guides:


Adapted from

For further reading:

General Resources:


"Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers" by Robert Harris. A comprehensive discussion of plagiarism with fantastic suggestions for prevention--highly recommended.

"Thinking and Talking About Plagiarism", a "TechNote" for Writing Teachers by Nick Carbone of Bedford/St. Martin's publishing. A marvelous reflection on transforming the dialogue about plagiarism from the policing nature of "Don't do it..." to one that "does not assume students are criminals." Carbone suggests beginning the discussion of plagiarism on one's syllabus, as it is one's "contract" with the class...

"How Cheating Helps Drive Better Instruction" by Greg Van Belle, Department of English, Edmonds Community College. Van Belle suggests plagiarism can serve as "an invitation to rethink our course content..."

"Plagiarism in Colleges in USA" by Ronald B. Standler, J.D., Ph.D. Discusses plagiarism from a legal perspective.

"Student Plagiarism in an Online World" by Julie J.C.H. Ryan, American Society for Engineering Education. An account of the author's experiences with various forms of plagiarism.

"Plagiarism: What Should a Teacher Do?" by Rebecca Moore Howard, Director of the Writing Program at Syracuse University. Advocates better understanding of the full range of student mis-use of information, and misrepresentation of ideas.

Other Academic Library Resources:

Really Cool Online Tutorials/Videos- Created by Someone Else:

Plagiarism "Checkers"- Reviews papers before students turn them in:

Paper Mills- Places students go to buy papers:


Adapted from and Karla Aleman's Citing in the New MLA and APA website.