Teaching students about academic integrity and plagiarism should help them understand not just what to avoid—copying others’ work without acknowledgement, but also what they should aspire to—joining the academic conversation in order to influence it. Handling sources well is part of each writer’s intellectual development, development that occurs over the space of several years. It’s vital that you address responsible source use within the context of your course in a particular discipline because expectations for using sources differ across disciplines. Students will give these lessons special weight when conveyed by faculty members whose expertise they respect. Effective education about plagiarism often involves these three components:
Include an Academic Integrity Warning in Your Syllabus
An effective warning will warn the student of penalties for cheating, as well as encourage her to take an active role in the academic conversation. Students need to understand that acknowledging sources allows them to make the conversation visible in the pages of their writing.
The best warnings also indicate that the responsible use of sources is part of the writing process, not a separate legalistic requirement. When students build on the ideas of others at every stage in the writing process, they become more attached to their own ideas and feel more responsible to the community of which they are a part.
A strong warning should give a concise, clear definition of plagiarism, and provide links to an expanded definition with examples. Using Sources is a resource developed by the Yale College Writing Center that defines plagiarism, gives examples, and offers strategies for using sources well and responsibly. The warning should also explain or give a link to Yale’s Academic Integrity Policy and the consequences of cheating.
Finally, an effective warning should match the tone of the rest of the syllabus. When a warning is overly punitive in tone, it may counteract other signals you send that your course is a chance for students to grow as thinkers.
Provide Expanded Definitions and Examples of Plagiarism
Provide expanded definitions and examples of plagiarism for students to refer to and study as part of the work of the course. You may want students to read these and report back to you, or you may want to use them as part of in-class work. For a general overview, we suggest having students read Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism from Using Sources. There’s also a great Yale College website with Definitions of Plagiarism and Cheating. You may also want to find or create explanations of any particular concerns about scholarly integrity that arise in your discipline.
For the sciences: “Writing at Yale” explains how to quote prose sources, but does not address problems with quantitative data. For a good discussion of computer programming and plagiarism, see the Academic Integrity site at Princeton. Students also struggle with the concept of collaborative work; they often do not understand the rules and expectations regarding work produced by joint authors. We urge you to find or create materials that help students understand how collaboration should proceed. As a way to begin this process, look at the treatment of collaboration on the Academic Integrity site at Princeton.
Develop Exercises that Deepen Students’ Understanding of Citing Sources
Develop exercises for students that deepen their understanding of correct and incorrect uses of sources, usually in concert with a writing project. The following are just some examples of possible exercises.
- Develop an example of plagiarized writing based in the course reading and discuss what is wrong with the use of sources. Rewrite the passage in small groups or as a class.
- Show three examples of plagiarized writing, each of which moves closer to a legitimate use of sources. Then provide a strong, legitimate example of source use.
- Have a class discussion about cases of source use that seem to fall in a grey area (for example, borrowing the plan of ideas of an original without attribution, or using an idea from Source A that the writer found in Source B, but not acknowledging Source B). If students feel comfortable in this setting, they will often provide examples that stump the class. You can provide a solution and the rationale behind it, or you may assign a student to research the question and report back to the class.
- As a writing experiment, ask students to plagiarize a passage from the course readings on purpose and then discuss the specific ways in which this work is out of bounds.
- As a way to make students more conscious of their use of sources, ask them to provide hard copies of the sources they use in a paper (if from a published book, ask for the page the quotation or paraphrase comes from; if from an on-line source, ask them to print out the source and highlight the relevant passages).
- The Writing Center has also developed a self-test for academic integrity. Click here to learn more about this quiz, which you may want to ask students to explore.