University of Plymouth Plagiarism Staff Guidance and Support Introduction

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Staff Guidance and Support

  1. Introduction

There are an increasing number of cases of plagiarism occurring in Universities and the University of Plymouth is no exception. In the last few years the number of cases dealt with officially has increased steadily. Newstead, Franklyn-Stokes and Armstead (1996) found that just under 50% of students (sample n=943) admitted committing various forms of plagiarism. Norton, Tilley, Newstead and Franklyn Stokes (2001) reveal similar results; 45% of students in their sample (n=267) admitted to copying from a book or other publication without acknowledging the source and 42% admitted to allowing their coursework to be copied by another student. These findings are hard hitting; but given the recent increase in Internet usage, the numbers may be in fact much higher (Footnote 1). Plagiarising material has never been easier - a few clicks of the mouse or some cutting and pasting and voila!

We must ensure that we are aware of methods that can be used to identify and combat cheating, including plagiarism. It is simply not acceptable to ignore it. The only way that plagiarism (either actively cheating or unwittingly doing so) can be tackled is by formulating a coherent strategy that involves actions at all levels (Carroll, 2002). The QAA (2000) requires us to have mechanisms to deal with breaches of assessment regulations in place and expects to see them implemented fairly and with rigour. In addition, we should be aware that there are ways of preventing plagiarism which involve better design of assessment and more thorough support for students. All of these issues are addressed in this guidance.

    1. What do we mean by plagiarism?

Plagiarism is one form of academic dishonesty or cheating. A simple definition is “the intentional use of other people’s words or ideas without due acknowledgement.” (Race 2001, p.18)

The University of Plymouth student handbook states:
“Plagiarism is an offence under the University Examination and Assessment Regulations. It is defined as the representation of another person’s work (including another student’s) as your own, without acknowledging the source. It can take the following forms:

  • direct copying from texts;

  • paraphrasing (rewording) other people’s work;

  • summarising other people’s ideas.”

Source: University of Plymouth student handbook 2004.

The University Examination and Assessment Regulations expand on this:
“students should not submit for assessment any material (written, computer-generated, visual or oral) or ideas originally produced by another person or persons, without clearly indicating both in the text and by use of bibliographic referencing, that the material is not original, such that the work could be assumed to be the student’s own. This includes

  • the use of quotes or close paraphrasing without the use of quotation marks and referencing;

  • the use of intellectual data or ideas without acknowledgment;

  • copying, summarising or paraphrasing the work of another student;

  • commissioning another person to complete work which is then submitted as a student’s own work;

  • the use of professional essay writing services or work drawn down from the internet.”

Source: University academic regulations, notes for guidance and procedures for taught programmes 2004: Examination and Assessment Offences.

1.2 Is it that clear cut?
Unfortunately a simple definition is not enough to clarify what plagiarism means. Take the following spectrum of situations and ask yourself whether all, some, or any of these situations constitutes plagiarism. Where do you draw the line? Where would your students draw the line?

  • a student copies in its entirety the essay of another student, without reading, understanding or amending it;

  • a student copies very large chunks of his old essay for one course and submits the not-so-new essay for another course;

  • a student quotes someone's work, but genuinely forgets to cite the source;

  • a group of students discuss their ideas, and they submit work that is similar in many respects;

Source: Deliberations

There are inevitably areas of ambiguity and disputed meaning. For example

  • subject groups or disciplines vary in what is acceptable.

  • group collaboration may be acceptable to some tutors but the same work becomes collusion for others.

  • transferring from school/college to HE involves changing practices and some tutors make allowance for this more than others.

  • cultural variations in what is acceptable means that tutors have to be particularly sensitive when working with international students.

1.3 How can the University minimise the risk of plagiarism?
An explicit policy and co-ordinated strategy are vital for addressing plagiarism. Carroll & Appleton (2001) suggest that the policy needs a clear commitment from the highest levels of the University; a regulatory framework and clearly defined roles and responsibilities; access to support and measures for embedding and reviewing progress towards set targets. Mcdowell and Brown (date unknown) have argued that that the rules must be clear and the penalties transparent. It is suggested that the occurrences of plagiarism and cheating need to be publicised so that ‘students know that we mean business’.
With this in mind, this guidance provides support for the existing University regulations and serves two purposes:

  • It provides background information to support tutors who are trying to detect and deal with plagiarism (sections 2).

  • It provides some guidance on how tutors might adapt their present practices to reduce the occurrence of plagiarism in the future (Section 3 -5).

These guidelines supplement, but do not replace, the University’s academic regulations on examination and assessment offences.

  1. Detecting and dealing with plagiarism

Traditionally plagiarism is detected by tutors recognising the source of material in student assignments or noting that two or more assignments look similar. This has become increasingly difficult with large groups (often involving more than one marker) and with the explosion of information available to students online (much of which tutors may not have come across).

2.1 Indicators of Plagiarism
There are many indicators of plagiarism for academics to look out for. Cox (2001) suggests that tutors should:

  • study the tone as well as the style of writing. If particular sections of text are written with unusual confidence alarm bells should ring!

  • look out for bibliographies that contain a large number of books that are unavailable in the University library - if found, further investigation is warranted.

  • be aware of the unattributed use of non- British English because web plagiarists will often reproduce material without anglicising the spelling.

Harris (2002) adds some further indicators - mixed citation styles; lack of references/quotes; unusual formatting; and anomalies of diction (cutting and pasting paragraphs of varying levels). Additionally, Clough (2000) suggests that long sequences of common text and the order of similarity between texts can be used to distinguish authors and detect plagiarism.

2.2 Electronic Detection Tools
Detection does not solve the problem of plagiarism; however, it is an important component in an institutional strategy. At the simplest level of detection a piece of suspicious text can be entered into a search engine – this is quick, simple and effective. A range of more sophisticated tools now exist. ‘A Good Practice Guide’ (Carroll and Appleton 2001) offers guidance on choosing the right tool for the task. Furthermore, the usefulness of these tools has been evaluated in a JISC project (Bull and Collins). (Please see Appendix 1 for a summary of available electronic detection tools).

2.3 What should you do once it is detected?
This should be quite simple. Carroll & Appleton (2001) suggests we should act fairly and consistently and in accord with the principles of natural justice. However, equitable approaches require shared practices and regulations. The University of Plymouth (2004) has adopted procedures that should be followed by all tutors. These are updated and published annually by the University in its Examination and Assessment Offences. In addition you should check whether your departmental regulations include advice and guidance on local practices.

2.4 Should you ever ignore plagiarism?
Ignoring plagiarism shows disregard and/or disrespect for academic practice. There are many reasons why staff decide to avoid accusing students of plagiarism. These include

  • the extra work involved in tracing and meticulously checking the sources;

  • wishing to avoid the inevitable ‘fuss’;

  • fear of destroying relationships with students;

  • peer pressure to avoid failing students.

None of these is a sufficient reason for avoiding the processes and students do not benefit in the long run from tutors ignoring academic dishonesty. In response to the first point, the process doesn’t need to be time consuming. If a string of suspicious looking text is typed into ‘google’ and the work has been plagiarised from online material, the original document will appear within seconds. Additionally, the staff- student relationship will not be destroyed if discussion of plagiarism is set in a wider context that conveys empathy for the student experience and the likely pressures. If plagiarism is suspected, avoiding an accusatory manner and tactfully asking the student to explain how the assignment was written will help prevent the situation from becoming too confrontational.

  1. Preventing plagiarism - placing the emphasis on good assessment

It is clear that time must be invested to develop strategies to deter plagiarism. However, this approach will be much more effective and significantly less time consuming than the work required once plagiarised material is detected in assessment (Carroll, 2002).
In order to reduce the likelihood of plagiarism in the first place, we need to focus on taking preventative action. This involves looking at the design of assignments. Perhaps, like most things which go wrong with assessment, the problem is ours, and does not belong to the student. Why do we set written assignments, essays, dissertations, etc. that are open to possible plagiarism? The way we plan our courses and organise our teaching is often directly responsible for the plagiarist response. Sometimes we presume that there is a 'right' way to do things and students respond by trying to produce what (they think) is expected.
The suggestions made in this section have been taken from a wide range of sources (especially the Deliberations forum) and will not all be appropriate in every context. However, adopting one or two of these practices will reduce the chance of students needing to, or trying to, cheat and will improve the quality of learning.
3.1 Change assessment methods
A re-evaluation of assessment strategies and the increased use of diverse and more innovative assessment methods can reduce the risk of plagiarism. Perhaps it is time to rethink our assessment strategies, and measure individuals' achievement by means which are not affected by plagiarism. For example, Carroll (2002) suggests that although essays can be an effective and reliable way of assessing learning outcomes they are also more prone to plagiarism compared to other forms of writing. Essay banks and so-called paper mills contain thousands of possible essays that can be downloaded for free. To help students avoid the temptation of these ready made essays show them examples from essay banks and stress the poor quality of most; this could be an effective deterrent alone. One solution may be to ensure a wider variety of assessment across a programme. This may be difficult when there is a lot of fragmentation (as in modularised systems) but discuss programme assessment strategies with colleagues to ensure diversity.

3.2 Ask for drafts of assignments to be made available
Students who borrow or download material do not have drafts of their work. Tell students at the start of the programme that they should keep copies of their draft notes and once in a while ask to see these.

3.3 Offer assessment criteria that discourage plagiarism
If we want students to be:

- critical;

- able to access, assess and process information;

- original in their thoughts or at least in their handling of the thoughts of others;

- independent and confident thinkers;

- able to apply knowledge in new situations

then we want to see this reflected in the responses to the assignments that we set. Asking students to relate theory to reality or a current event is a useful approach. This type of task takes students beyond the level of mere regurgitation of facts and theory to a level where they are using the theory in a meaningful way or at least analysing and breaking down a theory or process into distinct parts so that they can relate it to a real life event. (This approach also minimises the chance that a similar essay will be available on an internet ‘cheat site’).

3.4 Avoid giving similar assignments on different programmes/modules
Tutors for different modules should liaise so that there is no chance of duplication of tasks, assignments, essays, etc.

3.5 Avoid giving the same assignments every year
Students quickly pick up the fact that assignment titles remain the same or similar; the temptation to borrow work from a previous cohort is clear. Use a long rotation for titles or give fresh assignments every year.

3.6 Give students specific instructions
Be specific about how students must approach the assessment task. This is particularly crucial when collaborative learning is involved. You could specify how students should designate shared work as distinct from individual contributions. For example, in a group report, ask them to write a preface describing the individual contributions, or cite each other in jointly written work, as they would when referencing other authors. Carroll (2002) argues that creating assessment criteria that positively reward individuality and encourage a unique solution sends a strong message to students.

3.7 Define collusion precisely for students
The only way to counter the confusion surrounding the boundaries of collaboration and collusion (i.e. at what point collaboration stops and collusion begins) is by providing clear definitions that state how individual work is to be signalled, what the assessment criteria are and how students should identify shared work. Carroll (2002) argues that as the UK system requires an individual grade (based on individual effort) which leads to an individual degree classification, we must find some way to ensure we assess individual work, even where learning and effort has been collaborative.

3.8 Use peer group reviewing processes to help deter and detect plagiarism

Thompson and Stobart, (2002) have highlighted several potential benefits associated with the use of peer review in student assessment. It is argued that students can:

  • develop critical appraisal skills.

  • learn about a broader range of topic areas by reading work written by students outside their friendship groups.

  • be more willing to act on comments from peers than comments from staff.

  • help to detect plagiarism (and they are often better at detecting it!)

Carroll (2002) cited a case where a lecturer took active steps to improve learning and detect plagiarism. After work was submitted electronically (anonymously), students were given the marking criteria and asked to mark three essays. Students were marked on the quality of the feedback they provided and how well the marking criteria was used. Several unexpected benefits were reported. The students were pleased their work was “marked properly” (!), they subsequently wrote better essays, and plagiarism was identified. Anonymity was deemed crucial to this successful identification.

3.9 Offer an assignment to highlight plagiarism
This assignment, while it might appear somewhat cynical at first, will give students an insight into the nature of plagiarism:

“Compose an essay on ………………….. entirely utilising the unexpurgated

writings of others. You must supply a complete set of references so that the reader can identify each and all of the selections you've utilised. You may choose to provide hard copies (photocopies, print-outs etc.) of the actual sources in an appendix. Marks will be awarded for accuracy of referencing and relevance, quality, number and range of sources used. Any section of writing which does not have a reference will be assumed to be your own original work, and therefore will result in a deduction of marks. You may be interviewed about your work.”
This assignment is designed to encourage you to develop and apply the following skills: searching, reading, identifying, understanding, selecting, comparing, editing, collating, arranging, presenting, explaining and arguing.

  1. Explain and discuss plagiarism with students

The same action - the unattributed use of someone else's work - can be viewed very differently in different contexts. It may be seen as

- an act of intellectual theft for expedience and/or gain (unacceptable)

- a contextual or cultural norm e.g. work, school, culture (acceptable in the right context)

- a work of artistic intent or iconic 'homage'
This illustrates that what is acceptable in one context is not acceptable in another. How do we explain this to our students? What support can be offered, particularly in the early stages of the programme, to support students? How can we actively engage students in discussing what makes good and bad academic practice in this University?

    1. We need to encourage students to realise how ubiquitous plagiarism is in modern (and

indeed all) cultures. Repetition and borrowing is part of the human condition. In many

areas and cultures it is valued positively. We need to discuss with students why, within

the culture of the western university or college, it is seen almost uniquely as 'wrong'.

Emphasis needs to be placed on creating a scholarly culture where individual ideas and

views are valued over the regurgitation of other’s (Macdonald, 2002).

    1. Staff and students should be provided with clear explanations of what is valued

(integrity, honesty, wide- ranging research, choosing and using others’ ideas etc)

(Carroll, 2004). (See the Reasons for Referencing Section in the ‘Learning how to

learn: Avoiding Plagiarism work book).

    1. Having awareness of why students may plagiarise is beneficial because it allows pre-

emptive action to be taken. This awareness can be shared with the students to show

understanding. (Please see the box below).

Suggestions for Factors Contributing towards Student Cheating and Strategies for Prevention (Harris, 2002):

  • Students are natural economisers.

It may be beneficial to remind students that the purpose of the course is to learn and develop skills. This learning helps them become more effective in their future lives. Studying for a degree is not just about getting through!

  • Too many choices are open to students so low priorities can be delayed (and delayed…).

The research topic could be customised to involve something of real

interest to students.

  • Some students worry about the inadequacy of their academic writing ability.

Demonstrating that some of the online papers are of a low standard

and stressing the value of the learning process may help.

  • Many students haven’t developed adequate time management and planning skills.

A research assignment could be structured so that intermediate parts of

it (early research, outline, draft, bibliography and final daft) are

submitted at regular intervals to encourage students to avoid the last

minute panic that may increase the likelihood of plagiarism occurring.

  • Ignorance of what plagiarism is can cause students to unwittingly plagiarise material.

This is not an acceptable excuse and can be avoided by educating

students about plagiarism. In addition to defining plagiarism and

discussing the difference between appropriate, referenced use of ideas

and inappropriate use, it should also be stressed that plagiarism is a

combination of stealing (another’s words) and lying (claiming implicitly

that that the words are the student’s own).

  • It is crucial to be positive about good academic practice. Copying entire / parts of assignments stunts the development of a number of skills such as thinking and analysing; organising; writing; planning; and time management. Furthermore, these skills are highly valued in the working world; a degree will help to secure a first job but performance (using skills developed from producing assignments) is necessary for promotion.

  • Discuss the benefits of citing sources as many students do not realise that citing sources strengthens their writing.

    1. International Students will often need particular help. It may not be enough just to define

plagiarism or tell them not to do it. Please see the box below.

Cultural Aspects of Academic Writing:

  • Cortazzi (2003) has highlighted that in some cultures the academic practice is to use work from acknowledged authorities but without naming the authority – because everybody knows. It is seen as a kind of homage to describe the work of a well known author without providing a reference. It must be stressed that British academic culture is very different. Independent thinking, creativity and individuality are all highly valued. A student is not going to be successful academically if another author’s work is just uncritically described in assignments. Furthermore students must always reference other author’s work because if the original author is not referenced it gives the impression that the work is the student’s own when in fact the student may receive credit for someone else’s creativity.

  • Some cultural writing patterns exist which encourage the student to give background knowledge/ history of a topic before making a specific point about it. It is advisable to explain to International students that in a British academic institution it is appropriate for the student to clearly signal what the main point is before giving the background information and then elaborating upon the main point.

  • There are different notions concerning the ownership of knowledge in Confucian heritage cultures. The way in which some students may collaborate and support each other in academic work may be influenced by the belief that knowledge belongs to society and is for sharing (Graham and Leung, 2004).

  • In some cultures, offering personal and possibly critical views is deemed unacceptable.

  • Borrowing the words of native authors may be indicative of a lack of self confidence in academic writing abilities. It has been argued that some copying of text may be underpinned by a desire to ‘imitate’ rather than intention to ‘deceive’ (Angelil-Carter 2000, as cited in Graham et al, 2004).

    1. Perhaps we can help students to critically examine the world of the mass media where incessant plagiarism has come to mean the almost complete stifling of originality or debate; and where nearly all important issues are neglected as they do not fit into the few accepted frameworks of thought.

  1. Some activities to help students avoid poor academic practice and plagiarism

A short talk in induction week and an occasional reference to the course handbook will not prevent plagiarism and poor academic practice. The student activities found in the University’s online study unit are designed to get students actively involved in understanding plagiarism.

The activities set up contexts to discuss 'real' examples of plagiarism with a group and to consider the actions that may follow. Students are encouraged to write a code of practice in their own language and to discuss it with tutors- this will give them a sense of ownership of the ‘rules’ and they are less likely to forget the implications.
The study unit is accompanied by some notes for tutors that suggest that these materials will have an even greater impact if you take the time to customise the activities. This would mean including real examples from your own experience or discipline and using text from your own programme to introduce the variations on plagiarism practiced by students in area.

  1. Encouraging and building expertise within the institution

It is clear that tackling plagiarism is a complex issue which requires many people to be actively involved. Carroll (2004) argues expertise should be shared in:

  • Course design - e.g. finding out how to design in assessment tasks that test students’ learning

  • Effective induction – e.g. facilitating student discussion of academic values

  • Teaching students the skills they need to meet assessment requirements – e.g. appropriate early diagnostic activities for identifying gaps in students understanding

  • Detection

This guidance and the accompanying student materials are designed to facilitate this process. Programme teams may find it useful to work through these as they review their plans for the next academic year.

If your programme team would like to run a staff workshop on plagiarism contact in the first instance.

Footnote1. Very few studies have been recently conducted in the UK so evidence has to be drawn from further a field. In Australia, Turnitin software was used to screen 1,770 assignments from five HE institutions. The results showed that 8.8% contained more than 25% of unattributed web-based material whilst only 2 assignments contained more than 75% of unattributed material. Carroll (2004) highlights that these results suggest that a significant number of students misuse citation rules and a very small number deliberately plagiarise material. The students who misunderstand / misuse academic conventions form the majority of plagiarists, but those who do so deliberately give the most concern to staff. In the same paper, Carroll theorises that it is reasonable to expect to come across at least 10% of students’ work that requires attention beyond normal assessment (i.e. beyond deducting marks for poor referencing).

Appendix 1
The following software can be used for detecting plagiarism:

  • JISC:

JISC has also adopted (and is paying for) a detection service which is based on ‘’ (which is provided by the US software company iParadigms). This is freely available to all UK universities and colleges. Not only does it check student’s written work against internet material but it also builds a database of student writing so that copying essays written by predecessors or friends will become more difficult. The software doesn’t identify plagiarism per se; it provides an ‘Originality Report’ (highlighting text within the assessment that has been found elsewhere and providing a link to the original source) which the tutor then uses to decide whether plagiarism has occurred. Turnitin received a good rating for detecting online sources and collusion in the JISC technical review. It is clear that managing this process of checking work electronically presents a challenge that the University will need to face.

  • EVE (Essay Verification Engine)

Eve is said to be a powerful tool that uses a large number of complex searches to determine if students have plagiarised from the Internet. If plagiarism is suspected, the submitted essay is directly compared to the text on the site and if there is a match the URL is recorded. On completion, a full report (including percentage of essay plagiarised and the plagiarised material identified) is produced. EVE received a good rating for matching text with web pages but not essay banks in the JISC technical review.

  • Copycatch

This program was written by a foreign linguist (David Woolls). It can be used for detection, deterrence, investigation and instruction. Essays in a student cohort are compared to detect any shared material. This comparison can be extended to include a year on year comparison. In the JISC review COPYCATCH received a high rating for detecting collusion; although a disadvantage is that the Internet is not searched.

  • iParadigms:

Uses (in the same way as JISC): ‘Document Source Analysis’ is carried out through developing a ‘digital fingerprint’ of text documents and using a set of algorithms to produce an ‘Originality Report’.

  • The Glatt Plagiarism Screening Program and Service

The Glatt Plagiarism Screening Programme can be used to assess individual writing style. It eliminates every fifth word on the student’s assignment. The student is then tested by being asked to replace the missing word. Individual assignments are evaluated using a proprietary database, statistical variables and probability theory.

  • Jplag

Jplag finds similarities among multiple sets of source codes to detect software plagiarism. J Plag compares bytes of text and programme language syntax and structure. It supports Java, C, C++, Scheme, and natural language text.

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[accessed 02.04.05]

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McDowell, L and Brown, S. (date unknown). Assessing students: cheating and plagiarism [online] [accessed 12. 04.05]
Newstead, S.E., Franklyn-Stokes, A., and Armstead, P. (1996).  Individual Differences in Student Cheating. Journal of Educational Psychology, 2, 229-241.

Norton, L.S., Tilley, A.J., Newstead, S.E., and Franklyn-Stokes, A. (2001). The Pressures of Assessment in Undergraduate Courses and their Effect on Student Behaviours. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 26, 3, 269-284.

QAA (2000) Code of practice: Assessment of students, Gloucester: QAA.
Race, P. (2001) Assessment: A guide for students, York: LTSN Generic Centre.
Recommendations taken from Good Practice Guide Commissioned by JISC & written by Oxford Brookes [online] [accessed 02.04.05]
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[accessed 20.08.04 but no longer accessible]

Thompson, J.B and Stobart, S.C (2002). University Research, Plagiarism and the Internet: Problems and Possible Solutions [online] [accessed 02.04.05]
University of Plymouth (2004) University academic regulations, notes for guidance and procedures for taught programmes: Examination and Assessment Offences.
University of Plymouth (2004) Student handbook.

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