A Different Approach to Plagiarism Prevention

First, we don’t call it “Plagiarism Prevention.”  In the approach I developed with a collaborating faculty member from biology, we teach students about “Citation Best Practices.”

Most students never have instruction on what plagiarism is or how to avoid it.  Library instruction about citation often focuses on creating the citation, not how to incorporate in-text citations into your document.

Wikipedian Protester
Wikipedian Protester. From the web comic xkcd.

The faculty member I work with decided that she would be willing to give up a bit of content time to discuss these issues with the students.  One of our major goals was that we didn’t want this instruction to be punitive – we didn’t want to focus on how bad plagiarism is.  Like many other plagiarism prevention strategies, we wanted to be positive and proactive.

We decided to focus on teaching students how to do citations properly – something they had probably not been taught before.

I spent some class time teaching students how to construct a proper citation, and how to tell what type of item they are citing (for example, how to tell the difference between an article or article abstract found through a Google search and a web page).

Then I discuss best practices for doing in-text citations.

First, I remind students that the articles they are using for their papers had authors – real, live people who did the experiments and wrote the papers.  When they cite their sources in their paper, they can acknowledge this in the language they use.

Biologists Smith and Jones (2005) discovered that something really exciting happened.

I provide some examples of how they may use their sources in different ways when writing their paper, and provide some sample language for incorporating the citations:

  • Using a source as background information
  • Using a source as an example
  • Criticizing or analyzing a source
  • Comparing two or more sources

At the end of a brief lecture discussing some of these issues, I provide students with sample paragraphs with citations. (See a sample power point lecture and sample paragraphs.)  Each paragraph uses some citations well, and others poorly.  We ask students to determine what is done well and how each sample could be improved.

In our class discussion about the examples we talk about:

  • How often do you need to insert a citation?
  • Citing sources at the beginning or ending of sentences.
  • Use (or not) of quotations in scientific papers.
  • What is implied if no citation is included?
  • What is considered common knowledge?

Does this cover all aspects of preventing plagiarism?  No.  We don’t touch on a lot of details, and we don’t go into the implications of what happens if you do plagiarize.  We don’t touch on cross-cultural issues of plagiarism, and we don’t go into detail about how to paraphrase or take notes so you don’t accidentally copy.

But by providing this type of instruction, we can help students write better papers, give them some strategies for avoiding accidental plagiarism, and make the connection between the term papers they are writing and the scientific literature.

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One thought on “A Different Approach to Plagiarism Prevention

  1. I like your approach, especially your discussion of the different ways that you might bring in a source in the body of a paper (as background info, as an example, to criticize or analyze the source, or two compare two or more sources). Too many students naively think that all sources are there just to buttress your arguments precisely. I’ve got the luxury of teaching a semester long, three-credit information literacy class (Information Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities), where I can get into the use of sources more deeply than in one-shot instruction efforts. I’m looking forward to giving an assignment in a week or so in which I’ll ask the students to intentionally plagiarize a sentence from an article. I’m thinking of having them provide me with a sample sentence from a journal article and then, using the models of poor citation/plagiarism illustrated in the Little, Brown Handbook, construct their own set of examples of plagiarized content. My hope is that by intentionally going the wrong way in the use of sources, the concepts of how to do it the right way will stick more deeply.

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