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Teaching about Plagiarism

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Faculty Resources > Preventing Plagiarism > Teaching about Plagiarism



Teaching about Plagiarism


The first step toward preventing plagiarism and encouraging original scholarship is to make students aware of how academic institutions (and this institution in particular) define and address plagiarism, and how and why academic scholarship defines and values originality and intellectual integrity.


Syllabus Statement on Plagiarism

A statement on plagiarism in the syllabus is a necessary, though not sufficient, way to clarify your commitment as an instructor to high standards of academic integrity. Here are two examples of plagiarism statements from the syllabi of GW faculty.


Example 1

Taking the words of others or presenting the ideas of others as your own not only prohibits you from learning the skills of academic research, it also violates the University's Code of Academic Integrity. The University defines academic dishonesty as "cheating of any kind, including misrepresenting one's own work, taking credit for the work of others without crediting them and without appropriate authorization, and the fabrication of information." You can find more information about GW’s Code of Academic Integrity at http://www.gwu.edu/~ntegrity. The minimum penalty for such offenses, whether on a rough or final draft, is to fail the assignment; the more common penalty is to fail the course.

[Robbin Zeff, Assistant Professor of Writing and Professional Technology Fellow]


Example 2

Please make yourself familiar with the University’s Code of Academic Integrity (http://www.gwu.edu/~ntegrity/code.html). There will be zero tolerance for plagiarism and cheating. Please note that the Code stipulates that you cannot submit work prepared for another course—if you want to re-use research done in previous courses, discuss details with me before you start on the paper. If you are not sure about how to represent another person’s work in an assignment, contact me for advice before submitting. The code specifies that the minimum sanction for plagiarism is an F on the particular assignment; repeated offenses carry an F for the class as the minimum penalty. Please do not try me on this, I do not want to fail anyone. [Marcus Schaper, Lecturer in Political Science]




Plagiarism as a Subject for Class Discussion

An explicit discussion of plagiarism at GW--how and why it happens, what kind of scholarship it enables and prevents--can be a fruitful opportunity to raise with students more proactive questions concerning academic values, scholarly contributions, the writing process, intellectual development, working with sources, and the role of technology in the production of knowledge. For a list of common ways that students at GW intentionally or accidentally fall afoul of academic integrity, see the section How Students Plagiarize at GW.






Ranked Choices (in order of relevance)



Nick Carbone. 2007. TechNotes: Teaching Writing in an Online World. http://ncarbone.blogspot.com/TeachingWriting/


A respected thinker on the uses of technology in teaching writing, Nick Carbone, a New Media Consultant for Bedford St. Martins, offers ideas and resources on how to:





Articles on Specific Discussion Topics

Here is a list of articles that are useful in discussing the many sides and dimensions of plagiarism. Each article looks at this complex concept from a different angle.


Focus on Borrowing as Inherent to Creation

Malcom Gladwell. "Something Borrowed: Should a Charge of Plagiarism Ruin your Life?" The New Yorker (Nov. 22, 2004).



From the perspective of a writer who found himself plagiarized, and learned to love it, the author of Blink and The Tipping Point explores basic questions of derivative vs. transformative borrowing in drama, music, and scholarship.


Focus on Accidental Plagiarism

Doris Kearns Goodwin. "How I Caused That Story." Time (Jan. 27, 2002).



A short piece written by presidential historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, on how she came to accidentally plagiarize and the steps she is now taking to make sure that doesn't happen again.


Focus on Honor

Robert Boynton "Is Honor Up for Grabs? Education Isn't About Surveillance." The Washington Post (May 27, 2001): B01




A short editorial questions whether plagiarism detection software, though successful in catching plagiarists, is missing the point. Boyton believes the real issue is not how to catch plagiarists, but adhering to the honor code established by institutions of higher learning.


Focus on Responsibility

Phil Baty. "Plagiarist Student Set to Sue University." Times Higher Education Supplement (May 28, 2004)

Available through Lexis Nexis


This short news piece presents the case of a college student who had plagiarized on papers throughout his college career but only got caught his last year. The university decided not to grant the student a degree. The student decided to sue the university charging that it was the university's responsibility to better educate him on plagiarism.


Focus on Culture

David Callahan. On campus: Author discusses the "cheating culture" with college students. Plagiary: Cross-Disciplinary Studies in Plagiarism, Fabrication, and Falsification, 1(4) (2006): 1-8



The author of the book Cheating Culture talks to college students about how cheating has seeped into business, sports, and academics. Callahan identifies three forces driving the prevalence of today's proclivity for cheating: importance placed on money and winning, the national sense of fear and insecurity, and the ineffectiveness of organizations and agencies meant to stop such behavior. He concludes by stating that academic integrity is worth fighting for and challenges students to follow the words of Gandhi and "Be the change you want to see in the world."


Focus on Institutions

Shane Wilson. "Did Opal Author Plagiarize — or Was It Her Handlers? Harvard-Novelist Scandal Throws Spotlight on Chicklit 'Book Packager.'" The Harvard Independent (April 24, 2006)



Concerns the scandal surrounding Harvard sophomore and literary celebrity Kaavya Viswanathan, whose first novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life (2006), relied heavily on barely rewritten patches of text taken from Megan McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts and a number of other young-adult novels. Wilson's piece goes beyond easy moralizing to consider a range of institutional complicity in producing the conditions for plagiarism, from IvyWise, a high-priced counseling firm that helps students package themselves for college applications, to 17th Street Productions, a book packaging firm to which publishers outsource the development (and sometimes some of the writing) of genre books like the Sweet Valley series. For other coverage of "KaavyaGate" from the Independent, see http://www.harvardindependent.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleID=9940




Comments (2)

Anonymous said

at 5:09 pm on May 8, 2007

I think it's important to emphasize that we want to teach not only "how to avoid" plagiarism, but why we value originality in the first place, and to show the particular kind of originality favored by academic writing.

In this light, I'm wondering if there's too much emphasis on gotcha in the sample syllabus statements (e.g., the don't-try-me-on-this language) that frames the issue as a cat-and-mouse game rather than as a matter of teaching academic values.

Anonymous said

at 8:33 pm on May 10, 2007

Yes, I see what you mean. Something about how exciting research is when it's original and students are engaged in problem solving, analysis, interpretation, reporting results-- or whatever the particular literacy task requires.

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