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Plagiarism Proofing a Course

Ideas for reducing plagiarism.

No Duct Tape Required!

First, abandon hope all ye who read here--it would be impossible to eliminate any and all occasions of plagiarism. What you can do, however, is limit its occurrence and provide yourself with a framework that will enable you to identify a "borrowed" paper quickly. What follows are a few ideas for reducing plagiarism, while enhancing student engagement and interest in course material by means of

Clarifying Plagiarism Policies

(Thanks to Ben Wright for sharing his classroom strategies in this section, and to Chris Mulvihill for his overview of plagiarism on college campuses)


On your syllabus, include a page with an excerpt from the University's policy on Academic Integrity. Require students to acknowledge their responsibility to abide by these codes-- provide space for students to sign their names, agreeing to follow these guidelines, then collect these contracts and keep them on file. Focus groups have shown that students are deterred from plagiarizing in courses in which the syllabi contain specific, clear statements about academic honesty and the penalties for failing to abide by these guidelines.

See...Barry Bean's (Biology) statement on irresponsible course behavior.
See...Steve Buell's (Finance and Law) Code of Conduct cover sheet for in-class exams.
See...Ed Kay's (Computer Science and Engineering) statement about Improper Collaboration Policy.

Random checks.

Explain to students that you will perform random, rotating checks on three to four papers' sources for each assignment in order to ensure that they are honestly and accurately reporting on their research.

Personalize plagiarism.

Explain to students that scholars spend years formulating, researching, and revising their ideas; often this process involves travel to distant archives. Failure to credit these sources is a theft of both the scholar's ideas as well as the time, energy, and expense which that scholar invested in the work. Offer a personal example to illustrate.

Choosing Course Materials

Utilize primary-source material.

When possible, integrate canonical texts with less well-known materials: diaries, letters, and manuscripts; encourage students to consider how these artifacts speak to one another and how the comparatively obscure writings inform, contradict, or fill in gaps in the canon. Utilize unconventional source material like Ed Ayers' Valley of the Shadow project or the Library of Congress' American Memory Collection or even our homegrown "I remain": A Digital Archive of Letters, Manuscripts, and Ephemera.

See...Ed Gallagher's (English) Virtual Americana course (assignments).
See...Ben Wright (Religion Studies) and Ann Priester's (Art History) course on illuminated manuscripts.

See...Barbara Traister's (English) assignment on editing a WWI surgeon's diary.

Stay current.

Whenever possible, limit students' secondary sources to recently published material-- this exponentially decreases the pool of possible texts they can plagiarize. It may also force them to reevaluate their own cultural experience in light of their reading in a useful way.

Crafting Assignments

Create assignments that are specific and detailed in their requirements.

Allow students to be creative in the ways that they fulfill the assignment, not in their topic choice. For instance, while it may be easy to plagiarize a paper assigned on any aspect of Mrs. Dalloway, it would be more difficult to find a paper on how Mrs. Dalloway prefigures Martha Stewart while revising the Victorian ideal of womanhood embodied by Isabella Beeton.

See...Alex Levine (Philosophy) and Gary DeLeo's (Physics) Problem of the Planets course.

Have students “make” something original (e.g., web site, Flash movie, artifacts, etc.).

Students engaged in constructivist learning activities see that they are participating to ongoing scholarly or social conversations; their work contributes to this learning in a material way when they produce dimensional products.

See...Kathryn DiPietro's (Education) video projects on Bethlehem steelworkers.
See...Thom Lepley's (Design Arts) course in which students collaborated on writing a book about Asa Packer.

Never assign a paper you don't look forward to reading.

If you're not interested in reading it, they're not interested in writing it, and that disengagement is often what drives plagiarism. Instead, find ways for them to invest themselves in the material; demonstrate that the stakes are relevant to their own concerns.

See...Wes Atkinson's (English) writing prompt for the Global Citizenship Program assigns students to research the AIDS pandemic in preparation for a visit to the United Nations; the assignment also incorporates a public speaking component.

Focusing on Process as well as Product

Build in project milestones.

Stagger your due dates for papers and assignments so that students are required to complete outlines, rough drafts, peer reviews, and/or bibliographies for major research papers. This will forstall the last-minute plagiarizers who, at midnight, have not considered at all what they will wrifor a paper that's due at 8:30 a.m. 

See... Chaim Kaufmann's (International Relations) detailed assignment which identifies specific stages of the writing process for research papers on international politics and foreign policy outcomes.

Navigating Information at Lehigh

Representing Naval Engineering, this is one of 24 medallions for academic disciplines in the Reading Room of Lehigh's Linderman Library. Photograph by Steven Lichak.

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