Austin Community College Library Services
picture of thief Faculty Guide to Plagiarism
Background, Policy, Detection, Prevention

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Introduction

Definition: In an instructional setting, plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately uses someone
else’s language, ideas, or other original (not common-knowledge) material without acknowledging
its source.
--
"Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism:The WPA Statement on Best Practices"

Plagiarism has become much easier with the rise of the World Wide Web, online databases, and word processing. Studies of plagiarism are not consistent, but most show that over 30 percent of students admit to having plagiarized. It's not even clear that it has increased in recent years, although most faculty seem to think so based on their own experiences. (The "In-depth Information" section below goes into more detail on these issues.) But what isn't in doubt is that it is a serious problem.

If the resources below don't readily address your concerns, contact the librarians. We are glad to assist you with general or specific questions, including helping search for suspected plagiarism.

ACC Policy & Procedures

The general ACC Administrative Guideline (1.04.006) on Student Standards of Conduct includes "academic misconduct."

The Student Handbook p.32 repeats the Administrative Guideline.


In-depth Information on Plagiarism

Rather than reinvent the wheel, we are providing links to a few other web sites designed to help college faculty understand, prevent, and detect plagiarism. Besides, given our topic, it seems apropos to "borrow" from someone else.

"Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism" - Excellent coverage of the issues and strategies for prevention. (It does not cover methods of detection.) Policy statement from the Council of Writing Program Administrators.

"Antiplagiarism Strategies for Research Papers" - good overview of the how and why students plagiarize and strategies for prevention and detection. Written by an experienced college professor.

"Plagiarism in Colleges in USA" - Extensive information specifically on legal aspects. Written by an attorney.

"Internet Paper Mills" - Lists over 250 web-based services that offer general academic papers for sale. There is also a list of "Subject Specific Paper Mills" with dozens more. From the library at Coastal Carolina University.


Cultural Aspects of Plagiarism

Clearly there is great danger in stereotyping with this discussion, and it is paramount that each suspected instance of plagiarism be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. However in reviewing the literature and discussing with faculty, the tendency for some groups to commit plagiarism seems higher, based on a cultural lack of understanding of the concept. The Western concept that someone's ideas are treated as possessions simply doesn't seem rational to these cultures. Given that outlook, plagiarism may be committed "innocently." This emphasizes the need to clearly explain it to your students, and perhaps to take it into account when confronting suspected cases. This need for clarification may also necessitate plagiarism handouts be translated into other languages, although that would be difficult.

There are, of course, additional aspects that affect the issue, such as poor time management skills, laziness, peer pressure ("Everybody else cheats." "Only suckers work hard at school."), pressure from parents, increased availability of content from the electronic resources, etc., but faculty usually already have at least a basic understanding of these.

Quick Steps to Detecting Plagiarism

  1. Select a phrase from the paper, no more than 10 words long -- because some search engines cannot handle more than ten -- that contains somewhat unusual vocabulary.
  1. Go to the web search engine Google (http://www.google.com) and search for these words. You may want to enclose the words in quotation marks. The quotation marks will search for that exact phrase. However if the plagiarist has changed a word or two, the search will fail, so also try it without the quotation marks. Try other phrases from the paper if the first one doesn't locate anything. It's usually a good idea to try words from the very beginning and very end because some web sites that sell papers will include excerpts from these portions, so a web search engine will find them even though the rest of the paper is "hidden."

    Within Google, also try "Google Scholar" and "Google Book." These search the complete text of hundreds of thousands of academic periodical articles and books. (Use the "more" link at the top of the basic Google screen to get to these.) Often you will not get to see the complete article or book without paying, but it can let you identify a possible source the student took material from. Talk to a librarian if you need help with these.
  1. If that fails, try at least one other search engine, such as Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com) or Bing. (http://www.bing.com).

Remember: Web search engines do not search within the "paper mill" web sites that sell research papers. They also do not search the databases that libraries subscribe to. The latter can be searched for the suspect phrases, but it is laborious. Ask the librarians for assistance. They may have a better chance of guessing which database something might have come from.

Prevention

Techniques for preventing plagiarism are covered in the "In-depth Information" section above, but here are three basic things to seriously consider:

  1. We suggest you consider including some message such as the following on your syllabus to assure that students have been informed:

Plagiarism is the use of others' words or ideas without acknowledgement. Passing off the work of others as your own constitutes academic dishonesty and can lead to punishments ranging up to dismissal from ACC. These policies are given in ACC Administrative Rule 1.04.006. (http://www.austincc.edu/admrule/1.04.006.pdf). If you are unsure what constitutes plagiarism, speak with your instructor.

Faculty are, ironically, welcome to copy this exactly without attribution. Note the URL for the Student Handbook may change every year, so be sure you have the current one.

You may also want to include a paper copy of or a link to the library's guide for students "Citing Sources and Plagiarism." (http://researchguides.austincc.edu/documen/), which briefly covers the topic, and to our various guides on the details of documentation, such as MLA, APA, etc. (http://library.austincc.edu/help/documentation.php).

Include a link to our interactive tutorial on Academic Honesty.

  1. Talk to your students about it. Do not assume they understand what plagiarism is. Let them know you that you look for it, you take it seriously, and what punishments they may receive if plagiarism is found.
  1. Design assignments so they make plagiarism more difficult. Some examples:
  • Have fewer "choose any topic" assignments and instead provide a list of acceptable/recommended topics. Also have topics that are unusual.
  • Use different formats other than traditional research papers, such as annotated bibliographies.
  • Require students turn in an outline first, then require the paper follow the outline.
  • Require copies of sources cited in the paper be turned in.
  1. Consider using SafeAssign through Blackboard.
    • Instructors can create SafeAssignments in Blackboard, so that student papers are automatically checked upon submission, or you can upload papers directly, without student involvement.

  2. Consider having each student sign an "honor code" statement when he/she turns in the paper (probably having warned them they will be doing this) that the paper does not contain plagiarism.
    • Studies show that the closer in time to a test or turning in a paper such a statement is done, the less cheating there is.

More Help

The ACC librarians are glad to assist you with questions on plagiarism, especially with trying to track down specific instances.

Also the Counseling staff have a role to play, since they handle disciplinary hearings related to such accusations.


Comments or questions about this page?
Contact Red Wassenich, RGC Library, 223-3074.

Graphic by Terry Arzola, ACC Instructional Design

Updated 27 April 2015 rw

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