Plagiarism in the Classroom Prevention rather than Detection

Though plagiarism is growing problem in schools today, both in high schools and on a university level, I find that it is not usually done deliberately, but rather is a failure to understand the difference between plagiarizing and paraphrasing, as well as how to properly site one’s sources. There is also the problem of accusations of plagiarism which never occurred, a result of the never-ending search for perpetrators.

I have often heard remarks of how similar one paper is to another, leading inevitably to suspicion of intentional plagiarism, or how a particular sentence was said by another individual first, and should therefore be credited to them, even if the author of the paper in which it was written was entirely unaware of the existence of the alternate paper or source. Here are a few facts most teachers seem willing to forget in their attempt to banish plagiarism: there are only so many ways to phrase the same thought, two papers with the same opinion on a particular subject will inevitably be similar, and just because another individual had one thought first does not mean the writer failed to come up with the same thought on their own. Many people can look at the same problem and come to the same conclusion; this does not constitute plagiarism.

On the occasions where plagiarism does occur, there is an apparent trend: the sentences are the same (or very similar), but the order is switched; or the paragraphs are basically the same, with some words merely switched out for a synonym. Many students, particularly back on a high school level, hold the belief that if they change the wording or structure, they are no longer stealing the information. It’s not a matter of trying to get by with using someone else’s work; it’s the honest misunderstanding that research can be transcribed this way, and because it is not exactly the same as the original, it is their own work.

Another serious area of concern is the consistent failure to site sources. Some students believe that by providing a bibliography at the end of their paper, they no longer need to cite their sources throughout it, thus failing to grant credit where credit is due and unintentionally plagiarizing. This one is a particularly notable problem, as some teachers allow this method while others don’t, leaving students confused as to what is acceptable.

These forms of plagiarism make up the vast majority of offenses. Most students are aware of the consequences of being caught plagiarizing, and do not do so deliberately. The most effective way to prevent plagiarism is, therefore, educating students on the exact definition of plagiarism, the specifics of how to properly site sources, and make sure they have a thorough understanding of how to work with both paraphrasing and quotations. By informing them of this, the risk is greatly lowered of any student falling into its trap.