Monthly Archives: November 2012

Tip # 6: How do I help students avoid plagiarism?

It is important to take pre-emptive measures to help students avoid plagiarism.

Consider the following questions in forming your policy about written work:

  • (How) Will you distinguish penalties for misuse of sources v. plagiarism? (How) Will you distinguish between drafts v. final versions?
  • (How) Will you distinguish between the misuse of sources and plagiarism in your grading?
  • How will you respond if it is on a group project or if it is a student who is a repeat offender?
  • Be clear about your expectations:  Include a definition of plagiarism and a statement of your policy on plagiarism in your syllabus.
    • Have students sign an agreement concerning academic misconduct. Though not legal documents, agreements signal to students your seriousness about the subject and deflate students’ charge that your policies were not made clear to them.
    • Give students the opportunity to practice paraphrasing, incorporating quotations, and citing properly. Distinguish between plagiarism and misuse of sources. Share examples with students.
    • Reward proper citations and complying with all parts of the assignment in the rubric.
  • Make your assignments specific:  Design assignments to be very specific to course content, to synthesize ideas, to apply knowledge, and to require drafts. Require students to connect their ideas to some aspect of the class, such as a point from a lecture or class reading. Limit the range of topics to which students can respond. For example, here are some sample prompt questions that are specific and application-based:
    • In what ways does this particular Impressionist painting reveal the influences of earlier movements?
    • A cat jumps off the end of a table onto the floor. Describe how its vascular, muscular, skeletal and nervous systems contribute to this action.
    • How does Douglass’s notion of audience change between the Narrative and his Life and Times, and how do these two texts differ as a result?
  • Change assignments (even if just slightly) from semester to semester. This can discourage students from using previous students’ work.
  • Review students’ sources. Require that students use local sources—pamphlets, local newspapers and journals, flyers, interviews, etc. Review the bibliography in advance and require that students turn in part or all of print sources with the final draft
  • Use (short) in-class writing assignments:  These give instructors with opportunities to:
    • become familiar with and assess students’ abilities and styles early on so that sudden changes in their writing are more noticeable
    • give students a chance to write extemporaneously, when they cannot become tempted by or mired in others’ words
    • practice using sources: consider asking students to summarize, paraphrase, and/or respond to a source and how each source fits with the student’s paper topic.
  • Use technology to help you. Have students submit all their papers to an on-line plagiarism detection site such as Inform students you will randomly submit assignment samples.


Responding to suspected cases of plagiarism.

 Attributes of highly suspicious essays:

  • papers that are barely “on topic”
  • papers that far exceed the page requirement and/or scope of the assignment
  • uneven or unusual quality of prose, style, or correctness—either poorer or better than the writer’s previous work generally or oscillating from poor to good within the paper
  • unattributed quotes or bibliographies that do not match sources cited in the paper
  • a student’s failure to hand in a draft (taking the consequences) but then producing, for partial credit, a final draft that has many if not all of the characteristics cited above.

Responding to individual cases.  If you suspect that a student has plagiarized, you can:

  • Use search engines to match text strings, such as Google or detection software/
  • Use online detection service to match text.
  • Meet with department chair, course coordinator, or Dean to express your concerns before meeting with students.
  • Follow and enforce your required policy and procedures on academic misconduct.


Tip #5: What are some useful tips on commenting on a student’s paper?

Do’s and Don’ts for Writing Commentary[1]by Adria Bader

Commentary DO’s:

  • Read a draft all the way through BEFORE you begin to comment on it
  • Spend at least 20 to 40 minutes commenting on a single draft
  • Use a number/comment system instead of LONG marginal comments
  • Raise questions from a reader’s point of view; note points that may not have occurred to the writer
  • Focus on the overall problems of content before looking at surface level errors (i.e. grammar, spelling)
  • Phrase comments clearly and carefully (The average Joe should be able to read the commentary and understand what needs to be changed.)
  • Make comments text-specific, referring specifically to that writer’s draft (NO “rubber stamps” such as “awkward” or “unclear” or “vague”
  • Direct comments to breaks in logic, disruptions in meaning, and/or missing information
  • Structure comments to help writers to clarify their purposes and reasons in writing that specific draft
  • Offer SUGGESTIONS, not commands, when possible
  • Comment through the use of questions (“This sentence confuses me a little; can you reword it to make it more clear? OR “Could you make a stronger transition between these two points?”)
  • Look for unexplained “Code Words” in the draft and ask the writer about them (“What exactly does `Different aspects’ mean here?”)
  • End comments should include the main STRENGTHS in a writer’s draft as well as 2 or 3 of the most important things that need improvement
  • If something appears too complicated to write in the commentary, just mention that you have something that you would like to talk to the writer about when you have your conference.
  • If the writer is not sure that they have understood the assignment, and you aren’t sure either, don’t be afraid to tell the writer to talk with his or her professor


Commentary DON’Ts:

  • Don’t write commentary in red ink
  • Don’t turn the writer’s paper into YOUR paper
  • Don’t contradict yourself (“Condense this sentence,” followed by, “You need to be more specific and develop this paragraph.”)
  • Don’t overwhelm a writer with too much commentary
  • Don’t take forever in your commenting on a draft: remember, the writer needs ample time to revise.


For another perspective, here’s a link to a related (brief) article entitled “The Rhetoric of Paper-Marking, Or A Wheelbarrow for Sisyphus” by Ray Smith, Director, Campus Writing Program at Indiana University, Bloomington:

It appeared in the Teaching Resources Center Newsletter; Vol. 9, No. 1, Fall 1997

Tip #4: How do I create an effective rubric?

What is a Rubric[1]?    

A rubric is an explicit hierarchy of achievement expectations organized along specific dimensions. Rubrics allow students to understand exactly what is expected for an assignment and what score any given response should elicit. Ideally, if a student has a rubric for an assignment, she or he should know what to do and be able to tell how well she or he did it.

Why use a Rubric?

  • Students know what is expected of them.
  • Students can peer review more effectively.
  • Work is generally better by the time it arrives on the professor’s desk.
  • Professors can grade more efficiently and more consistently.

When should I use a rubric?

Any assignment longer than a few sentences, including most writing-to-learn assignments, should have graduated expectations attached to it.

How many dimensions are enough?

It depends on the assignment. In some cases such as an assignment which is designed to get people thinking, you might use development or creativity. Some dimensions may be irrelevant for a particular kind of assignment: grammar and mechanics, for example, would be irrelevant in a writing-to-learn assignment. There are also some dependent dimensions as well: if the assignment requires quoting from sources, using the research rubric but not the citation rubric would not be efficacious.

What constitutes an effective rubric?

  • Describes rather than evaluates a student’s answer to the given question. Good, better, and best cannot help a student learn; the student needs to know what specific features turn something good into something better.
  • Guides students toward a better answer to the given question.
  • Provides a description that clearly and logically indicates an inevitable grade.
  • Makes legitimate self-assessment possible.
  • Convinces people of its validity and utility.
  • Can be applied with inter-rater reliability

George Mason University offers sample rubrics sorted by academic department: