Avoiding Plagiarism

I use Grammarly’s plagiarism check because cheaters never propser; I make sure of that.

This post is sponsored by Grammarly, but it has been on a topic I wanted to write about for some time. I am going to briefly talk about plagiarism and then show some activities I use to help students learn to recognize and avoid it.

Plagiarism is a major issue around the world. And it takes many forms: knock-offs, bootlegs, copycat music, and academic misrepresentation. Its this last one that concerns me the most since I am a university English language instructor. Plagiarism in the academic sense is wrong not only because it is a form of theft and lying, but also because the authenticity or validity of what is being plagiarized is often not verifiable. No sources are provided and therefore no sources can be checked. In the academic world, there are many different types of plagiarism. Plagiarism.com offers a very succint breakdown of 10 different types of plagiarism, reproduced below:

Types of Plagiarism

South Korea, where I teach, has been called the plagiarism capital of the world. There have been many high profile examples of people who have plagiarized, been caught and subsequently resigned. There was an Olympic gold medalist in Takewondo and member of the International Olympic committee who allegedly plagiarized much of his doctoral thesis. a human rights official who plagiarized himself (yes, that’s possible); a high-profile scientist who falsified results related to human cloning;and there were others. I suspect Korea is not truly the capital of plagiarism anymore. From what I have read about China lately, and from what friends tell me goes on in Vietnam, these countries make better candidates.

Still, plagiarism is an issue around the world, and because of this university teachers must find a way to prevent it from happening. As an English language teacher, plagiarism is easy to spot. Sometimes its even funny. It’s quite easy to get used to a student’s writing style, their patterns of word use, and even their patterns of grammatical errors. So, when they use someone else’s words, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Even if they often write with good grammar, some of the choices students have plagiarized use vocabulary so idiomatic that one would have to be raised in an English speaking country just to understand it. A quick run through Google usually finds the source. This works for some, but not all students. Some students do have a great command of grammar and vocabulary, so spotting plagiarism is not easy. Sometimes I use Grammarly’s plagiarism check because its a simple and useful website.

I have seen plagiarism occurring in two forms: deliberate and accidental. Deliberate is simple copy and pasting of a sentence, paragraph, or entire essay. Deliberate is also having someone else writing the essay for you, or buying it. I’ve only had a few cases of the former and one case of the latter, where someone’s foreign boyfriend wrote her essay. The other type of plagiarism is accidental. This means that it is obvious the student is trying to represent their sources, but has failed to due so correctly. It could happen because of improper citations, not knowing how to paraphrase correctly, or not understanding when and where to use quotes.

Every year in my advanced English composition courses – a course dedicated to research paper writing – I teach about plagiarism and how to avoid it. I’ve had very good success in getting students to understand deliberate and accidental plagiarism, and while I still get some accidental plagiarizers (and maybe 1 deliberately plagiarized sentence), I can see that students have become very responsible writers.

I introduce plagiarism to students through music. There was a small controversy a while back about G-Dragon stealing some beats from a song by Flo-rida. Likewise, Lady Gaga was accused of stealing some sounds from Girl’s Generation. I play the videos (below) and ask students if they sound similar, how they sound similar, and if they think its fair to the original artist. This is always a fun and interesting exercise

G-Dragon vs Flo-rida


Girl’s Generation vs Lady Gaga

Students are often surprised that 1) these artists copies, and 2) this is a form of plagiarism.

Next, I give students the following worksheet to complete, which checks to see what they think plagiarism is. Students so far have not been introduced to citations (in my case, APA style), so this also serves as an introduction to citation as a way to prevent citation.

(Here’s the PowerPoint I use to do all this.)

Students are usually shocked to find out what is considered plagiarism and what it takes to avoid it. Namely, always provided a source for information, and using quotes if its not your own words. It seems simple, but for those new to it, this takes a lot of time and practice. We usually look at APA citation and do some practice with the articles we have been reading in class. I often refer to this worksheet to help students understand what is and is not acceptable in my class. And, I have to say, students try hard to cite correctly.

This is a really simply but poignant activity that I find has great success. What are your experiences with plagiarism and teaching students to avoid it?

Note: Sometimes I think my site plagiarizes because I don’t reference any of the images I use. This is because 1, I haven’t had time to code in an easy way to display the image’s source, and 2) for most images I use, I cannot find the original source – only the hundreds of websites that also use the picture.