Plagiarism (for Educators)

Discouraging Plagiarism...

While plagiarism cannot be completely prevented, there are some actions that are effective in discouraging it, or to state it more positively, encouraging the proper use of sources. These include the establishment of an appropriate classroom ethos, the incorporation of syllabus statements outlining expectations for your discipline and your class, the development of well-designed assignments, and communication with students on writing techniques and the proper use of sources in your discipline.

Creating a Classroom Ethos

In encouraging honest intellectual effort, it is important to establish a firm but positive classroom ethos from the first day of class. To be effective, the ethic should have a positive side. Statements about what is not allowed, no matter how urgently expressed, are far more effective when paired with what is expected. While it can be tempting to focus on how you will punish or mark down plagiarism rather than your specific expectations, do not fall into this trap. Once the ethos shifts to strategic game-playing for points, students will see cheating as a rational choice.

Drawing on published literature, we have developed the following recommendations: 


  1. State explicitly that the goal of the class is learning, and spell out the various ways that learning will take place (by listening, reading, discussing, writing, etc.) so that students are primed to learn in many contexts
  2. Repeat #1 throughout the semester and make it true in your own behavior and grading practices
  3. Discuss some of the emotional and intellectual conditions of learning (openness, critical thought, anxiety, humility, etc.)
  4. Ask students to report in some fashion (small group discussions, blogs, journals, etc.) on their subjective experience of learning
  5. Provide rubrics so your grading practices are clear
  6. Hand out samples of the kind of work expected
  7. Respect your students’ efforts


  1. Assume that students already know the basics
  2. Give “gotcha” assignments that test students on trivia to see if they were paying attention
  3. Set rules without adequate justification, or demand "no plagiarism" without explaining what you mean in the context of your discipline and assignments
  4. Give students the impression that they shouldn’t bother you with elementary or procedural questions
  5. Suggest that you suspect many students would like to cheat
  6. Assume that a student's misuse of sources is necessarily an ethical problem rather than a pedagogical one
  7. Use sarcasm

Incorporating Syllabus Statements

Incorporating statements on plagiarism into your syllabus not only explicitly defines the terms “cheating” and “plagiarism” in terms of your class, but also assists in setting a proper classroom ethos where expectations are realized from the first day. Beware, however, that many syllabus statements do not distinguish properly between cheating and misuse of sources. If not addressed, this omission can add to students’ confusion (see Brent 2006). Additionally, keep in mind that merely referring students to the Eastern Michigan Student Code of Responsibility does set a tone, but not necessarily the tone that you would like. Consider tapping other sources, such as:

Syllabus statements should explain what the standards are for your discipline (ideally with a link to a disciplinary style guide) and for different kinds of writing (exams, reflection papers, various other kinds of written work) in your class.

Developing Well-Designed Assignments

Most professors have a set idea of what a "research paper" or "critical essay" should look like, but to the chagrin of most students, these expectations vary widely from one class to the next.  The "but it was ok in so&so's class" excuse is often, confusingly, true. Beyond spelling out citation practices themselves, an effective assignment should spell out the purpose it serves, what steps are involved (hint: "do research in the library" involves many steps!), specific strategies to follow or avoid, and a model or example.

To avoid confusion and endless negotiation with students, follow these tips:

  • Avoid vague or broad assignments: rather than "discuss x" or "critically review y" try a more specific question such as "how does x relate to y, and what does this relationship tell us about our broader question of z?"
  • Avoid reviews or reports in favor of higher cognitive skills such as analysis, comparison, explanation or creative problem solving
  • Assign research in stages; correct and return sections or drafts along the way
  • Avoid weighting a single final assignment as a large percentage of a student’s final grade
  • Place due dates well before the end-of-semester crunch, decreasing student anxiety
  • Spell out and give examples of the kind(s) of research and sources you expect
  • Explicitly assign note-taking in research
  • Point to models of acceptable and unacceptable paraphrasing, generalizing and referencing

Encouraging Proper Use of Sources

Instead of telling students what they should not do, focus on what you expect them to do.  Promote correct paraphrasing, effective note-taking and citation. Provide examples of well-written articles from the genre and discipline for which they are writing and ask them to analyze the technique used by authors when integrating the work of others. Discuss your discipline's research and writing strategies with the class, giving context and meaning to what otherwise might seem to be arbitrary rules. Use the services of the Library or University Writing Center (i.e. tutorials, writing or research workshops or consultations). 

Many online tutorials are available for students, ranging from good to just awful (consider assigning students to critique them!) - before you assign such tutorials, view them carefully to make sure they match your disciplinary and pedagogical expectations. 

Understanding Plagiarism

The Understanding Plagiarism online tutorial presents plagiarism in the context of everyday events, helping you learn not just how to avoid plagiarism but also why it's so important. (NOTE: tutorial opens in a new window)