Prevent plagiarism on term papers

The following steps may help reduce plagiarism on term papers.

  • Draw your students' attention to the Handbook on Student Rights and Responsibilities (Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures. There is less academic dishonesty in institutions in which students are aware of official policies.
  • Explain to your students what plagiarism is. This is important for at least two reasons: It removes ambiguity (e.g., what constitutes appropriate citations or what level of collaboration is allowed). It also reinforces that you and the University care about academic integrity.
  • Refer students to McGill's Academic Integrity web site, which has links that explain plagiarism and that offer suggestions about how to avoid it.
  • Students can be reminded of the importance of honest work, and to aid in this, an academic integrity statement may be included in the assessment. Students can be required to acknowledge that they have read the statement.
  • Where possible, change term-paper topics from year to year, so students cannot simply copy from previous students' work. Also, do not assign "generic" topics, because term papers for such topics can be found easily at term-paper web sites. Personalize your topics by making them idiosyncratic to your course or by requiring students to refer to current events or to use information published during the semester of your course.
  • If students are allowed to collaborate, requiring them each to submit their own paper may actually "force" them to plagiarize. Therefore, give them the option of submitting a joint paper and receiving one grade. Another possibility is to require both partners to take responsibility for different aspects of the paper.
  • If you suspect plagiarism, you can determine if the student has lifted passages from the Internet by using a search engine (e.g., Google) to search for unusual or suspicious phrases.
  • If you discover plagiarism, report the incident to the disciplinary officer in the undergraduate student's faculty, usually the Associate Dean (Student Affairs). For a graduate student, report the allegation to an Associate Dean, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. If you are a TA, you should report the incident to the course instructor, who has the responsibility to report it to the disciplinary officer. It is helpful to submit a copy of the description of the assignment that students received as well as copies of the student's paper and the source material, with plagiarized passages highlighted. Note, however, that it is not always necessary to identify the source material before reporting the incident; a student whose paper includes paragraphs that are professionally written i.e., at a level obviously above the student's abilities might be presumed to have plagiarized.
  • Term papers should either be returned directly to students in class or be made available so students can pick them up in person from the instructor, a TA, or a secretary. They should not be returned via a "box in the hall," which is contrary to University regulations concerning confidentiality of students' IDs and grades and which can create serious problems regarding plagiarism, because dishonest students may copy "A" work to be used in the course the following year.
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