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Discouraging Plagiarism

Although disheartening to consider, the problem of plagiarism among students should not dissuade you from designing the course you want to teach, or using assignments you want to use. Instead, consider how best to present that course and those assignments so that students understand the importance of academic integrity to succeeding in your course.

Above all else when dealing with academic honesty with your students:
  • Be clear and explicit in your expectations
  • When grading, hold firm in your commitment to promoting academic honesty and in holding students accountable for their actions and coursework; reward originality and proper citation
  • Design assignments to be very specific to course content, to synthesize ideas, to apply knowledge, and to require drafts.
  • Be consistent from student to student in enacting your policies
  • Support the work of other faculty by reporting appropriate cases to the Office of Student Ethics and Anti-Harassment Programs. Call 855-5419 or view their online reporting form at
NB: This page distinguishes, as should course policies generally, between plagiarism and what the National Council of Writing Program Administrators calls “misuse of sources”: when a student “attempts (even if clumsily) to identify and credit his or her source, but . . . misuses a specific citation format or incorrectly uses quotation marks or other forms of identifying material taken from other sources.”

That is, this page approaches sloppy but well intentioned work as a writerly problem, not as an instance of a student willfully trying to defraud the institution, and focuses primarily on discouraging students’ willful plagiarism. Instructors’ making this distinction clear to students in each class also helps students understand their broad responsibilities—not only to do their own work, but also to do it carefully.

Syllabus Design

The best way to discourage plagiarism is to make clear to your students that academic integrity is important to you and will affect how you run your course.

Several steps that help:
  1. Read thoroughly The IU Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct, which gives faculty clear guidelines about procedures to follow when it has been decided a student has committed an act of academic misconduct. 

    Because The IU Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct gives faculty quite a bit of latitude in imposing sanctions for academic misconduct, instructors should be familiar with all the options open to them.

  2. Check with your department head or director of undergraduate studies for your department’s policy, if it has been put in writing.
  3. Consider the following questions in forming your policy about written work:
    • have you distinguished for your students the difference between plagiarism and the misuse of sources?
    • in instances of plagiarism or misuse of sources, do you hold first-year and upper-class students to different standards (to account for a “learning curve” on the part of novice researchers)?
    • how will you distinguish between the misuse of sources and plagiarism in your grading?
      do you distinguish between penalties for misuse of sources/plagiarism on drafts v. final versions of papers?
    • if after receiving an initial warning, a student again plagiarizes, what is your policy vis-à-vis such a repeat instance of misconduct?
    • If you're using group or paired writing assignments, how will you allot responsibility and a grade to each group member, should one (or more) of the group plagiarize part of the paper?
  4. Include a definition of plagiarism in your syllabus. Here is one sample you may use without citation:

    Plagiarism constitutes using others’ ideas, words or images without properly giving credit to those sources. If you turn in any work with your name affixed to it, I assume that work is your own and that all sources are indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).

  5. Include a statement of your policy about plagiarism. Here is a statement you may use without citation:

    I will respond to acts of academic misconduct according to university policy concerning plagiarism; sanctions for plagiarism can include a grade of F for the assignment in question and/or for the course and must include a report to the Dean of Students Office.

  6. Be aware of University policy concerning grades: For students found to have committed an act of misconduct and who receive an F in the course as a sanction, a grade of F will be entered for that student, even where an automatic W would otherwise be used. That is, after they have been found to have plagiarized and receive an F in the course as a sanction, students may not simply withdraw from a course and receive a W.

Assignment Design

Using Assignment Sheets
Most important for any written assignment is the assignment sheet itself. Provide students with an assignment sheet for all written work; doing so clarifies the required task, the parameters for acceptable collaboration, and criteria for evaluation.

Changing assignments frequently
  • Change your assignments slightly from semester to semester to discourage students from recycling previous students’ work.
  • For large classes, change assignments slightly from section to section to discourage the exchange of papers among friends in different sections (where students are likely to have different graders as well).
Using in-class writing assignments
Short in-class writing assignments provide 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.
Making your assignments specific:
Students are far less likely to be able to plagiarize a unique assignment, since sources available to them will not meet the specific requirements of the assignment.

Consider a less well known piece:
Rather than: Discuss the importance of literacy to freedom in Frederick Douglass’s Narrative.
Try: Discuss the connection between literacy and freedom in Poynter’s abolitionist tract.

Pose a more focused question:
Rather than: What artistic movements influenced the Impressionists?
Try: In what ways does this particular Impressionist painting reveal the influences of earlier movements?

Ask a question that requires application, rather than explanation of knowledge:
Rather than: Explain the basic functions of the vascular, skeletal, muscular and nervous systems.
Try: 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.

Rather than: Write a review of The Matrix (reviews are especially common on the Web).
Try: How well does The Matrix exemplify Smith’s “nostalgic futurism” in contemporary film?

Consider a tight comparison:
Rather than: Analyze Douglass’s attitude toward white abolitionists.
Try: 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?

Use a “touchstone” assignment:
Ask students to connect their ideas to another aspect of the class—use a point from lecture, a quotation selected from one of your readings (try to choose a less-obvious quotation), an image, or a graph.
Rather than: Discuss how the accused/condemned were treated in Salem.
Try: Using Mary Easty’s petition, explain the condemned’s perspective of the Salem trials.

If you would like feedback or consultation about the design of specific assignments, contact the staff at the CITL Writing Program via email ( or phone (855-4928).

Assigning research paper assignments
Some suggestions other faculty have found useful in discouraging plagiarism are to:
  • assign short writing assignment(s) early in the class; this activity will give you the opportunity to see students’ writing capabilities (which makes noticing anomalies easier) and give students a chance to practice
  • avoid open topic research paper assignments: either select a question (or a series from which students choose) that limits their range OR require a research question in advance of students’ starting their research
  • consider using shorter, focused assignments alongside long longer papers, or in place of one longer paper, if several are assigned in the course
  • require that students use local sources—pamphlets, local newspapers and journals, flyers, interviews, etc.
  • require a bibliography in advance
  • avoid general annotated bibliographies that only require a summary of the sources themselves; many of these are readily available on the Web
  • require a bibliography with short summaries of how students see each entry fitting into their topic
  • require that students turn in part or all of print sources with the final draft
  • require long papers to build from shorter, earlier papers
  • offer submitting their papers to in lieu of one of these assignments.
Using an honor agreement
You might consider asking your students to sign a statement of agreement concerning academic misconduct. Although not legal documents, these agreements do signal to the students your seriousness about the subject and deflate students’ counter charge that your policy concerning “what you wanted” was not made clear to them. Click here for an example of an IU faculty member’s honor agreement.


Attributes of highly suspicious essays
Consider some of the attributes that make faculty worry a piece of writing is not the student’s own:
  • papers that are barely “on topic” (a paper that discusses ADA compliance in Big Ten college hiring when the assignment was to write about the establishment of the ADA in a course about the Congress)
  • papers that far exceed the page requirement of the assignment
  • papers that exceed the scope of the assignment (for instance, a literature paper that connects the assigned novel to a novel not covered in class)
  • unusual quality of prose—either poorer or better than the writer’s previous work generally
  • uneven quality of prose—oscillating from poor to good in terms of how well points are organized, reasoned, or supported
  • uneven style or correctness—fluctuation in syntactic sophistication or in the narrative voice of the essay, or severe fluctuation of grammar/spelling usage
  • unusual style—may be paragraphed like a newspaper account; may use popular magazine-style introductions
  • use of vocabulary that is beyond that usually included in the writer’s work
  • bibliographies that do not match sources cited in the paper
  • discussion of sources in the text that do not appear in the bibliography
  • use of quotations that are not attributed in the text
  • 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.

Establishing Grading Criteria

Although the degree of detail provided might vary widely from instructor to instructor, good practice in constructing assignment sheets means including some indication of the criteria by which the assignment will be evaluated. See an example.

Consider including a phrase that indicates that to earn a passing grade, an essay

  • must address the assignment, OR
  • must answer the question posed and follow instructions, OR
  • must fulfill all parts of the assignment

Or, conversely, that papers earning a grade of F will typically

  • fail to fully address the assignment OR
  • fail to fulfill the requirements of the assignment.

This strategy allows you to give appropriately low grades to papers that do not fit the requirements of your assignment or seem well outside the context of your class; if such papers are also in fact plagiarized, then these students may learn that they will earn higher grades by turning in original work, even if the quality is poor or hurried.

Marking citations

  • Hold student accountable for proper citation and documentation
  • Include this point in your grading scale as you would grammatical or other mechanical components

Helping students

  • Discuss academic misconduct and your policies with students
  • Offer examples in class
  • Provide in class a short discussion or practice session about style sheets, citation, and how to paraphrase, and incorporate quotations
  • Direct students to the WTS pamphlet on plagiarism (this is a pdf document)

Using detection software/

What is Turnitin? is a web-based plagiarism detection service. Using Turnitin can serve as a deterrent to plagiarism and as an educational tool. In addition to checking for text matches, Turnitin also allows for the submission and checking of rough and final drafts of papers. Turnitin works best to discourage plagiarism when it is part of an overall course policy that promotes academic integrity.

Turnitin works by looking for text matches between a file submitted to the Turnitin system and other files. Indiana University has its own Turnitin server, and IU students' papers are retained on this server, not on the Turnitin company's server. However, the service searches beyond IU's database. It searches within Turnitin’s system, papers submitted to IU's database of papers, external websites, as well as some academic databases and journals.

Turnitin returns a report to the instructor indicating matches to other texts it searches. An instructor can require students to submit their course papers to Alternately the instructor (or AI) can submit a sample of a paper, or all of the papers.

IU Bloomington has subscribed to Turnitin since 2003. To date more than 800 IUB instructors have had accounts in the system, close to 180,000 papers have been submitted, and the Turnitin system has processed over 50 million papers in the US and internationally.

How do I get started?
Apply for an account by sending email to with the following information:

  • IU status
  • name
  • school and department
  • IU email address provides additional information and background about the service.

Articles of Interest

Online resources

The IUB Libraries offer several types of instructional design assistance and services. For undergraduate courses, Undergraduate Library Services (UGLS) provides instructional handouts about citing sources, evaluating information, and evaluating web resources. For graduate and advanced undergraduate courses, the Libraries' subject-area librarians will work individually with faculty for help and collaboration on designing library-related assignments, identifying relevant resources, and designing course-specific web pages. For more information, contact Carrie Donovan at or 856-3644.

IU Libraries WWW pages on citation formats

"Understanding Plagiarism"
Ted Frick, School of Education, IUB (helps students gauge their understanding of proper citation) (

Writing Tutorial Service’s "Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Avoid It" (a pdf document)

“Writing and Citing”
IUB Libraries & CITL Writing Program
Interactive exercise that presents specific situations. What would you do? Also includes self-test.

String matching to check similarities (up to 10 words) and other services

BBEdit or other text-editing software

Writing Tutorial Services online resources and course specific workshops.

Questions about online resources?
Send a message to:

Call: Teaching & Learning Technologies Centers, 855-7829, ask for Madeleine Gonin or Kate Ellis

IUB Campus Resources

Office of the Dean of Students
Student Ethics & Anti-Harassment Programs

CITL Writing Program

Writing Tutorial Services

Check out the IU Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct and find out how to report acts of student academic misconduct.

Plagiarism FAQ

Promoting Proper Citation of Sources

How can I help my students build citation skills?

  • Improve recognition by providing examples and practice in proper citation of sources.
  • State which citation style you prefer and provide examples of proper source citation, improper citation.
  • Hold students accountable by grading for proper citation of sources.
  • Help students learn why proper citation of sources (including images) is important in the academic experience.

Promoting Academic Integrity, Deterring Misconduct
What steps can I take to minimize opportunities for plagiarism in my classes?

  • Help students recognize plagiarism and forms of academic misconduct.
  • Reward originality and proper citation.
  • Design assignments to be very specific to course content, to relate ideas, to apply knowledge, to require drafts, etc.

How can I prepare students for my expectations regarding academic citation?

  • State your and your department’s policy in your syllabus.
  • Make a contract with students.
  • Quote the relevant passage from the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct:

3. Plagiarism
Plagiarism is defined as presenting someone else's work, including the work of other students, as one's own. Any ideas or materials taken from another source for either written or oral use must be fully acknowledged, unless the information is common knowledge. What is considered “common knowledge” may differ from course to course.

  1. A student must not adopt or reproduce ideas, opinions, theories, formulas, graphics, or pictures of another person without acknowledgment.
  2. A student must give credit to the originality of others and acknowledge indebtedness whenever:
  3. Directly quoting another person's actual words, whether oral or written;
  4. Using another person's ideas, opinions, or theories;
  5. Paraphrasing the words, ideas, opinions, or theories of others, whether oral or written;
  6. Borrowing facts, statistics, or illustrative material; or
  7. Offering materials assembled or collected by others in the form of projects or collections without acknowledgment.

- IU Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct, "Part II Section 3, Plagiarism," 2005.

What steps do I take to penalize poor citation?

  • Use grading rubric that addresses proper citation as a requirement for completion of assignment.
  • Grade down for failure to comply with assignment requirements.

How can I manage matters of academic honesty in group assignments? Web-based assignments?

  • In group assignments, be excruciatingly specific about what you expect in terms of the completed assignment; require students to take responsibility for their part of the assignment; assign students to check the others’ sources; assign students to reflect on their group project.
  • In web-based assignments, require students to cite sources for material they acquire online, including images.
  • If you provide templates, make sure you include citations in your templates.

Detecting Similarities
How can I check student assignments against other students’ current and prior assignments for similarities?

  • You can use detection software, such as Contact CITL for more information on this service.

How can students check their own work for similarities to others?

  • Submit assignments to search engine or to online plagiarism detection service.

Where can I look (i.e. websites etc) to find text sources I suspect my students misquoted or did not properly cite in their papers?

  • Google (Google limits to 10 words)
  • IUB Library full-text journals

How do I compare text from one student’s assignment to another?

  • Submit to
  • Use Find function of BBEdit or other text-editing software.

How do I best use an online service as a deterrent?

  • Have students submit all their papers to the service
  • Inform students you will randomly submit assignment samples.
  • Require students to submit their assignments.

Whom do I contact to use an online anti-plagiarism service?
Contact TLTC staff members Madeleine Gonin or Kate Ellis at 855-7829.

Managing Suspected Cases of Academic Misconduct
What should I do if I suspect students have submitted work that is not their own?

  • Use search engines to match text strings.
  • Use online detection service to match text.
  • Meet with department chair, course coordinator, Director of
  • Undergraduate Studies, or Dean of Students Office to express your concerns before meeting with students.
  • Follow and enforce your required policy and procedures on academic misconduct.

How can I avoid spending so much time on issues of academic integrity?

  • Act to prevent academic misconduct.
What are my colleagues doing about academic integrity?
  • The Plagiarism Prevention Showcase discussed what other faculty have done to prevent plagiarism. View their discussion here.

Reporting academic misconduct

Because a considerable number of misconduct reports concern students with one or more existing infractions, instructors are strongly encouraged to report all instances of misconduct in their courses.

Find out more about the disciplinary procedures at IUB:

Instructors may now submit academic misconduct forms online at

With questions or concerns about IU policy and procedure concerning academic misconduct, contact Student Ethics and Anti-Harassment Programs
at or