Without a doubt: as an instructor, you’re concerned about plagiarism among your students. It’s an academic offense that could leave a serious mark on their records. Furthermore, when students plagiarize, they’re also taking shortcuts around the the critical thinking and analysis you want your them to engage in.

But to what degree are students themselves concerned about the problems associated with plagiarism? We wanted to better understand students’ attitudes; so, in our Spring 2015 Student Engagement Insights survey, we asked a number of questions surrounding this critical topic.

We heard from nearly three thousand students who all answered the question: “How concerned are your peers about plagiarism?” Will you find their responses surprising, or will they confirm your existing assumptions?

Are students and their peers concerned about plagiarism?

College students - are you concerned about plagiarism? Cengage Learning
The largest percentage of students, 44%, said that they either “don’t know” what their peers think about plagiarism, or that their peers don’t have an opinion about it one way or another. At the very least, this suggests that a large percentage of students don’t talk about plagiarism among themselves, or that it’s not a front-of-mind topic for them. Such students may or may not give proper credit to their sources as a rule… but, they certainly need to better understand why it’s so important to do so.

On the other hand, a slightly larger percentage (45% total) indicated that their peers demonstrate at least some concern about plagiarism: 25% are “very concerned,” and 20% are “somewhat concerned.” Though these students may, on occasion, accidentally cite a source incorrectly, they’re striving to follow good academic practices.

Significantly more concern is warranted among the 6% of students say their peers are “not at all concerned” about plagiarism and the 5% who only care about it to the extent that they don’t get caught doing it. “Not getting caught” is not exactly a noble reason for caring about plagiarism; it’s also uncomfortable to hear that many students don’t seem to care about it at all. These students need a fundamental introduction to the importance of correctly handling and crediting others’ work, conducted in a manner that thoroughly conveys the seriousness of the matter.

The problem of plagiarism: three reasons why students should be concerned about plagiarism

Having trouble convincing your students that plagiarism is, indeed, a serious concern? Call their attention to the following three points, which we’ve summarized from COMP 3 by Randall VanderMey, Verne Meyer, John Van Rys, and Patrick Sebranek. These points may alert them to the dangers of plagiarism… and will hopefully discourage them from participating in plagiaristic activities.

1. It’s stealing. Whether you’re turning in someone else’s paper as your own, or you’re submitting an assignment without including proper citations, you’re taking credit for someone else’s work… and that is a form of intellectual property theft. Whatever time you “save” by copying another person’s work or failing to accurately document your sources, it’s not worth it to compromise your own academic integrity and success.
2. You’re cheating yourself. When you plagiarize on an assignment, you’re robbing yourself of the opportunity to learn and think critically about important (and interesting!) topics related to your coursework. What’s more, if you plagiarize, you may also be cheating yourself out of a passing grade in the course.
3. It’s not just about putting your own name on someone else’s assignment. Your paper or project should reflect your own intellectual work, not just comprise a series of quotes and examples from others’ work. Formulate your own thoughts and responses on the topic; paraphrase and summarize whenever you can, acknowledging your sources and using proper citation marks; and take the time to accurately credit your sources. By so doing, you’ll end up with a final result that gives you a sense of confidence about what you’re able to accomplish. (VanderMey et al., pp 269-270)

Addressing plagiarism as an instructor

There’s no use denying that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, students fall into the pit of plagiarism. So how do other instructors address this pernicious issue? To gather some ideas, read Let’s Be Honest: Plagiarism Happens by Audrey A. Wick of Blinn College.


Are you concerned about plagiarism in your courses? How do you address or combat plagiarism? Share your strategies in the comments.


Reference: VanderMey, Randall, Verne Meyer, John Van Rys, and Patrick Sebranek. 2016. COMP 3. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.