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Antidotes to Plagiarism

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Shannon Johnson
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Preventing Plagiarism by Design

"Teaching, not software, is the key to preventing plagiarism" (Howard, 2003, CQ Researcher).

  1. Teach what plagiarism is instead of using dire warnings. Taking the time to teach about plagiarism can drastically reduce the likelyhood of encountering a case. (Dee & Jacob, 2012; Schueetze, 2004; McGown & LIghtbody, 2008).  You can use the resources here to get the conversation started.
  2. Provide a detailed assignment sheet with step by step directions with expectations clearly articulated.  Focusing on the steps involved to complete the assignment in the directions can lead students through the process and reduce the likelihood they will panic and resort to plagiarism.  Designing the assignment to include elements from class will make it harder for them to use online paper mills. (See example assignments provided below.)
  3. Provide resources on note-taking and outlining as part of the assignment process. These skills are not consistently taught in high schools and many students struggle with the concepts.  Improper note taking can easily lead to accidental plagiarism.
  4. If requiring references, be up front about the number and type expected as well as the required citation styles.
    • Providing students with a link to the appropriate library resources for your discipline is also recommended.  Working with our liaison librarian can help to design this section of the assignment.
    • Assigning an annotated bibliography, or have students use the pdf markup capability in Adobe to take notes on the sources, as part of a draft phase is also suggested.  The benefit to marking the articles themselves using Adobe is that the student is forced to read the entire resource rather than quickly formatting an annotation off of the abstract only. 
  5. Value original thought and synthesis over reporting of information.  This requires a higher level of critical thinking from the student and makes it much harder for them to accidently plagiarize.

    Additional Resources:

Plagiarism Detection Software

  • "Plagiarism detection" is a marketing theme - tools detect "text matching" - not the same as determining "plagiarism."
  • A "plagiarism detection tool" matches text to its DATABASE and different tools have different databases - teachers sometimes are unaware of the databases students use vs. the databases of the tool.
  • "Originality" is reshaped from "original thinking" to figuring out how much to rewrite something - IF this is what you want to achieve, this is an effective approach.

A parent reported “…her daughter is not sure how much she needs to rewrite research material before she can use it” (Carroll cited in Royce, 2006, p. 5)

  • Ethical concerns such as disregard of copyright to which student work is entitled, coerced participation in which "voluntary" is meaningless when student must agree in a required course, and commercial gain without compensation to students for use of their works.
  • Errors in "detection" producing false-positives and false-negatives (Royce, 2006, p. 2; Jaschik, 2009; Weber-Wulff, 2008). 
  • Students can trick the database (Adam Zakreski, Report at from The Daily News, Halifax, April 12, 2006, p. 4)
  • Students hand in one document in the class and submit a different document, such as "my letters to my mom" to, knowing "they won't find anything wrong with that!" (Spender, 2004, p. 14).
  • Students post YouTube videos on how to trick
  • Free Internet searches do as well (Howard, 2007).