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Antidotes to Plagiarism

What is plagiarism?

Rebecca Howard lists activities usually defined as plagiarism, but they are different types of "crimes."

  • Purchasing/downloading of material (paper, presentation, ect.), or turning in word done by someone else, with the intent to pass it off as one's own work. This is undeniably in the domain of "fraud."  
  • Copying without citing the source and/or using of quotation marks, when the source is provided in the bibliography or referred to elsewhere in th work..  This could be a careless "typo" or notetaking error.  
  • Patchwriting - borrowing language of the source to talk about it.(See Below)

How often does each type of plagiarism happen?

  • 1-8 % obtained from paper mill or web.  (McCabe 1999, 2002, 2003 studies, and 2003 FSU study)
  • 15-45% copied “a few sentences” without footnotes. (McCabe 1999, 2002, 2003 studies, and 2003 FSU study)
  • 4% directly copied with no quotation marks or other indication that this was not the student's own words (Jamieson and Howard, 2011) 
  • 16% patchwritten (Jamieson and Howard, 2011)

The majority of plagiarism cases are done accidently.

What is PatchWriting?

Howard wrote that:

"Patchwriting is a form of imitation, of mimesis. It is a process of evaluating a source text, selecting passages pertinent to the patchwriter's purposes, and transporting those passages to the patchwriter'ss new context. It is a form of pentimento, in which one writer reshapes the work of another while leaving traces of the earlier writer's thought and intentions. It is something that all academic writers do."

She uses the "Greek mimesis and its Latin counterpart, imitation" to remind us of "the long, honorable history that mixing one's language with that of a source text has had" (p. 139), that "writer-text cllaboration bears some relation to an already-sanctioned textual practice, collaborative writing (p. 140), and that "patchwriting is a means of learning the language and ideas of the source" (p. 110), and in this way it is similar to the "visible trace of earlier painting beneath a layer or layers of paint on a canvas" (Oxford Dictionaries at

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).

Reporting Plagiarism

If you do find a case of plagiarism, it should be reported the the Dean of Students office.  Please use the link below.