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Discouraging plagiarism

You have just received your first batch of research papers. One of the papers reads like a textbook or Internet source. How can you determine if it is the student's work?

Often, science teachers wish to assign outside reports on subjects varying from local flora and fauna to members of our solar system. This is a valuable method for instructing students in the use of research sources and improving their science writing skills. One of the major problems all teachers encounter is the “cut-and-paste technique” that many students use. Often, students may believe that simply changing a few words from the source document constitutes original work on their part. Here are a few tips for defining the requirements of a research paper, instructing students in proper research techniques and detecting those students who have “taken shortcuts” in writing their paper:

Teach the process of researching and writing a paper.

  • Require topic proposals
  • Ask students to outline ideas
  • Have students write multiple drafts
  • Require bibliographies and copies of source material
  • Require applications of ideas presented and not just descriptions
  • Ask for personal reflections on the topic

Define plagiarism for your students. Make sure they understand it includes:

  • Buying a paper from a website
  • Turning in another student’s work
  • Copying from a source text without proper acknowledgement
  • Paraphrasing materials from a source text without giving proper credit

Tracking plagiarism on the Internet

If the source of your student’s paper is the Internet, it can be quickly traced by entering highly specific quotes from the paper into an search engine such as Ask Jeeves, Google or Yahoo. Students typically do not change the content sufficiently to prevent the source from being displayed by such a search.