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#32-Partnering with Students to Avoid “Cut and Paste” Plagiarism

December 28, 2003

LTA Overview

According to the Center for Academic Integrity, Internet based “cut and paste” plagiarism, (hereafter referred to as “C&PP”) is on the rise:

“Internet plagiarism is a growing concern on all campuses as students struggle to understand what constitutes acceptable use of the Internet. In the absence of clear direction from faculty, most students have concluded that ‘cut & paste’ plagiarism – using a sentence or two (or more) from different sources on the Internet and weaving this information together into a paper without appropriate citation – is not a serious issue. While 10% of students admitted to engaging in such behavior in 1999, this rose to 41% in a 2001 survey with the majority of students (68%) suggesting this was not a serious issue.”



Ellen R. Cohn PhD CCC-SLP
Assistant Dean for Instruction
School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
Associate Professor
Department of Communication Science and Disorders
University of Pittsburgh


Charles J. Ansorge
Professor, Department of Educational Psychology
University of Nebraska-Lincoln


C&PP can occur inadvertently, or with deliberate intent. The purpose of this LTA is to suggest technology augmented strategies that both faculty and students can employ to both avoid and detect student generated C&PP. However, students are not the only potential beneficiaries of methods to avoid C&PP. Anyone, (including faculty) who makes frequent use of internet based resources to gather research, can profit from these approaches.

Our specific bias is to empower faculty-student partnerships to detect C&PP, as well as to model ethical communication. One aspect of the latter involves pre-disclosing instructors’ use of LTAs to track or monitor student behaviors (Cohn & Wilson, 2003).

Two Classrooms

To put this matter in perspective, let us visit two college classes at the end of the spring semester:

Professor I-Got-Ya believes that five graduating senior students cheated on their papers, and lambasted the entire class as “cheaters.” Three of the students (assigned to write observations on the same patient) used 3-4 similar sentences in several sections of the paper. Two other students cited, but did not adequately paraphrase, content from Internet sources. Even before due process procedures were instituted, these students were told they will fail the class, and thus not graduate next week. The faculty member had never defined plagiarism to the class, and the students did not understand what they had done wrong. The professor’s definition of plagiarism was much more stringent than the institutional code, and she did not have the authority to assign a failing grade before offering the institutionally prescribed due process options. Furthermore, the students were not alerted ahead of time that the faculty member was going to use the Google search engine and Turnitin software to detect plagiarism. (Professor IGY will unhappily be spending much of the week before graduation with upset students, her department chair, the Dean, and university attorneys to sort out this situation.)

Professor Lets-Work-Together has an entirely different story. Early in the semester, she initiated a conversation with her students to determine how they defined plagiarism. After she presented the University’s official code of ethics and examples of plagiarized passages, several class members realized that their definitions were inaccurate and incomplete. The professor then encouraged her students to use her as a consultant if they weren’t sure they were paraphrasing properly. She taught the class how to use Google to detect plagiarism, and required them to self-submit their papers to the Turnitin plagiarism software service to check their own citations. The professor advised the class she was committed to upholding academic integrity, and would also use these tools as needed, but expressed confidence that they would work together to avoid any problems. (Professor LWT will be using the week before graduation to organize her office and write student recommendations.)

LTA Level (User Requirements)

There are three levels to this LTA:

  • A Conversation: The faculty member initiates a discussion to discern how students view C&PP, and establish a shared definition of C&PP.
  • An Invitation: The faculty member invites students to engage in a student-faculty partnership to avoid C&PP. He provides helpful resources to students (e.g., the institutional plagiarism code), offers to serve as a source of ongoing advice, and supplies strategies (use of text based search engines, such as Google to detect C&PP) and possibly access to plagiarism detection software.
  • Web-based Resources: Additional resources on plagiarism are included for faculty reference.

LTA Outcomes

Potential outcomes of this LTA are as follows:

  1. Faculty members will engage students in conversations to discern their preconceptions of what constitutes C&PP.
  2. Faculty members and students will acquire and discuss definitions and examples of C&PP.
  3. Faculty and students will learn to detect C&PP using the text-based search engines such as Google.
  4. Faculty will learn of web-based plagiarism detection software and services, and the possibilities for engaging students in their use.
  5. Instances of C&PP will decrease and/or be remediated.

LTA Technical Requirements

This LTA requires little technical expertise, aside from basic word processing, “cutting and pasting,” using a search engine, and uploading a document.

Indeed, the discussion of a sensitive matter such as C&PP with students can pose the greatest challenge. While individual faculty approaches differ, we prefer to initiate a collaborative approach with students (vs. a punitive, faculty-driven approach), thus empowering them to avoid C&PP.

LTA Procedures

Engage Students in a Conversation About C&PP.

As noted previously, C&PP can occur either inadvertently, or with deliberate intent. To complicate matters further, students and their faculty members may not begin the semester sharing a common definition of C&PP. It is therefore important for faculty members to initially discern how students view C&PP (i.e., How do students define C&PP? Why do students believe C&PP happens? What attitudes do students hold toward C&PP? How do students perceive their faculty members view C&PP?) Not surprisingly, we find these conversations to be the most productive when faculty members set a positive and collaborative tone.

While some might protest that such discussions impinge upon valuable class time, they do introduce important information literacy skills. Furthermore, this brief investment of class time can pale next to the faculty and institutional resources required to manage alleged C&PP.

It is helpful to next establish a shared definition of C&PP. It is important to present the institution’s official definitions of plagiarism if they exist, the mandated due process procedures and potential consequences. These matters can become quite complicated when a faculty member upholds different definitions and procedures than those of their institutions.

It can be helpful at this juncture to engage students in definition-driven critical analyses to diagnose and remediate “case study” presentations of C&PP. (Refer to the websites cited in the Resources: Paraphrasing Guides for examples. These resources are found later in this LTA document.) Such active learning strategies can help students to abandon difficult to dispel misconceptions.

Invite a Student-Faculty Partnership to Avoid C&PP.

The faculty members can next invite students to engage in a joint effort to avoid C&PP by suggesting the following strategies and support:

  1. Consult institutional code. Students can construct and review their work in consultation with the institutional code and the course syllabus.
  2. Seek faculty guidance. If students remain uncertain concerning C&PP, encourage them to consult with faculty before they submit their written work.
  3. Google.” Show students how to use text-based search engines, such as Google, or library full-text article databases such as Info Trac or EBSCOhost, to detect C&PP. This can be accomplished by simply copying and pasting a phrase or sentence into the search field, and viewing the search results. Inform students that you may also employ this technique to check their work. The following presentation posted by the Marywood University Library describes the process. You may need to use an Internet Explorer browser to access this presentation.

    http://www.marywood.edu/library/detectplag.htm <//li>

  4. Employ plagiarism detection software. If your institution supports the license for a commercial plagiarism software package, such as Turnitin, require students to submit their own papers to the site, and review the results in advance of submitting their completed assignment. This process enables students to detect and remediate unintentional C&PP. However, be advised there are some who believe the submission of student papers without their knowledge and consent can violate their copyrights and privacy. An article in the May 2002 Chronicle of Higher Education explored some of these issues:


Seek Advice.

The following compilation of resources illustrates the complexity of the issues to related to C&PP plagiarism and its detection. It is wise, when faced with suspected C&PP, to seek the advice of academic supervisors or senior level administrators, judiciously preserve the privacy of the student, and adhere to institutional procedures.


A Google search of the keyword “plagiarism” produced approximately 635,000 “hits” of the term. Therefore, it’s probably safe to say the Internet is replete with information regarding this topic. Below you will find a sample of resources that have been obtained from various sources and which are related to this LTA. All of these links were active as of January 1, 2004. They will be periodically checked in the upcoming months to verify if they continue to be active. Readers of this LTA are encouraged to contact one of the authors of this LTA of additional and useful resources related to this topic.

Copyright and Intellectual Property
Guides to Writing
Examples of Institutional Resources
Paraphrasing Guides
Plagiarism Detection Strategies
Plagiarism Software
Using Search Engines to Fight Plagiarism


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