Email Status

Volume 12, Number 3
May/June 1996

Five Reasons Students Plagiarize, and What Teachers Can Do About It


Cheating and plagiarism, by many accounts, have reached epidemic proportions in U.S. schools and colleges. A 1991 poll by Donald McCabe of Rutgers University found that more than 50 percent of the students at the nation's most prestigious universities had cheated during their college careers. Plagiarism, educators agree, begins much earlier—in elementary and middle schools—where students learn to copy from the book in writing reports and "research" papers.

Studies of students' reasons for plagiarizing reveal five basic themes and suggest ways that teachers can help solve the problem.

1. Students—and many teachers—aren't sure what plagiarism is. Doris Dant surveyed 309 freshmen composition students at Brigham Young University in 1986 and found that many did not understand what plagiarism is: 31.5 percent believed that putting ideas in their own words and supplying a bibliography was sufficient documentation; 15.4 percent thought that copying was not plagiarism if they included a bibliography or footnotes; and 5.8 percent of the students had never heard of plagiarism.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


Also by this Author

For Further Information

For Further Information

S. Davis. "Teaching Practices That Encourage or Eliminate Student Plagiarism." Middle School Journal 25, no. 3 (January 1994): 55-58.

P. Hilts. "When Does Duplication of Words Become Theft?" New York Times, Section A (Monday, March 29, 1993): 10.

R. Howard. "A Plagiarism Pentimento." Journal of Teaching Writing 11, no. 2 (1992): 233-245.

T. Nienhus. "The Quick-Fix: Curing Plagiarism with a Note-Taking Exercise." College Teaching 37, no. 3 (Summer 1989): 100.

G. Sterling. "Plagiarism and the Worms of Accountability." Reading Improvement 28, no. 3 (Fall 1991): 138-140.

L. Thompson and P. Williams. "But I Changed Three Words! Plagiarism in the ESL Classroom." The Clearing House 69, no. 1 (September-October 1995): 27-29.

E. Whitaker. "A Pedagogy to Address Plagiarism." College Composition and Communication 44, no. 4 (December 1993): 509-514.

S. Wilhoit. "Helping Students Avoid Plagiarism." College Teaching 42, no. 4 (Fall 1994): 161-164.