plagiarism online

How to prevent accidental plagiarism in an online world

Students write a lot, and the issue of plagiarism (or, at least, wrong paraphrasing) remains topical. As educators, what can you do to help students avoid the problem?

Everything starts with suspicion.

You take a student’s essay, start reading it, and it doesn’t feel right. The writing structure, word constructions, and deductions are unlike this mentee of yours! You go to PlagiarismCheck, Copyscape, or any other resource to check that essay for plagiarism and…ta da!

You were right. The essay has obvious signs of plagiarism.

Don’t hurry up to blame a student. They might plagiarize accidentally. A responsible educator, you can help students write original academic papers and teach them to distinguish whether they opine on the topic or simply paraphrase statements, taken from third party sources. Here’s how:

1. Teach Paraphrasing

A paraphrase is among the most popular types of accidental plagiarism, but it’s not evil when used right. Draw a line between plagiarism and paraphrasing for your students to avoid the issue.

When asking a student to write essays “with your own words,” they have brain freeze and start changing the word order of original resources so they look and sound different. Explain to them why it’s wrong and teach a proper paraphrasing.

For example:

  • A student should give credit to sources: direct reference to the author and provide citations and quotation marks for specifying the borrowed words.
  • It’s okay to rewrite in their own words, but students should use their writing styles as well as add new material to essays.
  • Shared language is fine, too, when using commonly accepted vocabulary, tech-related terms, or bias-free language.

Teach your students not to copy but understand the sense of information from a resource and then formulate it in their own words without looking to the text.

And yes, they can use synonyms, split compound sentences into simple ones, change the structure of passages and the word order when appropriate.

(Next page: Preventing plagiarism in an online world tips 2 & 3)

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