Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some of the Best Advice on Plagiarism Prevention by Nels P. Highberg

My last thoughts on cheating/plagiarism this week comes courtesy of The Chronicle of Higher Education - Plagiarism: An Administrator’s Perspective by Nels Highberg, who is Associate Professor at the Department of Rhetoric and Professional Writing in the University of Hartford. Highberg gives some advice, from an administrator's point of view, on some ways that might reduce plagiarism. This article is well worth reading if your are interesting in combating plagiarism - in his advice he hopes to "help everyone become a bit better at discouraging, recognizing, and responding to plagiarism".

Banksy v Picasso Bad artists imitate Great artists steal
Photo ahisgett's photostream on Flickr.
Here are Nels Highberg's six recommendations:

  1. Do define plagiarism in your classes
  2. Do not assume that students have learned to cite sources as you wish in previous writing courses or in high school
  3. Do remember the realities of university life and the fact that introductory writing courses are often taught by passionate but overworked adjuncts
  4. Do assign projects that students cannot find already done in other places
  5. Do provide detailed prompts for all major assignments
  6. Do follow your university’s protocols
Each point above has more detail and sound advice in the article. I especially like his approach in the fourth point above where he advises that instead of "asking for information that already exists, put another spin on the assignment.  Ask them to read a book but to connect it to the larger themes or other texts in the course.  Or ask them to relate the book to certain news events of the last month or two.  Do something that forces students to do more than repeat what already exists". It's not always easy to implement this - keeping up with the latest news event takes time, and after all we still have to adhere to the assessment guidelines set out in module descriptors. Plagiarism might still occur, but it will be reduced - and where it does occur it will be in smaller amounts.


  1. Could you help me with a query I have regarding Plagiarism? Is there a size limit on a section of cited text that has been copied directly from another author?

    I have been searching for this answer to this and cannot find it.

  2. Hi Lydia,

    First - thanks for reading my blog post, I hope you found it useful.

    Remember what plagiarism is - if you make the proper citations and acknowledge all sources no matter how long they are, then you should not be plagiarising content.

    However - there comes a point when you can overdo quotations from the works of others. I don't give my students any marks for quoting from other sources - but I do award marks for the relevance, context, and discussion of the cited material. I recommend to my students to keep quotations short - if I need to read more, I can check out the reference directly. If you have to quote long sections (historians do this a lot), then clearly indicate the start and the end.

    Keep an eye on word count guidelines that you might get. It's easy to write a 1,000 word essay if you quote a lot - but you should be writing your own 1,000 words. Quotations are extra - at least that's what I do.

    You could also use an Appendix if appropriate.

    Finally - if in doubt, ask your teacher/professor for guidelines.

    Hope this helps,