Academic Writing: Let’s talk about plagiarism

Today I am sharing with you an article I wrote for ELTA’s newsletter. This article is about academic writing and plagiarism. I discuss why students plagiarise and offer some suggestions on how to help students avoid it. So, let’s talk about plagiarism!!

Plagiarism is an academic offence that has existed for many years in academia, especially in academic writing. This article will provide a definition of what plagiarism is, why it occurs, as well as ideas for tasks a teacher can use in order to help learners avoid plagiarizing in academic writing.


One of the biggest challenges for universities is students’ plagiarism. Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work as your own without giving credit to the source ( Plagiarism does not only refer to copying words, it can also be pictures, graphs or even music. Studies have shown that in the UK, undergraduate students have admitted to having copied a whole paragraph into their own work without acknowledging the source, and 26% have said that they have done so more than once or twice (Bennett, 2005, cited in Elander et al., 2010:157). Another study showed that 57% students did paraphrase, but did not reference, and 53% copied without referencing (Franklyn-Stokes and Newstead,1995 cited in Elander et al.,  2010: 157). As plagiarism is something that occurs quite often during students’ university studies, it is essential to identify why students plagiarise and determine what a teacher can do to help students avoid plagiarism.

Identifying why students plagiarise

Plagiarism can be intentional and unintentional. Intentional plagiarism is of course copying knowingly without referencing, unintentional plagiarism can occur if for example, there is a typographical mistake in the author’s name or date/page number of a publication. As plagiarism does occur, understanding and knowing why it happens is very important. Students may plagiarise because first of all, they may not be aware that they need to acknowledge all their sources when writing (Bloor and Bloor 1991, cited in Jordan, 2012: 48). In addition, students possibly do not actually realize what plagiarism is, and because the pressure to succeed is so great and students view plagiarism as the only way to achieve their goals ( Learners may also plagiarise because they do not manage their time well, the workload is too heavy and it is easier to copy a text ( They might also feel scared that they will ‘insult’ experts. In fact, some international students often believe that they show respect by copying the exact words (Jordan 2012: 100). Finally, another reason why students plagiarise is because they might want to challenge their teacher (

Addressing the problem of plagiarism

In order to eliminate plagiarism a teacher needs to take a few steps/measures. A teacher, first of all, needs to inform the learners. Students need to be clear about what plagiarism is and when it occurs. They also need to know how much (if any) tolerance towards plagiarism there is (especially when it is not deliberate). Students can also be asked to sign forms that state that the information in their assignments is their own (

As far as tasks are concerned, students often plagiarise because some tasks teachers use, have been used throughout the years, without any changes to them. In order to minimize the chances of plagiarism, it is essential that tasks are varied, especially for students who are from the same cohort ( Allowing students to learn from looking at their own examples of plagiarsed texts is a great learning experience as well. It will in fact give students a better picture of what plagiarism looks like in their own texts.

Getting proof of how the learners find the information is also important. This can be done during one to one tutorials where a learner walks the teacher through where s/he found the information in his/her paper. The teacher can also ask students to highlight sections from the original sources they have and their version of what these sources say.

Another step a teacher must take in order to eliminate plagiarism is to look for it in texts and make students aware that looking for plagiarism is one of the assessment criteria for example, and that if detected it will affect grading ( If plagiarism is detected, then measures need to be taken.

Ideas for tasks to help learners avoid plagiarism.

Learners require a lot of training in order to be able to avoid plagiarism. This is why it is imperative that learners are first of all, informed about what plagiarism is. This can be done by getting students involved in research about plagiarism, getting them to do projects, drilling terms related to plagiarism with the help of a terminology checker or even through simple reading comprehension tasks.  Showing students what plagiarism is can be very helpful too. This can be done by using videos. It is also a good idea to show students examples of what happened to people who plagiarised and to be clear about the referencing system they should use when writing.

 As far as actual writing is concerned, training learners on paraphrasing and summarizing skills will improve their writing skills and help them avoid plagiarising. Reformulation of texts can also give students a better understanding of how to move from copying and plagiarizing to recreating a plagiarism free text.

Finally, involving learners in activities that will require them using critical analysis and questioning their sources is another way to deter students from using texts as they are, and taking credit for them. The more the learners understand a source, the easier it will be for them to paraphrase it.


As plagiarism is not taken lightly by universities, understanding why it happens and taking measures to eliminate it is necessary. Teachers need to know why it happens and then train learners on how to avoid it. This can be done by informing them about plagiarism and also equipping them with micro skills and strategies that will make them writers who will produce plagiarism free texts.

You can find the ELTA newsletter here.

 I actually gave a whole presentation about this and you can watch my video here (excuse my nervousness).


Charles Sturt University (n.d). How to minimise plagiarism in your students’ work in five steps. (pdf) Available at: [Accessed online 09 July 2014]

Elander, J., Pittam, G., Lusher, J., Fox, P. &  Payne, N. (2010) Evaluation of an intervention to help students avoid unintentional plagiarism by improving their authorial identity. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35 (2). 157-171. Routlegde.

Jordan, R. R. (2012) English for Academic Purposes: A guide and resource book for teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Plagiarism org.(2014) What is plagiarism? Available at: [Accessed online at: 27 April 2015].

The Higher Education Academy (2006) How to identify when your students are using websites to plagiarise: the problem of ‘mouse-click’ plagiarism: 2.0 Why do students plagiarise. Available at: [Accessed online at: 11 July 2014].

The University of Nottingham (2006) Academic integrity: Why do students plagiarise. Available at: [Accessed online: 10 July 2014].


One thought on “Academic Writing: Let’s talk about plagiarism

  1. Very interesting! Sometimes I think we as EAP teachers know all of this deep down, but it’s always good to have it refreshed in our minds, to make sure we’re doing our best at helping students to avoid plagiarising, and not just punishing them when they do it! 🙂


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