Barriers to Plagiarism

For our efforts at upgrading student writing skills to be effective, writing assignments must minimize the possibility of ``purchased papers.'' Since writing is in essence formalized thinking, the educational purpose of writing assignments is to learn the process of organizing and disciplining one's thoughts about a topic. The teacher must be, therefore, intensively involved in the development of the paper, rather than just a passive evaluator. That means helping to choose topics, accounting for references, reading an outline and a draft - each stage subject to comment. This reduces plagiarism.

Class sizes and time constraints preclude this involvement, at present. Fortunately, there are less ``costly'' requirement strategies available. These include:

An annotated bibliography, with synopses of all references rather than just the usual listing.

A required abstract of each paper.

Graded oral presentations of papers, with students required to answer questions and defend their arguments.

Papers could be assigned on opposing views of a topic, with the writers debating the subject before the class.

Assignments could require a description of the research process, particularly how the utilized sources were found.

Some part of each paper could be required to involve a personally conducted interview, survey, or experiment, which would preclude the use of a ``catalog'' paper.

Technical restrictions designed to minimize the possibility of using other work, whether that of a purchased-paper mill or a fraternity's old paper file, could also be employed:

1) Papers shorter than six pages (the minimum available from paper mills) can be assigned. This also trains for brevity.

2) Topics that are idiosyncratic to a class, and therefore unlikely to be available ``over the counter,'' can be assigned.

3) Certain references could be specified by the teacher, making prewritten papers inappropriate.

4) Topics can be restricted to recent events and current references. Most paper mills don't have such topics available.

5) All references can be restricted to holdings in the school library system, similarly restricting the use of prior papers.

6) First-person voice or first-person applications could be required, since such papers would be unavailable from others.

7) Odd formats for type style, spacing, footnotes, bibliography, or margins could be required, since purchased papers come in standard double-spaced formats.

8) The original typed copy can be required (no photocopies).

9) All references can be required to be photocopied from the original, with the relevant sections highlighted, to be turned in with the paper. This would make other's papers virtually unusable, since finding the cited sources would be very difficult unless the students actually did the research.

10) Students could be required to do their papers on a word processor, with the disc to be turned in with the paper.

11) More in-class writing assignments can be given.

Some of these strategies would be unworkable in some classes. But adopting others is reasonable if we are to take plagiarism as seriously as it deserves to be taken.

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