Plagiarism Resources

Definition and Types of Plagiarism:

Plagiarism is a form of cheating or fraud; it occurs when a student misrepresents the work of another as his or her own. Plagiarism may consist of using the ideas, sentences, paragraphs, or the whole text of another without appropriate acknowledgment, but it also includes employing or allowing another person to write or substantially alter work that a student then submits as his or her own. Heywood Ehrlich of Rutgers University defines the following types of plagiarism:

  • Fraud: outright purchase or copying of an entire paper, perhaps with a new introduction or conclusion added. In some cases, such copying may entail copyright infringement.
  • Substantial plagiarism: widespread or considerable borrowing of material, passing off borrowed passages as original, failure to indicate quoted evidence or give bibliographical sources or other appropriate credit.
  • Incidental plagiarism: small-scale borrowing, copying, downloading, or insertion without appropriate quotation, credit or acknowledgment.

To this, we would add:

  • Too much help: misusing the assistance of a tutor or other more skilled reader. Employing or allowing someone else to alter substantially or write an assignment.
  • Inadvertent plagiarism: plagiarizing out of ignorance. The student may not realize what he or she is doing is wrong, or may not know how to cite sources correctly.


Why do students plagiarize?

  • Because they have not learned the appropriate ways to cite sources, particularly Internet sources (see "How to prevent plagiarism before it occurs," below).
  • Because they have recently come from a culture that has different views on plagiarism. (For discussion of this issue, on which there is conflicting evidence, see Buranen, Lise, "But I Wasn't Cheating: Plagiarism and Cross-Cultural Mythology," Myers, and Dryden, L.M., "A Distant Mirror or Through the Looking Glass? Plagiarism and Intellectual Property in Japanese Education," in Lise Buranen and Alice M. Roy [ed.] , Perspectives on Plagiarism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999, also Myers, Sharon, "Questioning author(ity): ESL/EFL, science, and teaching about plagiarism".
  • Because the Internet has made plagiarism both tempting and easy, through either the cut-and-paste function or term paper mills where essays on any topic can be quickly bought and downloaded. (To explore what's available online, visit a site such as School Sucks or a1-TermPaper.)
  • Because as faculty, we have not designed assignments that make plagiarism difficult (see "How to prevent plagiarism before it occurs," below).
  • Because we live in a culture that sees cheating and plagiarism as a minor offense, as evidenced by the following statistics (from the Plagiarism website):
    • Almost 80% of college students admit to cheating at least once-- The Center for Academic Integrity studies.
    • 36% of undergraduates have admitted to plagiarizing written material-- Psychological Record survey.
    • 90% of students believe that cheaters are either never caught or have never been appropriately disciplined-- US News and World Report poll.
  • Because some students, overwhelmed with the pressures of home, work, and family, take the easy route out of desperation.


How to prevent plagiarism before it occurs:

  • By including appropriate wording in your syllabus. The College of Liberal & Creative Arts suggests the following:

    • Plagiarism is a form of cheating or fraud; it occurs when a student misrepresents the work of another as his or her own. Plagiarism may consist of using the ideas, sentences, paragraphs, or the whole text of another without appropriate acknowledgment, but it also includes employing or allowing another person to write or substantially alter work that a student then submits as his or her own. Any assignment found to be plagiarized will be given an "F" grade. All instances of plagiarism in the College of Liberal & Creative Arts will be reported to the Dean of the College, and may be reported to the University Judicial Affairs Officer for further action.
  • By calling attention to the seriousness of plagiarism as an offense, from the first day of class on. You might point out that SF State has a Student Code of Conduct.
  • By teaching students how to quote and to cite sources properly. You may find some of the sites below useful:
  • By constructing assignments so that plagiarism is not an easy option
    • Limit students' choices for essay topics, and change those topics from semester to semester so that papers aren't passed from student to student.
    • Create topics that require actual thinking on students' part, such as comparing two poems, two philosophers' ideas, and so on. Students are not likely to find pre-fab essays on topics that grow out of class interaction.
    • Avoid topics for which the student is likely to find a source on the Internet: film/music/restaurant reviews, standard papers on "Poe's Preoccupation with Dying and Death," "Socrates' Defense of Philosophy," or "Asian Women and the U.S. Media," all of which are readily available for downloading.
    • Robert Harris offers many "Strategies of Prevention", among them
      • require specific components in the paper
      • require process steps to be turned in
      • require an annotated bibliography
      • ask students to write a meta-comment on the day the essay is due, in   which they write about their process, problems encountered and so on.
  • Require students to turn in a printed copy of any page from which they are quoting, whether book, journal, or website. You won't need to look at them unless your suspicions are otherwise aroused.


What to do if you believe an assignment is plagiarized:

Caveat: To us as faculty, plagiarism is a serious breach of academic honor, one that, when we discover it, may leave us feeling anything from disappointment and dismay to outright anger at the student’s attempt to deceive us. But many students plagiarize out of desperation, misunderstanding, and downright ignorance, and when we confront them, we should proceed with caution and be open to listening to their response. One good practice that will help identify plagiarism: Early in the semester, collect some writing students have done in class and hold onto it for comparison purposes, if necessary, later. However, don't assume that, because a student's in-class writing is poor and his out-of-class writing shows marked improvement, the student has plagiarized; many students have learned to follow the steps of the writing process out of class to produce significantly better written, better proofread papers. Also, if you assign multiple out-of-class papers during the semester, keep a simple record of the types of errors each student typically makes, so that you can note a sudden leap in ability. Although most faculty have a fairly sensitive radar for the plagiarized essay, at times you may feel a generalized suspicion but not be able to put your finger on what's not right. Here are some things you might consider:

  • A paper that's off-topic for the assignment.
  • Abrupt shifts in style, tone, vocabulary.
  • Citations with mixed styles or no citations at all.
  • Very old references; nothing current
  • Mistakes in formatting
  • Things that make you want to say, "How dumb do you think I am?" (a web address left on the page, someone else's name covered with Wite-Out, someone else's name not covered with Wite-Out).

Despite the "bad news" that the Internet has increased the number of plagiarized papers we see, there is still "good news" as well: As easy as it is for students to find and copy information from the Internet, it is just as easy for us as faculty to find the source from which they've copied. Here is how you do it:

  • Go to a search engine, such as Google (other search engines will work similarly).
  • In the search box, type in a string of what is likely to be unique language from the plagiarized paper, and put it in quotes -- it doesn't even have to be a complete sentence, just a string of words that are probably the kind of thing that set your little warning bell off in the first place.
  • Then hit "Search" and Google will give you a list of every page on the web where that string of words appears (which is why you want to find something that's likely to be unique). Don't put in a whole passage, because the student may have altered it somewhat, and the engine's searching for exactly what you've put into quotes.
  • You may have to try a couple of different bits of text before you hit the one that will cause the source to pop up.

If nothing turns up through a search engine, you might look further on relevant newspaper or magazine sites, or on a database such as Lexis/Nexis, available through our library. A number of online plagiarism detection services have sprung up in recent years, the most familiar being and The gist of it is this: you have students submit their papers electronically to you; then you submit them to a site such as They run the papers through their sophisticated search process (which includes databases of papers that you would have had to pay to look at) and send you a report identifying online sources for the paper, if any.


Working with students suspected of plagiarism:

  • Proceed with care. Just as plagiarism is a serious offense, accusing someone of plagiarizing is making a serious charge.
  • Ask for help, if you're not sure of how to proceed. Talk the situation over with a trusted colleague or department chair, or call Susan Shimanoff in the College office at 8-7440 for advice.
  • If you have evidence of the source, present your findings in a straightforward manner and see how the student responds.
  • If you do not have the source but are convinced nevertheless that the paper is plagiarized, try the following:
    • Write nothing but "please see me" on the paper.
    • Take the student through the paper, asking him or her to explain the ideas in more depth to you. Ask the student to define words that you feel are not likely in his or her vocabulary.
    • Express puzzlement at the fact that the paper 1) doesn't sound like the student, or 2) represents a sudden leap in writing ability, given what you have in your records.
    • Ask whether the student might not have received a little more help than is appropriate on this particular essay, or might have used sources without citing correctly.
    • If the student admits the plagiarism or inappropriate help, please follow the procedures below for reporting to the College office.
  • If you do not have the evidence and the student will not admit to the plagiarism, you have reached a stalemate. The best we can do in such a situation is express concern to the student and hope he or she will learn from the experience.


College of Liberal & Creative Arts Procedures for Resolving Cases of Plagiarism

If you believe a student has submitted a plagiarized assignment, the following guidelines should be followed:

  1. Meet with the student. If you have the source from which the assignment was plagiarized, confront the student and talk about the circumstances that led to the plagiarism (see "Why Students Plagiarize," for information). If you do not have the evidence but still are convinced the student plagiarized, follow the suggestions above for handling the situation. If the student admits to plagiarism or if you feel you have strong enough evidence to merit a report, the next step is to set the penalty. (Note: This step is very important. Even if the plagiarism occurred on the final essay and the semester has ended, the student should hear from the teacher about what he or she has uncovered in the student's work.)
  2. Grading. You have the option of giving a grade of "0" or "F" for the assignment in question; you may not, according to Academic Senate policy, ask the student to withdraw or give the student an "F" for the course as a consequence of the plagiarism. You may also, especially if your discussion leads you to feel the plagiarism was inadvertent, assign a lesser penalty and/or allow the student to redo the assignment.
  3. Report to the Department Chair or Program Director, or his/her designee, by filling out a copy of the College of Liberal & Creative Arts Plagiarism Report and giving it to the Department Chair or Program Director/Coordinator with supporting materials, if appropriate. The Department Chair or Program Director/Coordinator should forward a copy of the report, without the supporting materials, to the Associate Dean of the College of Liberal & Creative Arts, who will keep a record of the incident and forward a copy to the University Coordinator of Student Judicial Affairs. These reports will allow us to track repeat offenders and to get a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Student will be sent a letter from the College office informing them that the College received the report and forwarded it to Student Judicial Affairs.
  4. Action by the Department Chair or Program Director, or his/her designee. At his or her discretion, the Department Chair or Program Director may require the student to meet with him or her and may request, after their own meeting with the student, that the student also meet with the Associate Dean of the College of Liberal & Creative Arts. A report of what happened in the meeting with the Department Chair or Program Director should accompany requests for the Associate Dean to meet with the student. The College of Liberal & Creative Arts will not approve a withdrawal from a course for a student who submitted plagiarized material in that class.

University Policies Related to Plagiarism


Additional Resources in Print or Online

The following books may be of interest:

  • Perspectives on Plagiarism and Intellectual Property in a Postmodern World. Lise Buranen and Alice M. Roy, ed. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.
  • Student Cheating and Plagiarism in the Internet Era: A Wake-Up Call. Ann Lathrop and Kathleen Foss. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc., 2000.
  • Stolen Words: Forays into the Origins and Ravages of Plagiarism. Thomas Mallon. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1989.