Consequences for Plagiarism

I just finished a major research paper project with my students.  As usual, at least one student plagiarized part of their paper.  I don’t think it was purposeful, but despite all of the teaching that I did, it still happened.  It’s a sign of laziness and lack of proper notetaking…not to mention proofreading.

The standard punishment for plagiarism is to fail the student.  Depending upon the context, this can mean failing the assignment, failing the class, or failing the school–if the student is expelled for the behavior.

What do they learn from this?  Generally, they learn that getting caught plagiarizing is bad.  They try to be careful to change enough words so that they aren’t caught again.  Do they really learn to take notes in a better way?  Do they really learn to proofread?  I don’t think so.

So, what do we do?  For my students, I’m having them redo their research papers.  Not choosing a new topic, or anything like that, but researching the material again and figuring out better ways to phrase the information.  Now, I’m also being extremely picky.  The Research Paper Round Two has to be perfect.  Every error has to be fixed.  They have to actually proofread and fix their errors.  So far, I’ve witnessed these students putting in an additional two hours or more of work on the paper.  I feel good about the learning process here.

However, it’s going to come back to grades.  What grade does a student get after this?  Is it still worth an A?  Do they only get half credit?  Considering this is their second attempt, shouldn’t that affect the grade or is it all about the end product?  Argh…these moral quandaries about grades have really been weighing down my mind lately.  It was easy in the old days when I just knocked a student’s grade down and didn’t worry about whether or not I was grading their learning or their responsibility.  Ugh.

I am the language lover and these are my thoughts.



  1. Scott Erb said,

    December 11, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    I’d grade the end product. I’ve started really having students hand in parts of their research papers during the semester, so that I can witness the process and hopefully catch such things in drafts. I include requiring a “final first draft” which I say I’ll grade and they can keep the grade if they wish. Some get A’s at that stage and enjoy the last couple weeks of the semester knowing they’re already done with their research project. Most have some sort of plagiarism. The reason is that so many people add cites late that they haven’t gone in and put all their cites in yet. They say so up front, and I note that it would be plagiarism on a final draft, so their “grade at this point” would be F. By the time of their final draft, only someone really trying to plagiarize will probably still do it, and at that point I won’t feel bad about failing them.

    The real reason I do this is less about plagiarism and more about getting students not to do their work at the last minute. And, as you know, I teach college rather than high school, so that might make a difference.

  2. December 11, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    The really frustrating thing for me is that I had the students hand in each part of the research paper as we went through it so that I got a chance to read and critique every page of the paper before the final draft. Unfortunately, many of these students handed in the “rough draft” portions without having put much time into it because it wasn’t the final draft, so it wasn’t important. Then, we they got to the final draft, they realized that they needed to add to the paper, and that’s where plagiarism came in. Ugh.

    In this respect, I don’t think there is that big of a difference between our approaches, except that our goal here is to prepare them for you. It’s less about what information they discover and synthesize, but the process of putting it all together.

    As far as the grading goes, I continue to wonder if it will make a larger impression on the student if she still gets a bad grade on the final product (50%) so that she won’t do it again, or if I’m just being punitive instead of educating.

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