Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Using Anti-Plagiarism Software as an Assignment Requirement

When used properly, anti-plagiarism software can
be a useful tool for students and faculty.
When used properly, anti-plagiarism software can be an effective way to reinforce research and documentation skills.

The Higher Education Plagiarism Conundrum

In a 2011 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Toward a Rational Response to Plagiarism,” associate professor Rob Jenkins explains the higher education composition class conundrum. He writes of students that in grade school they learn to copy, summarize, and paraphrase. "Perhaps in high school," he continues, "they're exposed to concepts of research and documentation. But many students, when they arrive on our campuses, have not yet mastered those concepts or come to understand fully the difference between what they did in middle school and what we're asking them to do” (para. 10 – 11). Teaching students to copy, summarize, and paraphrase without proper documentation is a trend we have to address as educators, and we have to address it in a way that doesn’t turn us into Jeremy Bentham-esque or Orwellian “plagiarism police.”

There isn’t a whole lot we can do about intentional plagiarism, but for those students willing to learn, we can certainly help them learn to avoid unintentional plagiarism.

Responsible Remediation

To remediate missing skill sets, educators can lecture on the topic or use research and documentation bridging exercises and in-class demonstrations. Students can be taught to take proper notes and create annotated bibliographies, for example.  Students can complete rough drafts and outlines in class. However, the best way to ensure educators responsibly remediate research and documentation skills outside the classroom is to put the onus of academic honesty on the students.

Just as Jenkins has stated, students rarely come into composition classrooms already fully aware of what constitutes plagiarism, let alone how to avoid it. Beyond lectures and explanations, students will need to look critically at their own writing in order to fully comprehend the breadth and scope of plagiarism and proper use of source content. Plagiarism isn’t just using quotations without citation, but how much source content is used, how it’s used, and how even ideas – not just words - that do not belong to the student writer must be cited both in the text of the paper and on a bibliographic page.

The Use of Anti-Plagiarism Software as an Assignment Requirement

Outside the classroom, students can continue to learn research and documentation skills by submitting their papers to anti-plagiarism software tools. This software, such as Turnitin, SafeAssign by Blackboard, or Grammarly, should be presented to the students for use as a tool to make their writing better, not a tool educators use to "catch them."

I, for one, am not willing to sit like The Elf on a Shelf in a plagiarism panopticon and watch in wait for my students to forget to include a citation. Furthermore, I do not want my students to feel as though the writing assignments I give them are traps I am using to ruin their academic careers.  

When the use of such software is required, it’s essential that the students submit the papers themselves. They can then review their own reports and look closely to be sure they have used an appropriate amount of source content and cited it both in-text and on a bibliographic page. When repeated throughout a term or a semester, it then becomes part of the writing process, a skill in and of itself. Checking a paper for unintentional plagiarism becomes second nature. Faculty need only see the source content report when they deem it essential or when a paper is suspiciously outside a student’s writing ability. Otherwise, students take full responsibility for any mistakes and revise to make the paper better, more ethically sound,  before anyone else reads the paper.

Anti-plagiarism software can be an extremely useful tool for both educators and students. They can help the teacher meet course goals and learning objectives for research and documentation. They can help students realize that checking papers carefully for plagiarism is part of the writing process. Most importantly, when presented properly, these tools remind the students that in the end, it is their responsibility to avoid plagiarism and to write their papers with academic honesty.


Jenkins, R. (2011). Toward a Rational Response to Plagiarism. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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