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5 Warning Signs of a Student in Danger of Committing Plagiarism

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey
Plagiarism Consultant -- Plagiarism Today






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No teacher wants to deal with a student who has committed plagiarism. Not only does it mean possibly harming an otherwise promising academic career but it takes a great deal of energy and time to handle such cases. This says nothing about the conflict that often follows discoveries of plagiarism.

It would be ideal if instructors or universities could detect students who may be tempted to plagiarize before they commit plagiarism. Obviously, there’s no 100% sure way to detect students in danger of committing plagiarism, but many, if not most, plagiarists do exhibit at least some warning signs.

To that end, here are five warning signs to look for in your students that indicate they may be tempted to commit plagiarism sometime in the near future.

1: Difficulty with Writing

One of the most obvious and common warning signs that a student may be tempted by plagiarism is that they are struggling with their writing.

Nothing is more frustrating for a student than having a decent grasp of the subject but being unable to communicate it in a way that gets them what they feel is a good grade.

There are many reasons that students might struggle with their writing including if English is not their first language or they simply didn’t get the required skills earlier in their academic career. Either way, a student that is struggling with their writing may find it tempting to turn to plagiarism in one form or another.

As such, when a student is clearly putting in the effort but is struggling with their writing, it’s important to offer them resources that they can turn to for legitimate help. Otherwise, they may be tempted to turn to far less legitimate alternatives.

2: A Borderline GPA

Many students have a GPA that they are pressured to maintain. This can include a GPA to remain on a sports team, to keep a scholarship or to simply stay in school.

A student who is in danger of missing that mark is more likely to consider taking drastic action to avoid it. If they have the grades they need comfortably, one assignment isn’t likely to cause a problem. Likewise, if they are way under it, then they likely understand that plagiarism isn’t going to save them.

However, students who are on the brink are often the most tempted to take shortcuts, including plagiarism. As such, it’s important to reach out to those students to find ways they can pull their grades up and get the marks they need.

An ounce of prevention here might not only prevent plagiarism but also help save a struggling student’s academic career.

3: Extreme Disinterest in the Subject or Assignment

As Turnitin’s Jason Chu once said, “Plagiarism is about putting outcomes ahead of processes.” This means that students who want or need a grade but don’t particularly believe in the process of obtaining it are the ones most likely to plagiarize.

Though every student has to take classes that in which they aren’ t particularly interested, that disinterest can spill over and lead to students plagiarizing or taking other shortcuts in the class simply so they can fulfill the requirements with the minimal amount of time and effort.

Imbuing students with a passion for subject matter can be difficult, especially if it’s not in their area of focus. However, explaining why a subject is important and why a particular assignment is useful to them as a student can help reduce the temptation to cut corners.

4: Poor Citation Skills

Students who struggle with citation, including what to cite and how, often cross the line into committing full-blown plagiarism.

Sometimes this is accidental, a case where one’s paraphrasing and citation skills are so incomplete that they outright commit plagiarism without truly intending to. Other times, however, it can be out of frustration as students are repeatedly penalized for an infraction they don’t understand and when they see little risk in continuing with such misconduct.

Either way, when a student is seen struggling with citation it’s important to provide help and resources to bring them up to speed on the subject. It can no longer be assumed that students, at any level, automatically have these skills.

In short, it’s never too late to learn a basic research skill.

5: Procrastination

Many times plagiarism is an act of desperation that is caused by a lack of time management. Students who are routinely late with assignments or show clear signs of having done them last-minute are more likely to plagiarize than those who leave adequate time for their assignments.

Finding students who are struggling with time management can be a great way to prevent plagiarism before it happens. This can be bolstered by breaking assignments into parts so that even students with poor time management have to work on it over the length of the project.

While it can be tricky finding students who are struggling with their time management, if the signs are there, either providing resources or altering assignments can go a long way to stop plagiarism before it has a chance to take place.

Bottom Line

As Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” As such, preventing plagiarism before it starts is truly the best outcome for all involved.

While it’s easy to think about successfully detecting plagiarism as a win, it’s actually a defeat of its own. Though there will always be plagiarists and a need to track them, there are many times where it can simply be prevented, avoiding the issue altogether.

And that, ultimately, should be the goal of every educator. To that end, knowing some of the warning signs of plagiarism and jumping on them early can go a long way to turning many students around before it is too late.