Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > Assignment Design > Deterring Plagiarism

Assignment Design Strategies for Deterring Plagiarism

Two students studying at the Schmitt Academic Center
Create a Classroom Culture Where Learning Is Valued

Explicitly state your learning goals and objectives for each assignment. Make the case for why engaging in the process of each writing assignment is worthwhile. The Council of Writing Program Administrators, in their statement on Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism argues, “faculty need to design contexts and assignments for learning that encourage students not simply to recycle information but to investigate and analyze its sources." When students understand why they are writing something for your course, they are more likely to be motivated to do the work. As one student in a small, informal study put it, “You don’t learn anything when you plagiarize" (Stoner, 2003).

Daniel Makagon, in his MCS 353/INTC 308: Music Industries and Culture course offers the following statement on the two key learning goals for this course: "This course critically examines music as a form of cultural communication and as a media industry. We will be guided by two larger learning goals: (1) To investigate how some individuals seek to create and share music and how others use music as a form of collective fandom. (2) To critically assess different features of the music industry in an effort to develop a deeper understanding of the features of this unique media business."

Get a Sense of How Your Students Write

Have students write a short essay during class early in the quarter and keep copies of this essay to compare to writing they produce out of class later in the quarter. While not a foolproof strategy at all—as some students will authentically produce much different prose in a timed, in-class essay versus a paper for which they have more time to draft and revise their writing—having an early sense of how students write can serve as a useful indicator of when to investigate phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that you suspect were not written by the student.

Purpose:  To help ensure a good experience in this class, it would be helpful for me to know something about how you write and how you learn, particularly in school.  Thus, this assignment has a dual objective:  it will give me a sense of you as a writer and, while this First-Year Writing class may be different from courses you have taken in high school, it could serve to help me understand what, for you, constitutes a positive learning environment.

Assignment: Think about the best class you have taken during the last two years (or when you were last in school). What specifically made this class such a positive experience for you? Describe the class in as much detail as needed to give me a clear sense of it. For example, you might want to discuss content or subject matter, class activities, class atmosphere, evaluation procedures, what the teacher was like—anything you think was important in making this course a positive experience for you. Then, on the basis of this experience, describe what kind of class would be your ideal learning experience and why.

Audience:  Your FYW instructor.

Length:  2 pages, double-spaced.

Due date:  End of class (turned into Digication Dropbox)

Student response:
View Nicole Murray's response to the above assignment.

Have Students Write About Recent, Current, or Specific Topics

In many courses, you can have students engage with, apply, or use ideas, skills, theories, methods, or frameworks central to your course learning goals by having them write about a topic that's current and thus requires them to write something about which relatively little (copyable) writing exists.

Ben Epstein's Topics in American Politics - The Internet and Politics course blog, asks students questions in blog posts and has students respond via comments.

Stage Paper Assignments Throughout the Quarter

Stage longer paper assignments by having students turn in components of a longer paper throughout the quarter. The Council of Writing Program Administrators, in their statement on Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism explains that “collecting interim materials (such as annotated photocopies) helps break the research assignment down into elements of the research process while providing instructors with evidence of students’ original work.”

Assoc. Prof. of Anthropology Jane Eva Baxter's structured research paper assignment.

Grade Process and Product

Reward students for engaging in and producing tangible evidence of each stage of drafting and revising a paper. For each assignment, have students write and hand in a cover letter or "meta-essay" that explains their process in beginning, drafting, and revising their paper.

Further Resources

Stoner, Mark. (2003). "Why students should avoid plagiarism: What students say."