The Best Way to Stop Plagiarism Before It Happens

Coming from 2 research universities, I have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to plagiarism. Catching students stealing work usually results in the same academic-dishonesty script:


Professor: I caught you plagiarizing on the last assignment.

Student: I promise you! I didn’t plagiarize.

Professor shows student irrefutable evidence of plagiarism.

Student: I had no idea that counted as plagiarism.


I once had a graduate student claim she didn’t realize she was not allowed to copy and paste four pages of her paper from one of Michel Foucault’s books without put the material in direct quotations and citing him.

“I had no idea that counted as plagiarism” often results in critical paralysis. Professors with a heart want to assume the best in their students and hate finding instances of academic dishonesty. I mean, what’s a fair way to respond to the “I had no idea” claim?

The best way to avoid this sort of exchange is to make sure you and your students are on the same page about plagiarism. I have students in my writing-intensive courses complete an online plagiarism quiz I devised. They must earn 100% on the quiz before I grade any of their work. The beauty of the quiz is that it establishes a mutual understanding of academic dishonesty and eliminates the opportunity for a student to suggest he or she never knew certain forms of plagiarism are in fact plagiarism.

I’ve included 3 sample questions: