A Handbook for Deterring Plagiarism in Higher Education

By Jude Carroll

Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (2007, revised 2013)

Review by Philippa Armitage

The title itself suggests that this book may be useful in offering ways to combat plagiarism. If it can be deterred in the first place this would reduce the need for detection. While the book also looks at penalties as a deterrent, the focus of this review will be other forms of deterrent.

The book starts by discussing the definition of plagiarism, which Caroll shows that is not understood in the same why by students and staff. It is important to be able to offer a clear definition of plagiarism so that it then becomes easier to design it out of assessments, and to apply penalties if it occurs as an offence in an academic piece of work.

The book also states that plagiarism is different to copyright, as it not only covers written text, but also ideas of others.

Several reasons are considered as to why plagiarism occurs. In reviewing the issues, the author suggests the Web as one reason for this. When first published in 2002, Carroll suggested that copying from the internet was not the most common form of plagiarism, as students were more likely to copy from other sources including books, journals and the work of other students. In this revised version Caroll states that statistics indicate that this has changed, and internet sources are now more easily available, and are used and copied more often by students.

Also considered is the use of what is often referred to as contract cheating. This is where the student does not write the work that they submit. Caroll discusses the use of essay banks, ghost writers, and even students paying for other students to write their work. It is also noted that this is not just seen at degree level, but that essays are available from GCSE level upwards.

The book also looks to international students and the way that their previous learning may contribute towards plagiarism. While the same rules need to be applied to all students in order to achieve consistency, the points made in the book relating to the different learning background for international students should be taken into account when teaching the skills of academic writing at the start of a student's learning at the University.

Carroll considers that plagiarism (and even purchasing assignments) can be deterred by careful design of the course. Probably one of the most interesting points made is that if the assignment task is interesting and appealing to the student, they are more likely to engage in this and less likely to purchase their assessment. As assessment purchase is difficult to detect, being able to set an engaging assessment may make the academic's job easier when marking the work.

Carroll also notes that a student is less likely to plagiarise or commit any other offence if they are clear on the assessment requirements.

A quote from the book relates a story of 'a student in an exam interpreting the instruction to 'discuss' as an invitation to ask their neighbour, 'What do you think?' The student did so – loudly' (p41). This anecdote shows how an instruction may be misinterpreted.

Another point addressed in relation to the assessment itself is the essay title. Essay banks are more likely to include essays on general topics or using general questions. If the title can be specific or original then there is less opportunity to find anything pre-written.

The book also has actual examples of points that students and tutors have made in relation to plagiarism. These examples can offer an insight into what students are concerned about in relation to plagiarism. Many students worry about accidentally including plagiarism, so that they are concerned about trying to include any of their own original ideas in case someone else has already used the idea previously and it looks like they have copied. This shows the importance of teaching students, not only that plagiarism is not acceptable, but also what is acceptable both in the use of sources and in obtaining help/assistance from support staff and other students.

Carroll shows that teaching the skills needed to write academic work can help to avoid plagiarism and other academic offences, as initial incidents of plagiarism for students at the start of their course often occur because they do not know how to write correctly in order to avoid this. Practicing these skills without fear of the work being assessed will help the student with the rest of their course. Often reviewing each other's work can help the learning process.

Checking the students' understanding of what plagiarism and other academic offences are will also give a guide to what further advice and instruction is needed.

The book also discusses detection of offences and penalties for these. This covers things to look out for which may suggest an offence such as use of different fonts, referencing systems and spellings, as well as penalties in relation to the stage of study, the extent of the offence and the intention of the student.

This book would be useful to anyone who is involved in teaching, setting assignments or assessing plagiarism. The focus is on the positive aspect of learning and ways in which to design out plagiarism by use of engaging, original and current tasks which the students will want to be involved in.


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