When writing papers for school, students often have to use information from other peoples’ works. But in order to avoid their papers from being branded as plagiarism, students must also meticulously cite where they found that knowledge.
The conundrum of citing and the fear of plagiarizing — on purpose or by accident — is a major problem in the minds of one batch of students, according to a 2016 survey compiled by RefME, the online citation and bibliography generator.
The survey found that of the 2,111 U.S. students they asked who were currently enrolled in higher education, 60 percent said they were concerned about accurately citing their papers. A further 72 percent of the students said they feared facing disciplinary action for plagiarism.
RefME’s survey is based on two polls gathered by OnePoll and SurveyMonkey, and the students they asked are divided into smaller groups: those who use RefME to cite their papers, and those who do not. RefME did not clarify where they drew this pool of students from, or what schools they attended.
The most common problems students said they experienced were incorrectly formatting citations (54 percent), using the wrong citation style (44 percent) and failing to turn in a full works cited or bibliography with their paper (19 percent), the survey found.
60 percent of the students asked said that they did not learn how to cite properly before or during their higher education.
The stakes for plagiarizing seem to be well-known: the survey found that 82 percent of the students said they thought being caught for plagiarizing can result in suspension or expulsion from school. A further 82 percent said that they think their papers can be downgraded because of plagiarism.
DePaul defines plagiarism as “any use of words, ideas, or other work products attributed to an identifiable source, without attributing the work to the source from which it was obtained, in a situation where there is a legitimate expectation of original ownership,” according to DePaul’s Academic Integrity Policy of 2014.
Plagiarism, according to university policy, includes copying or paraphrasing another’s work without attributing them, using one’s own work for multiple assignments and having or hiring someone else to write assignments.
Instructors are the main way academic standards are maintained at DePaul, who can give a plagiarizing student an F for the assignment or for the class.
DePaul’s Academic Integrity Board can impose further punishment outside of the course. Such punishments go from simple educational activities to teach students, to suspension from the university for a period of time, to permanent dismissal from DePaul.
Common knowledge, defined by RefME as “information that the average person would typically accept as a reliable, proven fact,” does not need to be cited. According to the survey, 62 percent of students said they knew that they are not required to cite common knowledge; 38 percent said that they are either unsure or unaware.
RefME’s survey also found that 65 percent of students said that they use tools to automate their citations, and 49 percent said they use plagiarism tools to check their own work. Much of RefME’s survey promoted their own services as a tool for generating citations and bibliographies.
“Based on these findings, it is a real problem which tools like RefME are trying to solve,” wrote RefME CEO Tom Hatton on their website. “We want students to do better research by knowing that they can use tools like RefME to help them along their research journey. I hope we can look back at these numbers in a couple of years and see evidence that the sentiment towards plagiarism has changed.”
According to a 2011 study by Pew Research about the effects of digital technology on higher education, 55 percent of college presidents said that plagiarism in students’ papers has increased during the last 10 years. Of those who said so, 89 percent said that the internet and computers have allowed such an increase to be made.