10 Facts About Students and Plagiarism


Referencing as anti-plagiarism isn’t a topic that’s exclusively practiced and enforced in educational settings. Plagiarism prevention is a lifelong, practical skill; one that is especially important in today’s information-rich society.

Educators spend countless hours teaching responsible use. Nearly every secondary and higher education institution has a plagiarism policy in place and professors strive hard to enforce them. But, is it enough? How do students really feel about plagiarism? Are educators bogging them down, year after year, with plagiarism prevention? Are students confident with the process by the time they reach college? What’s really happening in students’ minds when it comes to citing and writing? With these questions in mind, the team at EasyBib.com set out to determine how students truly feel about plagiarism.

We placed a 12-question survey on our website from November through December 2018. A total of 4,953 participants completed the survey. Of the respondents, 67% were undergraduate students.

Here’s what our findings revealed…

1. Students fear disciplinary action

One thing’s for sure, being accused of plagiarism is something students want to steer clear of. A total of 70% of respondents said they fear disciplinary action. Kudos to schools that have made it clear that plagiarism is unacceptable and not tolerated.

On the other hand, 30% of students said they do not fear disciplinary action. Perhaps these students have the knowledge and skills in place to be confident with their writing and reference work. Instead of instilling a sense of fear in students, schools can promote confidence by allowing students to make mistakes, refine, and reflect on their work. A confident writer is a writer who is less likely to feel pressured to plagiarize.

2. Are students aware that plagiarism has severe consequences?

Not only do students fear disciplinary action, they understand what those consequences may be. Here’s a breakdown of the consequences students know they could face:

statistics about students and plagiarism

A total of 90% of respondents understand that they could lose points on an assignment or receive a bad grade. Furthermore, “if your university finds that you have directly plagiarized, you will likely be expelled from your program or university” (Shabe). A total of 84% of respondents recognize this as a consequence.

It may seem unrealistic to some, but legal prosecution and/or a monetary fine are real concerns for many students. In 2017, the Department of Education in England announced that any university student caught submitting a pre-written essay could face fines and a criminal record (Pells).

A study done by Philip Newton, at the University of Swansea, found that new undergraduates felt that “academic misconduct should be modestly penalized compared to the standard penalties imposed by the UK higher educational sector.”

3. Worried about citing incorrectly

Even with all of the measures that teachers and schools put in place to educate students on citing, 66% of students stated that they worry about citing incorrectly. This anxiety could be due to the exorbitant amount of citation styles and structures available. Maybe teachers place too large of a weighted grade on citing properly. Or, perhaps students are just generally confused about the process.

A similar study, conducted by Cengage Learning, found that 25% of students felt as though their peers are “very concerned” about citing incorrectly (Strang).

Thankfully, students have numerous online resources and reference generators available to help. In addition, librarians are incredibly helpful resources to seek out for help with references.

4. Students feel they have received enough information on how to cite

Each year, from elementary school through college, students hand in tons of research papers and assignments. It’s a repetitive activity, polished and refined, year after year. Even with the consistent and repetitive practice of learning about plagiarism prevention, close to one third of students (28%) feel that they have not received enough information on how to cite. A total of 29% of students feel neutral on topic as they neither agree nor disagree that they’ve received enough information on how to cite. A mere 42% said they have received enough information on how to cite.

It’s clear that schools and educators are simply not doing enough. Katie Malcolm, an instructional consultant at the University of Washington’s Center for Teaching and Learning suggests the following approaches for educators:

  • Share a few sample essays in class and showcase how the writers effectively used language and ideas from other sources.
  • Provide a 5-10 minute review of MLA format, APA format, or your chosen citation style.
  • Share links to helpful online resources.
  • Clarify reference expectations in class and in the assignment prompt.
  • In extremely large classes, TA’s can be a helpful resource for individualized attention.
  • Instead of focusing on perfection, encourage students to do their own writing. There will be mistakes along the way, but the only way to learn from those mistakes is to focus on effort. Refine mistakes and clear any misconceptions related to plagiarism.

Furthermore, John English and Chris Ireland, from the University of Huddersfield’s Business School, found success when students had whole group and private instruction on their writing content, rather than their writing issues (related to tenses, transitions, punctuation, proper usage of a noun, conjunction, adverb, etc.). In addition, students found success when they were assigned shorter writing tasks.

5.  1/3 of students are not aware that common knowledge does not need to be cited

64 percent of student knew that common knowledge doesn't need to be cited

According to the University of Cambridge, “common knowledge is information that could be generally known to an educated reader.” One example is that Steve Jobs was the co-founder of Apple. This fact doesn’t need a reference, since most people know this to be true.

While 64% of students understand that common knowledge does not require a reference, 19% weren’t sure and 17% incorrectly said yes, common knowledge requires a reference. In order to answer this question, students needed to know the definition of “common knowledge.” Perhaps students were unfamiliar with the term as it wasn’t defined in our survey. In addition, common knowledge statements can be tricky since they “can change depending on your culture, geographic location, age, or other factors” (Caldeira & Traylor).

Not all outside facts need a reference, but “if you are in doubt as to whether something in your discipline is common knowledge or not, it would be best to reference your source” (University of Cambridge). Think about the individual or group who plan on reading your paper. If you think you’re using a statement that is well-known, forget the reference. Cheers to one less thing to do on your to-do list!

6. Lost points for incorrect citations

Nothing is worse than spending hours writing a stellar research paper and then losing points in the end for incorrect citations. A staggering number of students, 42%, have lost points for citing incorrectly. Thankfully, there are online generators to help students create, modify, and add references to their papers. Many of these tools create citations instantly. Students should take advantage of the numerous online resources available, including guides and generators. In addition, “if your university provides extra modules or lectures on this, make sure you attend.” If they don’t, let them know it’s needed (Young-Powell). Need some evidence to backup your request? Share the findings from this report!

7. The most common citation mistakes students report are…

students have lost points for these citation errors

It’s no surprise that 81% of students state that the most common citation errors they make are related to formatting citations incorrectly. Formatting references is confusing! There are many rules related to the placement of punctuation, italics, and quotation marks. In addition, some styles have a specific structure for each and every source type. Once again, here’s where generators can truly help. They’ll format the citations properly, in more styles than even imaginable. It definitely doesn’t hurt to take a quick glance at a reference guide prior to submitting a paper. Full, in-depth guides can be found on generator sites. Many have an added bonus of grammar guides, too, where you can brush up on your verb and pronoun skills.

8. Ghostwriting – Buying an online paper

When asked if, “buying a pre-written paper online is a form of plagiarism” a staggering 22% of students were either not sure (13%) or stated that it’s not a form of plagiarism (9%).

It’s a relief to see that 78% understand that purchasing a pre-written paper, also called “ghostwriting,” is in fact a form of plagiarism.

Students purchase pre-written papers due to academic pressures, inefficient time to complete tasks due to job responsibilities, and professors assigning and recycling prompts that are easily found on ghostwriting sites. Legislation is being pushed to not only ban essay-mill sites, but ban their advertisements as well (Marsh).

Is it worth it to purchase a pre-written paper on an essay-mill? Absolutely not. Fifty-six students at Macquarie University, in Sydney, Australia, were referred to the disciplinary committee for hearings in 2015. Of that number, 36 were found guilty. Two students had their degrees revoked and 10 were prevented from graduating. The moral of the story? Don’t even think about.

9. Reference sources when copying and pasting from a website

When the digital revolution hit, educators feared the worst. In just a few simple clicks, students could copy online content and paste it into their assignments. Yes, the increased use of websites, digital databases, and online periodicals have resulted in lots of copying and pasting, but one thing’s for sure, students understand they need to create a citation for that copied content. Ninety-seven percent of our respondents stated that a citation is needed for any copied material. Just a small percentage, 2%, said they weren’t sure, and 1% said no, a citation was not needed.

Even though students understand the need for a citation, some still get in trouble for this exact offense. Why? Sloppy notes are one reason to blame. One recommendation to avoid this? “Take careful notes and reference as you go” (Young-Powell). Additionally, students understand the need to reference text, but may forget about other types of media. Students must reference, “images and media, designs, or works of art” (RMIT University).

10. Automated plagiarism and citation tools are popular among students

Online tools allow students to focus more time on locating and analyzing their research sources and less on the time-consuming act of properly forming references and bibliographies. A total of 73% of students take advantage of online citation tools that structure references according to the citation style of choice. Students have numerous source types to choose from and are able to fully and easily build their works cited or reference pages. What about the 27% of students who do not use citation tools? Hopefully, they decide to jump on the bandwagon soon.

When it comes to plagiarism tools, 50% of students make use of sites that offer these services. Not only will these sites scan papers for any instances of unintentional plagiarism, they’ll also provide spelling and grammar suggestions. Many are built with innovative technology that provide instantaneous suggestions. Using a plagiarism checker is like having a virtual writing tutor—without the high costs and awkward small talk!

The best part about these tools? They’re not only used by students who are writing research papers. They’re great for anyone looking to learn about citing and writing. Many online tools provide full guides on reference styles and parts of speech topics. If you’re feeling rusty on proper usage of a preposition, interjection, or determiner, these sites can help! EasyBib.com is just one website which offers all of these handy resources and tools, plus so much more.


Works Cited List

“Academic Integrity.” RMIT Universitywww.rmit.edu.au/students/student-essentials/rights-and-responsibilities/academic-integrity.

Caldeira, P., and M Traylor. “Understanding Plagiarism: Common Knowledge.” Laney College Library, updated 19 Sept. 2018, laney.libguides.com/c.php?g=416330&p=2836972.

Ireland, Chris, and John English. Plagiarism: Let’s Start As We Don’t Mean to Go On. University of Huddersfield, 31 Mar. 2011, eprints.hud.ac.uk/id/eprint/10515/1/IrelandPlagiarismpdf.pdf.

Malcolm, Katie. “Plagiarism and Inclusive Teaching: A Perfect Union?” Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Washington, 20 Jan. 2015, www.washington.edu/teaching/2015/01/20/plagiarism/.

Marsh, Sarah. “Universities Urged to Block Essay-Mill Sites in Plagiarism Crackdown.” The Guardian, 8 Oct. 2017, www.theguardian.com/education/2017/oct/09/universities-urged-to-block-essay-mill-site-in-plagiarism-crackdown.

“Macquarie University Finds 36 Students Cheated Online and Revokes Two Degrees.” The Guardian, 28 May 2015, www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/may/28/macquarie-university-finds-36-students-cheated-online-and-revokes-two-degrees.

Newton, Philip. “Academic Integrity: A Quantitative Study of Confidence and Understanding in Students at the Start of Their Higher Education.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 41, no. 3, 27 Mar. 2015, pp. 482-497. Taylor & Francis, doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2015.1024199.

Pells, Rachael. “Cheating University Students Could Get Criminal Record for Plagiarised Essays.” Independent, 21 Feb. 2017, www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/cheating-university-students-criminal-records-plagiarised-essays-copy-a7591236.html.

“Plagiarism: Common Knowledge.” Cambridge LibGuides, University of Cambridge, updated 22 Oct. 2018, libguides.cam.ac.uk/plagiarism/commonknowledge.

Shabe, Lorenza. “Consequences of Plagiarism.” Scribbr, updated 30 Oct. 2018, www.scribbr.com/plagiarism/consequences-of-plagiarism/.

Strang, Tami. “Are College Students Concerned About Plagiarism?” Cengage, 7 Sept. 2015, blog.cengage.com/are-college-students-concerned-about-plagiarism/.

Young-Powell, Abby. “How Serious is Essay Plagiarism?” The Guardian, 30 Dec. 2017, www.theguardian.com/education/2017/dec/30/is-plagiarism-really-a-growing-problem-in-universities.

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About the Author

Michele Kirschenbaum

Michele Kirschenbaum is the in-house librarian at EasyBib. You can find her here on Twitter.