Assisting students to avoid plagiarism:

The role of formative workshops

S.D. Sivasubramaniam


Plagiarism has long been a problem in Higher Education institutions and severe penalties have been imposed as a deterrent. However, it should be noted that when an undergraduate enters the university, he/she may not be aware of plagiarism or how to avoid it. To tackle these problems, most UK universities are incorporating lectures, seminars and student workshops to enhance the students’ understanding of plagiarism and most importantly how to avoid it. However it is not clear whether these formative lectures/seminars are actually improving the students’ academic writing skills.

This study aims to investigate whether formative lectures alone would (a) enhance the students’ understanding of plagiarism and (b) improve their academic writing or avoid plagiarism.

The study was carried out in The School of Biomedical and Natural Sciences, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, United Kingdom. Postgraduate student volunteers were used in this study. Their basic knowledge of plagiarism was established by a true/false test from ten scenarios (part 1).

A lecture/discussion on possible ways to avoid plagiarism was given after test. This was followed by a different true/false test (part 2). At the end, the students were asked to take away five different paragraphs on a particular research subject. They were invited to return the next day and write an essay. Each submitted article was checked for good writing practice/plagiarism.

Home students correctly identified 8 out of 10 sentences from part one whilst the international students correctly identified 7 out of 10 sentences. The correct identifications after the seminar increased to 9/10 and 8/10 for home and international students respectively. In contrast, their submitted articles included several incidences of ‘potential’ plagiarisms. Only 39% of the students produced good articles with little or no plagiarism. Most of the articles (46%) had at least a few occurrences of plagiarism. The study has also suggested that students’ knowledge of plagiarism does not necessarily mean that they are capable of good academic writing and avoiding plagiarism. Therefore it may be concluded that short seminars/lectures can be used to improve the students’ knowledge of plagiarism. However, several in-course detailed open workshops may be needed to improve the students, academic writing and to avoid plagiarism.

This paper was submitted to the International Integrity & Plagiarism Conference which ran between 2004-2014. The paper was peer reviewed by an independent editorial board and features in the conference proceedings.