Pondering the plagiarism plague 1

August 1, 2003

The corner-cutting culture in universities is not the only cause of student plagiarism (Letter, THES, July 25). At Easter, I marked about 60 non-assessed essays by first-year law students.

Only six were wholly free of plagiarism and about four were significantly plagiarised or the result of collaboration. As for the rest, I doubt students even realised that what they were doing was improper.

Their offences consisted mostly of adopting stock definitions from a textbook without attribution.

Plagiarism on this scale cannot be explained away by overdetailed lecture handouts and copies of overhead projection slides.

Learning when and how to attribute ideas and words is a gradual process, as is the inculcation of the importance of doing so. Schools are clearly failing to deal with attribution and referencing as most freshers are ignorant of the conventions.

Richard Austen-Baker
University of Reading

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