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Preventing Plagiarism in Academic Essays

The best way to deal with plagiarism is to prevent it. An effective method for doing this comes from one of our most basic principles about academic writing: that it is a recursive process. In other words, essays are written in stages, and our minds are always going back and forth among these stages in the messy business of creating an essay.   If we simply follow through on the implications of this idea, we can cut down both the temptation and the opportunities to plagiarize.

The major steps in the writing of an academic essay are:

  1. Prewriting Stage: may include brainstorming, clustering, free-writing.
  2. Note-taking
  3. Outline
  4. First Draft
  5. Revisions

Ask students to hand in the various stages of the essay while they are working on it and comment on the work in progress. Then, simply look for some connection between the earlier stages of the essay and the finished product.  This will not only cut down on plagiarism, but helps students learn how to work through the process of writing.

Another option is to require students to turn in all of their rough work—notes, drafts etc.—with their final essay.

Students can also be reminded that no essay is complete unless they can come to the professor's office and explain it—and that this is something you might ask them to do if you are concerned about the legitimacy of their paper.