Alyssa DeSimone ’05, Andrea Frankenfield ’04, and
Brynn Saltzer ’04 are long-time tutors with the Writing Center,
a service for students who need help with writing skills from basic
grammar to organizing a research paper.
A year ago, Writing Center director Joyce Hinnefeld, assistant
professor of English, asked all the tutors to attend a workshop
on plagiarism led by Margaret Price from the University of Massachusetts.
Plagiarism is endemic on American college and university campuses.
It’s gone far beyond the seventh-grader who copies an entry
from the Encyclopaedia Britannica or lifts a book report from the
blurb on the jacket. Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to
download an essay by an expert in the field and pass it off as
In her first year as associate dean for academic affairs at Moravian,
Carol Traupman-Carr ’86 found that the number of plagiarism
cases that crossed her desk had more than tripled from the previous
year. According to a 2002 study by the Center for Academic Integrity, “80
percent of college students admit to cheating at least once.”
What Alyssa, Brynn, and Andrea learned, though, was that intentional
plagiarism is far less common than simple, and continuing, confusion
over what constitutes the theft of intellectual property. Most
students, says the dean, are confused about plagiarism itself.
They assume that what they find on the Internet is free for the
taking, can’t tell the difference between a paraphrase and
a quotation, and don’t know how, or when, to cite a reference.
After Price’s workshop, the three tutors proposed a research
project to help find a solution to the problem of plagiarism. They
designed and administered a survey to determine the level of knowledge
about plagiarism among first-year students, upperclassmen, and
faculty. These questionnaires used a variety of devices and questions.
Andrea gave the freshmen a passage from Dubliners by James Joyce
and asked them to paraphrase it. She reordered the phrases in a
sentence and found that half the students believed the result to
be a paraphrase. (It isn’t.) Alyssa asked upperclassmen and
Brynn asked faculty how much instruction was given on the subject
from high school through college, how often it was reinforced,
and how much the students retained over time.
From the survey results, the three women devised a one-hour workshop
on plagiarism, which was offered to students just as this magazine
went to press. They planned to go over the basics: what plagiarism
is and what it isn’t; and how to indicate, formally and informally,
that an idea or wording has come from elsewhere.
Midway between the survey and the workshop, they co-wrote a paper
called “Navigating the Plagiarism Minefield,” which
they presented in October at the International Writing Centers
Association/National Council of Peer Tutoring in Writing conference
The conference drew 900 participants from around the country, including
composition specialists, writing center directors, and graduate
and undergraduate writing tutors. “We got a lot of feedback
at the conference,” said Alyssa, including requests from
teaching faculty to use their survey and to hear about the results
of their forthcoming workshop.
“Honestly,” said Andrea, “I think [instruction on] plagiarism
should start as early as middle school. And it needs to be reemphasized all the
way through college.”