Talking with Students About Suspected Plagiarism: Ten Guiding Questions




As assignments start to come in, this can be the time in the term when faculty notice what may be inadvertent or intentional plagiarism by students.  Hopefully, you rarely encounter this yourself. But, if you do suspect plagiarism, how can you best proceed? Here’s what I would do…

First, become familiar with the institutional policy and any particular procedures with respect to this policy in your department or college.

Next, I suggest that you discuss the matter with the student(s) you suspect.  Here are ten guiding questions offered to help you to prepare for and to anticipate the potential directions of a discussion:

  1. Why am I asking to discuss the matter with the student?
  2. How can I best convey my commitment to students’ learning and to fair assessment generally?
  3. What are the facts of the situation from my perspective?
  4. What are the facts of the situation from the student’s perspective?
  5. How will I respond to the student if she or he denies wrongdoing, claims ignorance, admits to the plagiarism, or implicates others?
  6. How interested am I in knowing what contributed to this situation for the student?
  7. How will I handle my feelings about the student’s explanation or comments during our discussion?
  8. How will I handle the student’s reactions during the discussion?
  9. Am I prepared to bring the discussion to an early close if emotions (including mine) are running too high and/or am I prepared to connect the student to other campus resources (e.g., counseling)?
  10. How can I be sure I don’t commit to any course of action before I am ready to do so?

With respect to #10, what the student has to say may or may not affect your ultimate decision, but I do recommend taking some time to reflect on what you heard from the student before you proceed.

  • If you think the action on the part of the student should result in a grade penalty and/or a resubmission for the assessment in question, then look to the informal procedure in the U of S policy.
  • If you think the action on the part of the student should result in a grade penalty beyond the assessment in question and/or you think there should be a record of the plagiarism, then look to the formal procedures in the U of S policy and expect to participate in a hearing process.
  • If you think the action on the part of the student should result in an educational response or a warning, then look to the student’s role as a learner and your role as a teacher. This may involve providing some direct instruction yourself or referring the student to resources in the Library about writing and referencing.

While these concerning situations can be quite straight forward, they can also become quite complicated. Feel free to contact me at the Gwenna Moss Centre if you’d like to think through a situation you face.

One thought on “Talking with Students About Suspected Plagiarism: Ten Guiding Questions

  1. There is a gap in the current University Policy. If a case of plagiarism is dealt with informally, there is no record. As a faculty member, I have no idea if a student has gone through any previous informal procedures. I see the informal process can be a learning event for the student, and the formal hearing as more of a punishment. How many informal learning events regarding plagiarism should a student need?

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