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Survey shows citation, plagiarism still an issue for higher education students

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The final word of a final paper is put on the page. As far as the student writing it knows, the ideas flow well and the copy is crisp. Without a doubt, it’s an easy “A” on a topic thoroughly researched and committed to memory.

In the United States, this can all change when a professor looks at the paper’s citations, as students at DeKalb County’s five private universities and four public higher education institutions can attest.

According to a recent survey of more than 2,100 students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities, approximately 75 percent of students consider citing correctly a concern when writing papers.

A citation is typically indicated with a number and references an idea originally presented in another published work. It comes in many shapes and styles: Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Assocation (APA), Chicago Press (Chicago Style), American Sociological Assocation (ASA), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and American Medical Association (AMA) all have different formats.

Despite this complexity, in academia, citing sources and compiling research is important in obtaining a degree and producing quality work.

The survey, conducted by the website RefME, found 54 percent of surveyed students received a lower grade for formatting citations incorrectly, 44 percent were degraded for using the wrong citation style, 19 percent reported being punished for not submitting a “full works cited” or bibliography page, 12 percent were criticized for failing to cite a quote or idea and 12 percent scored lower for citing the wrong source.

“It is widely known that there is a lack of understanding around the rudimentary requirements for crediting sources in written academic work,” states RefME’s study.

RefME’s survey found that 40 percent of the 2,111 students agreed they had enough information about citing while matriculating, meaning more than half did not.

“Citing is a complicated process that takes time to master, so it is a real cause for concern that 60 percent of students were either unsure or revealed that they had not been provided with enough information on how to cite correctly,” states RefME.

RefME references a 2015 study titled “Academic Integrity: A Quantitative Study of Confidence and Understanding in Students at the Start of Their Higher Education” by Philip Newton that found students new to college “lacked even a basic understanding of how to cite sources.”

Ironically, Newton’s study also found the same students claimed high confidence in knowing what citations are.

The purpose of having citations is to assure original work from students and avoid plagiarism. Plagiarism, depending on the institution, can result in suspension, expulsion, a failing grade, loss of a scholarship and legal action from plagiarized authors or writers.

A survey conducted by Student Engagement Insights states about 25 percent of students are “very worried” about plagiarism while 45 percent of students are “somewhat worried.”

In John English and Chris Ireland’s Plagiarism: Let’s Start as We Don’t Mean to Go on, it was found the majority of students are worried about inadvertently plagiarizing.

“Rather than wasting precious energy worrying about the penalties for plagiarism, it is important that students use their time wisely to develop essential academic skills,” states RefME’s report. “Studying at college level teaches students to: formulate their own thoughts and responses on the topic, to paraphrase and summarise whenever possible, and to acknowledge their sources by taking the time to accurately credit them.”

Experts remain divided on where an all-encompassing solution lies or whether one exists. While many websites and applications create citations in the aforementioned styles, professors say developing new behavior should be a top priority.

An article by Jeff Karon in The Chronicle of Higher Education lists positive reinforcement as the first step in ending plagiarism in college.

“My goal should be to help inculcate honor and integrity rather than build a culture of fear and accusation,” Karon writes. “The solution should be positive; that is, show students how to act as responsible scholars and writers. It should help students avoid plagiarism rather than focus on our catching it; the solution should objectively strengthen both students and teachers. It should also make students and teachers feel as though they are stronger.”

University of Glasgow’s Jude Carroll suggests what RefME’s data implies— teaching students how to properly cite and how improper citations often lead to plagiarism. She also writes that creating a climate of punishment only leads to more inventive ways of cheating.

“Students need to learn how to paraphrase and summarise others’ words,” Carroll writes. “They need to practice, get feedback, and see others’ efforts, then try again. They need to work with definitions to really understand them.”

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