QR:  Findings from RefME survey on plagiarism

Findings from RefME survey on plagiarism

Source: N Brown

Source: N Brown

Students across the UK are currently in the thick of their final dissertations and, amidst the looming deadlines, late nights and sea of writing, it’s understandable how the quality of an assignment may be forfeited or, in more extreme cases, traces of plagiarism may appear – often accidentally.

I recently reflected on plagiarism and noted how the shift in digital technologies and resources has impacted not only the types of sources students cite, but furthermore the way in which those sources are found. As stated in my previous piece, “using the Internet and googling is so ingrained in our daily lives that obtaining relevant information no longer feels like consulting sources.”

This made me think of recent research conducted by RefME, which looked at UK students’ attitudes towards plagiarism. The results are really interesting and suggest that it is a growing problem in the UK. Indeed, according to the survey results, plagiarism affects 1 in 2 UK students. But what is at the core of plagiarism? Well, the survey finds that students’ knowledge about accurate referencing is lacking and overall, misinformed. So the connection between accurate referencing and plagiarism is very much tangible.

One of the most astonishing findings was that over 70% of survey respondents said they are worried of facing disciplinary actions for plagiarism due to a lack of awareness and confusion around how to reference. Given students within the UK feel relatively unequipped to accurately cite sources, then surely we can assume that the 50% of respondents saying they had lost marks on university assignments for referencing incorrectly is enough substance to continue research in this area.

RefME’s findings also suggest a grey area surrounding ghostwriting as more than 20% of respondents were unable to identify that ‘ghost writing’ constitutes academic misconduct. I think this is a direct result of the accessibility and omnipresence of the Internet. Students today are used to clicking, scrolling and automatically finding information – this may explain some of the issues in terms of their misunderstandings towards plagiarism, which inherently sit within the practice of referencing.

Advances in digital technology have been a significant driving factor in the increasing confusion around referencing. So perhaps we should also look at technology as a solution. Digital referencing tools can support students in their writing journey and improve their overall research output. Students are keen to adopt tools such as Turnitin.com and reference managements like RefME. These resources are useful and are complementary to students’ research and writing practices. Hopefully this motivates higher education students to adopt healthy referencing habits and in the end, avoid unwanted plagiarism.


For more information see my previous posts about plagiarism:

What is plagiarism?

Types of plagiarism

Preventing plagiarism – feedback from the UCLTL conference workshop


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