Journal of Academic Ethics

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 1–17 | Cite as

“Should It Be Considered Plagiarism?” Student Perceptions of Complex Citation Issues

  • Dan Childers
  • Sam Bruton


Most research on student plagiarism defines the concept very narrowly or with much ambiguity. Many studies focus on plagiarism involving large swaths of text copied and pasted from unattributed sources, a type of plagiarism that the overwhelming majority of students seem to have little trouble identifying. Other studies rely on ambiguous definitions, assuming students understand what the term means and requesting that they self-report how well they understand the concept. This study attempts to avoid these problems by examining student perceptions of more complex citation issues. We presented 240 students with a series of examples, asked them to indicate whether or not each should be considered plagiarism, and followed up with a series of demographic and attitudinal questions. The examples fell within the spectrum of inadequate citation, patchwriting, and the reuse of other people’s ideas. Half were excerpted from publicized cases of academic plagiarism, and half were modified from other sources. Our findings indicated that students shared a very strong agreement that near verbatim copy and paste and patchwriting should be considered plagiarism, but that they were much more conflicted regarding the reuse of ideas. Additionally, this study found significant correlation between self-reported confidence in their understanding and the identification of more complex cases as plagiarism, but this study found little correlation between academic class status or exposure to plagiarism detection software and perceptions of plagiarism. The latter finding goes against a prevailing sentiment in the academic literature that the ability to recognize plagiarism is inherently linked to academic literacy. Overall, our findings indicate that more pedagogical emphasis may need to be placed on complex forms of plagiarism.


Student plagiarism Non-verbatim Plagiarism of ideas Quantitative study 



We are grateful to John Rachal, Tisha Zelner, Michael Salda and James T. Johnson for their assistance. Funding support for the gift card received from the Department of Philosophy and Religion at The University of Southern Mississippi.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose and affirm that this manuscript has neither been published nor submitted elsewhere.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Forrest County Center, Pearl River Community CollegeHattiesburgUSA
  2. 2.The University of Southern MississippiHattiesburgUSA

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