The accidental plagiarist: an institutional approach to distinguishing between a deliberate attempt to deceive and poor academic practice

Simon Robson, Jackie Harvey

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherpeer-review


There is a distinction in the literature between what is regarded as ‘intentional’ plagiarism involving a deliberate attempt to deceive (by the ‘committed’ plagiarist) in order to gain unfair advantage and ‘unintentional’ plagiarism that is associated with poor academic practice stemming from ignorance or misunderstanding of requirements (the ‘accidental’ plagiarist). Clearly, whilst neither should be condoned the former is decidedly less acceptable than the latter. Further, an analysis of explanatory variables for incidence of plagiarism that have been highlighted in the literature indicates a grouping under three key themes: Pressure, Academic Input, and Personal Factors, lending support to the view that plagiarism is seen as a ‘coping mechanism’ or as a rational response to the circumstances in which the student finds them self. The implication being that the majority of plagiarism is committed by accident and unintentionally. Thus if steps can be taken to support these students (teaching of academic skills, design of assessment and use of JISC) then we can be assured that any remaining plagiarists are ‘committed’ and plagiarise in the full knowledge that it is wrong and are fully aware of the consequences of being caught. Working from this premise, two Schools (Newcastle Business School and School of the Built Environment) from the University of Northumbria are currently undergoing a process of academic debate and discussion in an attempt to provide a working distinction between deliberate plagiarism and poor academic practice. Once defined, this would set in process a series of both short (agreement on penalties and the formative use of JISC) and long term actions (embedding critical thinking and academic integrity). Having defined our boundaries and working with our students it is intended to monitor and evaluate the impact of the strategy, as it is implemented, specifically with respect to the actions and activity of our ‘accidental plagiarists’. This paper, therefore, focuses on establishing the theoretical position of plagiarism against academic practice; establishing the strategic context within which academic consultation and debate took place; on how acceptance and support was gained from academic colleagues within the two different Schools, on how we disseminated the changes to students and the tools and processes developed to support both groups.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2006
Event2nd International Plagiarism Conferenc - The Sage, Gateshead
Duration: 19 Jun 2006 → …


Conference2nd International Plagiarism Conferenc
Period19/06/06 → …


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