AL Forum

AL Forum News, Volume 30:2 (December 2010)

by User Not Found | 11/02/2011

AL Forum

In This Issue...

  • Leadership Updates
    • Letter from the Past Chair
    • Letter From the Chair
    • Letter From the Editors
  • Articles and Information
    • Plagiarism or New Pathways in L2 Writing?
    • Plagiarism in Australian Teritiary Institutions
    • Plagiarism, Culture, and Ethics

Leadership Updates

Letter from the Past Chair

Scott Phillabaum, Linguistics & Language Development, San Jose State University,

Greetings fellow ALIS members,

This marks my final message in the AL Forum because my term as chair officially came to a close at the 2010 convention in Boston. First off, I'd like to thank everyone for all of the help and assistance over the past 2 years. It has been fun serving you first as chair-elect and then as chair, but I know that we are in good hands with Howard Williams as the new chair and Dilin Liu as our chair-elect. Both Howard and Dilin have served the ALIS in these positions before, so I know the transition will be smooth. I would like to take this final opportunity to encourage the newer members and those who participate actively on the e-list to consider serving as an officer in the future. Not only do you get to know the TESOL leadership better, but you also have the chance to shape the topics explored at the annual convention.

Let me comment briefly on the convention in Boston, though I will leave most of that to Howard and Dilin. The InterSection organized in conjunction with the Intercultural Communication IS was a great success with excellent presentations by Donna Fujimoto, Noel Houck, Jean Wong, and David Olsher. Expanding on previous successful colloquia, these presenters focused on the application of conversation analysis to questions of language learning and language teaching. These papers will appear in a future issue of AL Forum, so be on the lookout for them. They are well worth the read! Also, you may have received an announcement from TESOL about a new publication edited by Donna H. Tatsuki and Noel R. Houck entitledPragmatics: Teaching Speech Acts, which is to be followed by another volume in 2011 entitled Pragmatics: Teaching Natural Conversation. These texts will expand on the themes discussed in the InterSection, and I encourage you to take a look at them.

Let me depart by emphasizing once again the pleasure it has been to serve you as your ALIS chair. I'm looking forward to returning to a role as active participant in the ALIS, though from a much less prominent vantage point. Hopefully, I'll run into some of you next year at the convention in New Orleans. As a native Louisianian who spent his undergraduate years (and then some) in New Orleans, I encourage you all to come for a once-in-a-lifetime experience in a truly amazing city. Until then, laissez les bon temps rouler!


Letter From the Chair

Howard Williams, Teacher's College, Columbia University,

Our last newsletter was composed just before the Boston convention, so let me say I hope those ALIS members who wanted to attend were able to do so. Boston is an excellent venue for TESOL. If it's not quite as "international" as New York or San Francisco, it's the number one academic center in the United States, with a multitude of ESL and other language-related programs of study. I also hope members have had productive summers.

Some notes on the convention: I've been asked to review the Academic Session. It was well attended (50-75 people or so) and, so far as I can tell, well received. The topic, "Applying Linguistics to Support ELLs," brought together local linguists from the Boston area who have done work that could be called "applied linguistics" in a fairly literal sense. Daniel Ginsburg (now at the Center for Applied Linguistics) and Maya Honda (of Wheelock College) detailed a curriculum that they developed in a Malden (MA) high school to guide high school English language learners in performing elementary linguistic analysis. Unlike traditional school grammar, which has always tended to be oriented to prescriptivism and "better writing skills," this curriculum was motivated by the desire to get young students interested in linguistics as science¯an unusual, though not an unprecedented, approach for young people. Essentially, students were directed to work out on their own how grammar works in their respective L1s by means of formulating, testing, and revising of hypotheses against linguistic data. For example, they worked individually and in groups to figure out pluralization patterns in their mother tongues (if plurals exist at all); they then compared notes across the eight languages represented and engaged as a group in comparison-contrast. They were later given data in Armenian, a language that none were familiar with, and asked to figure out how its plurals are formed; they also had a close look at alternative alphabets. The program appeared to fit every criterion of good second-language teaching. Flying in the face of the usual mantras about "focusing on form" versus "focusing on meaning," Maya and Daniel's approach illustrated the kind of grammar study that fits squarely within the tradition of a meaning-centered, task-centered, and student-centered language learning experience that fully engages learners in target language use. (For a recent publication that outlines issues and methods, see Honda & O'Neil [2008].)

Maya and Daniel's project drew initial inspiration from another of the presenters, Wayne O'Neil, professor of linguistics at MIT. Back in the mid-1960s (even before the term "SLA" existed), O'Neil piloted a similar program in the West among all native English speakers. His talk, however, was centered more in linguistic theory. Assuming that all children come to the language-learning task with the same mental equipment, what does it mean to learn a second language? Drawing on Chomsky's (2010) idea that language has an essentially invariant "internal" nature but is "externalized" in different ways across many cultures and millennia, O'Neil showed how differences in externalization bear on differential crosslinguistic success. The variables are (a) whether a linguistic element is spoken, (b) where it is spoken, and (c) how it is spoken. For example, while both Chinese and Spanish permit the omission of subject pronouns (a "whether" case), they do so for different reasons: Chinese when the subject is understood and recoverable, Spanish when verbal inflection makes the subject clear. Acquisition data suggest that required supplying of subjects in English is a problem for Chinese but not Spanish speakers. Chinese supplies a "where" case: though wh-expressions are left unmoved in Chinese, evidence supports a silent copy in sentence-initial position as well. The result, argues O'Neil, is that Chinese speakers have no trouble verbalizing initial wh- in English. As for a "how" case, the perceptual problem for Japanese speakers learning English /l/ versus /r/ is great since the feature [+lateral] is not active in Japanese; in contrast, German front rounded (i.e., umlauted) vowels pose no perception problem for English speakers, who already share the features [+round] and [+front] with German speakers.

The final presenter was Suzanne Flynn, also of MIT. Flynn is well known for writing about the UG-SLA interface, but her TESOL talk was on diagnosing language disorders. Flynn cited statistics to show that ELL children are roughly twice as likely as native children to be diagnosed with language disabilities or impairments, a fact that strongly suggests frequent misdiagnosis. Evidence from three domains¯linguistic theory, language acquisition, and language disorders¯can aid in sorting out true disorder from mere difference. From linguistics, we know that errors tend to be highly circumscribed in a general way: For example, learners' hypotheses are structure-dependent, that is, they proceed from the assumption that L1s as well as L2s do not form rules based on linear ordering alone. We also know that error patterns and overall developmental patterns will reflect interaction between native and target languages; hence it is vital for a diagnostician to be informed by knowledge of the L1 as well as the L2. This information is equally valuable for establishing the existence of true disorders, which will have similar reflexes in both L2 and in L1, a fact that makes language assessment in both languages important (Brice, Roseberry-McKibbin, & Kayser, 1997). Accurate diagnoses, then, will depend on collaboration among linguists, acquisition specialists, language pathologists, and native language informants. To be safe, we should in general begin with the minimal assumption of "difference" rather than "disorder," as the former is far more likely to be the source of a given ELL problem.

Let me say that I, for one, found the Academic Session incredibly inspiring. TESOL has in general moved away from presentations grounded in linguistic theory (as opposed to bean-counting) in recent years. There have been some good reasons for this, as theory has often been remote and difficult to apply. However, linguistics research can and does contribute valuable insights that bear on solutions to learner problems. It can also inspire in teachers a basic appreciation of the beast that their students are faced with tackling in the classroom. We encourage future presentations of this stripe. In our next newsletter, we will mention what is in store next year in New Orleans. I wish ALIS members a productive fall term!


Brice, A., Roseberry-McKibbin, & Kayser, H. (1997, November). Special language needs of linguistically and culturally diverse students. Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Boston, MA.

Chomsky, N. (2010). Some simple evo-devo theses: How true might they be for language? In R. K. Larson, V. Deprez, & H. Yamakido (Eds.), The evolution of language: Biolinguistic perspectives (pp. 45-62). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Honda, M., & O'Neil, W. (2008). Thinking linguistically. Malden, MA, and Oxford, England: Blackwell.

Letter From the Editors

Priyanvada Abeywickrama, San Francisco State University,, and Casey Keck, San Francisco State University,

Greetings everyone!

In this issue (30.2) we are pleased to feature three articles by presenters at Denver TESOL's Applied Linguistics IS and Intercultural Communication IS entitled "Plagiarism, Culture, and Ethics." The session addressed questions such as What is plagiarism? How does the concept of plagiarism change in different cultures? and Is plagiarism an academic or ethical issue? The presenters approached these and other questions from different cultural perspectives and backgrounds based on research and experiences in the fields of applied linguistics and intercultural communication.

Jane Hoelker surveyed students and found three particular challenges: the special nature of L2 writer errors and approaches to dealing with them, the voice and identity of student writers, and the varieties of academic discourse. By examining these challenges she was able to elaborate some reasons why students plagiarize. She concludes with some successful strategies to help improve language mastery and to build student confidence as they find their voice when writing. Leila Mouhanna explores plagiarism, culture, and ethics from the Australian academic context. Her article discusses some of the findings of recent Australian-based studies related to students' understandings of what constitutes plagiarism and measures some Australian universities are taking to combat plagiarism. Susan Coakley discusses how plagiarism is an increasing problem in Intensive English Programs in the United States. She shows that though cultural factors can play a large role in students' willingness to plagiarize, students must become proficient enough to use correct language. But more important, she suggests that they must be convinced that avoiding plagiarism is a critical skill in American academia.

With this issue we say goodbye to Casey Keck who is stepping down as coeditor. So if you or someone you know is interested in being part of ALIS as coeditor, please send nominations to the chair, Howard Williams ( Finally, we thank the authors for submitting their contributions and hope you enjoy this issue of the ALIS Forum!

Priya and Casey

Articles and Information

Plagiarism or New Pathways in L2 Writing?

Jane Hoelker,, Qatar University

"Teacher, I know that plagiarism is wrong, but I didn't know that copying these words from this book for this assignment was plagiarism." The sincerity of the student was obvious. Yet in class, examples of plagiarism had been shared and discussed. Why had the student not connected the theory of what plagiarism is to his writing practice?


In an effort to understand student thinking about plagiarism, I administered a survey of 11 questions to a total of 26 students (9 male and 15 female) enrolled in a summer course I was teaching on how to write a term paper (see appendix). The survey was administered at the end of the course when the class knew me well and felt comfortable answering an anonymous questionnaire on the topic. Of the 26 respondents, 13 admitted to plagiarizing. The three main reasons given were poor time management, the difficulty of scientific rhetoric (the words of the student), and ignorance about what plagiarism was. For instance, one student maintained that she had copied and pasted the ideas, but that this was not plagiarism. Despite these reasons, it was reassuring to note that 13 students said that they had never plagiarized and never would.

Of those reasons given for plagiarism, 18 were related to the act of writing. The students said they hated writing or they were shocked by how many words they had to write in English or they did not want to change the best writing that they read in the sources because it would lose its value. When asked what practices in the course had helped them write the term paper, 17 said that practicing paraphrasing supported them in their work. Seventeen claimed that submitting their paper to the software program SafeAssign to check for unintentional plagiarism so they could make corrections helped them. Most (19) said that conferencing with the teacher benefitted them. (Any student could request as many conferences as he or she wished; the students averaged 5 to 10 conferences each, ranging from 5 to 15 minutes in length.) As a result of taking the course, 18 felt more comfortable completing an academic paper. The great majority (22) claimed they understood better how to write a term paper.

Reflection on these findings, such as student antipathy toward the act of writing, lack of ease in the production of written text, and a clear comprehension of what constitutes plagiarism, led me to consider other L2 writing issues such as the nature of L2 errors, confidence in the expression of voice, and cultural variations in academic discourse. In order to use sources effectively and appropriately, students must be able to express their interpretations of the material clearly in order to connect the salient points quoted or cited from the sources in a coherent manner and to convey the complete message without gaps in the steps of development.


Practice paraphrasing supports students in mastering the written language (as indicated by the positive student questionnaire responses). It forces them to go more deeply into their thought processes, to examine carefully semantic and syntactic choices they make, and to craft their message with the appropriate language.

In researching what kind of errors L2 writers typically make and why, I discovered the importance of recognizing that errors made by L2 student writers differ from those made by L1 student writers (Ferris, 2002; Silva, 1993). L1 writers rarely have difficulty with structures but wrestle with the punctuation of sentences and clauses, pronoun reference, modification problems, and lexical errors because they choose casual registers when using formal written language. On the other hand, L2 writers are developing writers in the process of acquiring the L2 lexicon, morphology, and syntax. They must master usage of verb tense and aspect, articles, determiners, noun endings (plural and possessive inflectional endings), word form (using a noun when the adjective is needed such as substituting independence for independent), and word order.

Krashen (1984) and Zamel (1982; 1985) warned writing instructors to help students dedicate sufficient time to the thinking process while composing and revising content. Students must refrain from focusing on forms and errors too early and too much in the composing stage. Zamel (1982; 1985) reminded instructors that writing is not proofreading and cautions that an excessive and early focus on form stifles substantive thought.

Therefore, how should teachers handle errors? Students seem to respond to mini-grammar lessons or "booster" shots of grammar to repair poorly mastered points of structure. Also, the more successful student-generated essays (with student permission) can be turned into exercises modeled on textbook activities. Though some suggest students keep error logs, many find student resistance to this activity hinders its effectiveness (Cohen, 1987; Truscott, 1996). Writing instructors must realize that second language acquisition takes time, so accuracy will not improve overnight. Another consideration is that the pedagogy designed for native speakers might not work for L2 writers (Canagarajah, 2001; Holliday, 1994; Leki, 1990). Efforts to adopt materials and methods imported from the West to the classroom, including the writing classroom, in periphery cultures might demand more research.


Individual conferencing and class discussions provide opportunities to support student confidence and to challenge student misconceptions that to "cut and paste" words of an author is not plagiarizing. Students must also realize that simply translating from another language into English could constitute plagiarism. It is important that the learners appreciate coherent, articulate student writing as having "value". Otherwise, they might be tempted to copy the elegant, complex writing of the professional writer like the students who wrote in response to the questionnaire that they did not want to change the best writing that they read in the sources because it would lose its value. Sharing a few samples of good student writing with clear voice could encourage students to use their own voice effectively in their writing. Exploring some of the research presented later in this article in a class discussion could contrast the Western conception of plagiarism with that of a more group-oriented society and clarify how to avoid it.

To understand better the initial lack of student confidence, I decided to explore some research conducted on the adoption of Western writing methods with non-Western students studying in the United Kingdom. As L2 writers progressed through the process of thinking, composing, and revising content, some expressed concern that they were not supported in finding their voice (Muchiri et al., 1995).

Muchiri and her colleagues explored the challenges to identity experienced by students when they enter the university. First, the expression of political criticisms, such as in argumentative essays, might incur the anger of a political leader and result in punishment of the writer. Instead, to be safe, the student writers often take on the voice of the elder whose judgment qualifies him to make decisions for the group without providing evidence. Muchiri is also concerned that student creative expression of their own experience might dissipate when they write in a correct but uninteresting English.

Muchiri reported that she encountered random dedications in the home language while reading literature dissertations. These dedications as well as the use of "we" instead of "I" at certain points reveal the power of the group to call the students back. Intellectually, they recognize the contributions of a lecturer to their success and, financially, the contributions from the tribe. Yet, the oral defense in the United Kingdom where Muchiri was teaching demands that the individual asserts his or her success as a solo achievement. Thus, the model of individualism might be felt as a strain to those accustomed to group cooperation. The students are accustomed to speaking with a collective voice and not the voice of an individual.

Muchiri's concern about the importance of recognizing the pressure of individualism on the identity of some student writers and how that might restrict their confidence is elaborated in the work of Bazerman (1985). He stated that it is not the presence or absence of sentence-level errors that distinguish a less advanced writer from one more advanced, but the fact that the more advanced claim their authority; they claim a writing project as their own. To claim this level of authority requires self-confidence and a secure identity. However, to achieve this, students must learn two styles of English: the language with a lexicon through grammar books and the language of academic discourse, which is a special kind of language use.


Difficulty in understanding scientific rhetoric challenged writing students according to the questionnaire results. The teaching of the different rhetorical modes, their structures, and lexis helps students understand how source texts might be used to support their term paper argument. First, a summary writing assignment can introduce students to the art of synthesizing information from a source. Most have not summarized an article in their L1. Practice summarizing a couple of articles in the same rhetorical mode can open discussion about the characteristics of language peculiar to that rhetoric.

Second, an expository writing assignment gives students experience and confidence in attaining a word count goal by developing one topic with the flexibility of using several rhetorical styles. Discussion about how each of the styles in the expository essay moved the topic forward can lay the foundation for future assignments in each of the rhetorical modes. For example, examining how evidence such as quotes from an authority or a statistic supports an opinion persuaded one of my law students that, contrary to the Gulf culture where the emotional force of delivery ensured acceptance of an argument, an opinion must be supported with evidence in Western discourse. Finally, examination of the two models in the chart below can contrast two different styles in the Western tradition and clearly define expectations in the North American tradition.

My research revealed that as English education spreads around the globe, varieties of academic discourse are being examined. For example, examination of just one example―the academic discourse of the Anglo-American style and the Continent―reveals numerous and significant differences (Rienecker & Jörgensen, 2003) that could challenge student writers. The Anglo-American tradition is problem-oriented and views science as investigation while the Continental tradition is topic-oriented and looks upon science as thinking. Other examples of academic discourse differ in a variety of ways, hence complicating the process of writing academic discourse.



Science as investigation

Science as thinking

Empirically based study; systematic, up-to-date literature-based research paper

Traditions important

Rhetoric and concerns about purpose, reader, argument

Rhetoric is forgotten

Problems in foreground

Sources in foreground

Facts, realities

Philosophy, history of ideas, culture, aesthetics

New understandings

Interpretation, preservation of traditional culture

One point, one aim, one conclusion

Numerous points, claims, conclusions around subject

Linear, no digressions

Non-linear, discursive structure; digressions allowed

Academic writing = learned craftsmanship

Academic writing = inborn ability


How can educators reconcile the issues raised when instructing L2 writers to express their rationales, arguments, and thoughts in the Anglo-American style of academic discourse? Unfortunately, academic discourse is accepted as the gate-keeper of higher education and career opportunities (Elbow, 1991). Yet, even fluent native speakers of English must struggle to master academic English, which differs considerably from everyday English.

Young and Miller (2004) discussed some research that shows how approaching writing as a partnership of shared practices empowered adult Vietnamese learners of English as they engaged in four conferences on their compositions. As the students progressed through the conferences, their patterns of coparticipation gradually expanded. The dynamic of the exchange between the instructor and the students was transformed by the partnership until the teacher became, in turn, a colearner. The students took more control of the conference and were proactive in questioning procedure and the use of language in their writing, thus revealing to the teacher how a student writer learns how to write. The instructor gained a deeper understanding of the process of language learning through the discussion. This duplicates my experience; the questionnaire results revealed that 19 students asserted the benefits of conferencing with the writing instructor.


In conclusion, the L2 writing classroom of today hosts students from a great variety of backgrounds. For some students, rhetorical flourishes are considered expressions of intellectual beauty; for others, dependence on the wisdom of authorities assure security of body and mind; and for others, the rhetoric of cause and effect carries no meaning because events are viewed as clusters around one major event, much like villages cluster around capital cities. Yet, the writing instructor must support learners as they grapple with errors, their identity and authority as writers, and a style of academic discourse perhaps culturally unfamiliar. Student responses to the survey on attitudes to plagiarism direct educators to consider activities in which they can practice paraphrasing and conferencing with their teacher or perhaps a peer guided by a checklist. Through conferencing, writing instructors might establish partnerships of shared practice with their students that yield rich insights for all, thus nurturing a dynamic of exchange with teacher as colearner and forging new pathways with students in L2 writing.


1. Have you ever plagiarized? Can you explain why you did it or how it happened?

2. Why do you think some students plagiarize? Why do you think some students pay someone to write their term papers? Why do you think some students copy term papers off the Internet and sign their name to someone else's work?

3. Have any of the activities used in this course helped you avoid plagiarism? If yes, please explain.

4. Were one or two steps of the writing process more helpful at preventing plagiarism than the others?

5. After taking the course, do you feel more comfortable about and secure about writing a term paper for another instructor of another course, especially a course in your major? Please explain.

6. After taking this course, do you understand better how to research a term paper and the process of writing a term paper? Please explain what you learned that you did not know or understand before.

7. What suggestions would you give your instructor about teaching this course again in the future?

8. What suggestions or advice would you give students who sign up for this course in the future?

9. What was the hardest thing you had to do to write your term paper?

10. What was the easiest thing you had to do to write your term paper?

11. What would you say to a friend who told you he or she was plagiarizing a term paper?


Bazerman, C. (1985). The informed writer. Boston: Houghton.

Rienecker, L., & Jörgensen, P. (2003). The (IM)Possibilities in teaching university writing in the Anglo-American tradition when dealing with continental student writers. In Björk, G. Bräuer, L. Rienecker, & P. Jörgensen (Ed.). Teaching academic writing in European higher education (pp 101-112). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Canagarajah, S. (2001). Globalization, methods and practice in periphery classrooms. In D. Block & D. Cameron (Eds.), Globalization and language teaching(pp. 134-150) New York: Routledge Publishers.

Cohen, A. (1987). Student processing of feedback on their compositions. In A. L. Wenden & J. Rubin (Eds.), Learner strategies in language learning (pp. 57-69). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Elbow, P. (1991). Reflections on academic discourse: How it relates to freshmen and colleagues. College English, 53 (2), 135-155.

Ferris, D. R. (2002). Treatment of error in second language student writing. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press/ESL.

Holliday, A. (1994). The struggle to teach English as an international language. New York: Oxford University Press.

Krashen, S. D. (1984). Writing: Research, theory, and application. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press.

Leki, I. (1990). Coaching from the margins: Issues in written response. In B. Kroll (Ed.). Second language writing: Research insights for the classroom (pp. 57-68). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Muchiri, M. N., et al. (1995). Importing composition: Teaching and researching academic writing beyond North America. College Composition and Communication, 46(2), 175-198.

Silva, T. (1993). Toward an understanding of the distinct nature of L2 writing: The ESL research and its implications. TESOL Quarterly, 27, 657-677.

Truscott, J. (1996). The case against grammar correction in L2 writing classes. Language Learning, 46, 327-369.

Young, R. F., & Miller, E. (2004). Learning as changing participation: Discourse roles in ESL writing conferences. The Modern Language Journal, 88(4), 519-535.

Zamel, V. (1982). Writing: The process of discovering meaning. TESOL Quarterly, 16(1), 195-209.

Zamel, V. (1985). Responding to student writing. TESOL Quarterly, 19(1), 79-102.

Plagiarism in Australian Teritiary Institutions

Leila A. Mouhanna, United Arab Emirates University,

In many tertiary educational institutions worldwide, there has been a growing need to address the increasing prevalence of plagiarism. This phenomenon has to a significant extent been attributed to the rise of the Digital Age which has afforded students access to a vast body of information through the Internet and to the expansion in the numbers of international students in Western tertiary educational institutions. Studies concerning plagiarism have highlighted its multifaceted nature. James, McInnis, and Devlin (2002) noted that plagiarism varies according to "intent and extent . . . ranging from deliberate fraud, to negligent or accidental failure to acknowledge sources of paraphrased material and misunderstandings about the conventions of authorship" (p. 5). In the Australian context, studies exploring this issue have noted concern about the growing prevalence of this problem, with one study estimating a total of 3,500 reported plagiarists across eight Australian universities between 2001 and 2006 (Alexander, 2006).

Media attention has focused on plagiarism but has by and large associated this growing phenomenon with the increasing number of international students studying in Australian tertiary educational institutions and has underestimated the prevalence of plagiarism among local students. In February 2010, there were more than 160,600 international students enrolled in higher education courses throughout universities in Australia (Maslen, 2010), primarily from China, India, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Malaysia.

Numerous scholars have attempted to demonstrate that plagiarism is a culturally relative concept and plagiarism committed by international students studying in Australian universities has often been ascribed to cultural differences in perceptions of the ownership of knowledge (Maxwell, Curtis, & Vardeneya, 2008; Sowden, 2005; Chandrasoma, Thompson & Pennycook 2004).;). Chandrasoma et. al (2004), for instance, compared Western notions of text ownership to the Chinese tradition where "the mnemonic consumption and representation of knowledges as a cultural construct collide with the dominant ideologies in the West of the autonomous author as creator and owner of individually produced texts" (p. 174). Such studies have called for educators at the tertiary level to identify and adjust to the needs of international students who, in the transition period of their studies in the Australian context, are forced to reassess their own cultural understanding of text ownership.

Differences between learning experiences facilitated in Western countries such as Australia and those experienced by international students in their respective countries have also been identified as possible causes of plagiarism amongst international students. For instance, Asian students' learning experiences are characterized by a heavy focus on memorization and respect for the scholarly word, which some scholars argue tends to translate into different conceptions of plagiarism. According to Maxwell et al. (2008), "This reverence for one's superiors extends to the written word, with many scholars from the past being revered in Asian societies. Asian students may see it as presumptuous to rephrase the work of a scholar" (p. 26). Hence, if a part of a text is not cited, the source of the text is assumed to be shared knowledge and therefore may not need to be explicitly stated (Maxwell et al., 2008). This tendency to view plagiarism as a cultural construct, however, has been challenged by scholars (Liu, 2005; Le Ha, 2006), who dispute the assumption that plagiarism is acceptable in the Asian academic context. Liu (2005), for instance, stated: "I am hesitant to endorse false assumptions based on inaccurate information because such assumptions often lead to cultural stereotyping, something that is detrimental to and as common in our profession as the practice of neglecting or negating cultural differences" (p. 235).

Although other studies have acknowledged that cultural differences in perceptions of knowledge and text ownership may exist, they have also highlighted that there are other more obvious causes of plagiarism among international students, the main one being that they are often EFL learners who are grappling with limited English language proficiency. Studies have also highlighted that another cause of plagiarism among students, both international and local, who enter the tertiary education system is not having an understanding of the Western academic referencing systems. Other pressures that have exacerbated this problem include time pressures, changes in assessment formats in favor of more written assessments, cultural and social adaptation issues, and high expectations from families (Song-Turner, 2008; Zobel & Hamilton, 2002).

Plagiarism, however, is not limited to international students. Maxwell et al. (2008), who surveyed 267 undergraduate students to determine their understanding of what constituted plagiarism, found that Asian students were not the only group who were confused about plagiarism. The study concluded that "both Western and Asian students have little understanding of many forms of plagiarism, and need specific instruction on what it is and how to avoid it" (p. 33). In light of such findings, plagiarism is a challenge that is not isolated to international students and hence anti-plagiarism policies do not need to be culturally specific but should target all students particularly those in the initial year of tertiary study (Maxwell et al., 2008; Song-Turner, 2008).

In an extensive study of Australian students' perceptions of what constituted plagiarism, Song-Turner (2008) concluded that very often it is a vague concept for many students; and that the longer the period of study in the Australian educational environment was, the closer the students' definition of plagiarism came to the Western view. However, the pressures of limited language proficiency among international students must be addressed. Measures to minimize plagiarism arising from students' limited language proficiency can be undertaken through EFL support, where EFL teachers assist in developing students' writing skills by paying particular attention to specific subskills such as learning how to paraphrase, synthesize, and summarize source texts (Carroll as cited in James et al., 2002).

Measures to counter plagiarism at the university level in Australia have become more proactive, particularly by identifying the need for education, training, prevention, and consistency in responses to academic dishonesty. In addition to whole-university policies and initiatives, other projects have been conducted in which academics from various universities across Australia have collaborated in order to identify measures to combat plagiarism. Such projects include the work commissioned by the Australian Universities Teaching Committee (AUTC), which conducted research and designed practical resources and strategies for assessment that could be implemented by academics in Australian universities (James et al., 2002).

Among strategies to improve assessment procedures in the tertiary sector, specific measures that universities could undertake to minimize plagiarism were outlined in this project (James et al., 2002). These measures were summarized in the form of four overarching strategies to combat plagiarism. These were developing a collaborative approach at all levels of the university; ensuring that students are explicitly taught about what constitutes plagiarism in its various forms and academic referencing norms; ensuring that assessment material is developed in a manner that reduces students' capacity to plagiarize; and ensuring that consequences, particularly punishments, for plagiarism are made clear to students (James et al., 2002, p. 37). This project also extensively documented tangible strategies, such as a 36-point plan for teachers to adopt to minimize plagiarism.

More recently, Devlin (2006), who was one of the researchers commissioned by the AUTC to conduct this invaluable project, reported on the implementation of these approaches in the context of the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne. The numerous tangible measures implemented by this university included but were not limited to the redefinition of plagiarism through the use of clearer unambiguous terminology; the distribution of hard copies of the university's anti-plagiarism policy to university students; and the facilitation of teacher-oriented workshops that developed awareness of assessment strategies to minimize plagiarism (Devlin, 2006).

To conclude, although plagiarism by international students has been attributed by numerous researchers to confusion based on its cultural relativity, other researchers in the Australian context have identified this as one of a range of other more pertinent factors leading to plagiarism. Australian-based studies exploring students' understanding of Western referencing procedures have identified a lack of awareness among both international students and local students in their initial period of tertiary study, which needs to be addressed. More recent strategies aimed at addressing plagiarism have advocated a multilevel university approach that is "educative" and preventative (Devlin, 2006) and one that is not aimed solely at exposing and penalizing plagiarists. In developing anti-plagiarism policies, there needs to be less focus on the cultural relativity of plagiarism, and more attention needs to be paid to ensuring that these proactive and multilevel components are incorporated.


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education abroad. English Language Teaching Journal 59 (3), 226-233

Zobel, J., & Hamilton, M. (2002). Managing student plagiarism in large academic departments. Australian University Review, 45(2), 29-45.

Plagiarism, Culture, and Ethics

Susan G. Coakley, University of Delaware English Language Institute,

The United States is the country of freedom, but not in the area of using words or ideas of others. Many international students are not fully aware of this strong prohibition in society as well as in the law.

At the University of Delaware's English Language Institute (ELI), we have been trying to deal with the issues of plagiarism as well as academic dishonesty for the past 10 years, especially within the past 2 years, as our Conditional Acceptance Programs have seen dramatic increases in popularity and enrollment. In this program, students apply and are accepted at the university from their home country, and then they come to improve their English enough to attend the university. They don't have to take the TOEFL test; they just have to pass our academic classes with excellent grades. Next year we expect to send hundreds of graduates to the University of Delaware at both undergraduate and graduate levels through the Conditional Acceptance Program. This trend has led us to focus on teaching students about plagiarism and how to avoid it.

Plagiarism is a term that is used in different ways by different institutions. At the University of Delaware, the Academic Dishonesty Policy includes three different aspects of academic dishonesty that could be called plagiarism: plagiarism, fabrication, and cheating. Both fabrication and cheating state or imply intent to deceive, but plagiarism implies only incorrect or incomplete acknowledgment of sources (UD Student Guide, 2009). All three are considered dishonest behavior. The ELI, in an effort to allow for teaching and learning about appropriate use of sources, considers cheating ("handing in work or papers written by someone else") and intentional plagiarism ("stealing another person's idea or illustration and using it as one's own without giving credit to the original author or source; copying paragraphs directly from an article or book or web to use in an essay without giving credit to the original author") as serious dishonesty. However, it allows for "minor or inadvertent plagiarism," which should lead to more teaching and learning, rather than to punishment ("Academic Dishonesty Policy," 2009). This not-quite-coherent description of plagiarism and academic dishonesty illustrates how complex the topic is.

Although Internet access may not be causing more plagiarism, as noted by Scanlon and Neumann (2002), at the very least it makes copying much easier than in the past. In other words, if students are not prepared for extensive paraphrasing and close attention to detail with writing, it is easy to copy and paste. When thinking about plagiarism, we must remember all the factors, including personal, situational, and cultural, as described by Chen and Ku (2008). Pecorari (2003) shed some light on the issue by distinguishing among four possible reasons for inappropriate use of sources: "intentional deception" (cheating), "cultural differences" (not knowing what is appropriate), "patchwriting" (copying a phrase here and another phrase there to make up a paragraph), and writers' priorities (not making avoiding plagiarism a top priority). Although Pecorari argued that her subjects were not using the first type of dishonesty, and probably not the second type, at the University of Delaware's ELI, we have seen deception, along with patchwriting and misplaced priorities, and we have assumed a certain amount of cultural misunderstanding. However, I would like to clarify these features a little by asserting that intentional deception, patchwriting, and different priorities can all be caused by two different factors that we have observed in our students: (a) an insufficient awareness of the importance of using sources appropriately in English academic writing (perhaps a cultural difference) and (b) an insufficient proficiency or skill in using sources.

Pecorari's conclusion that her students had other concerns that outweighed concern about plagiarism seems to fit in with the above factors. University students at any level, especially those studying in a nonnative language, have many kinds of pressure and concerns. If they don't have a very strong, internalized conception of the importance of avoiding plagiarism, or if they don't have the skills to avoid plagiarism at the level of writing they are attempting, it's easy to see how they could end up using patchwriting, or using copied material, or not keeping track of sources. In fact, when addressing instances of misuse of sources with my own students, I have often heard the following explanations: "I just didn't have enough time to check all the quotations" or "I just couldn't find the article again where I got this quotation." Even students who handed in other students' papers, who knew they were "cheating," cited concerns of time and inability to complete the assignment.

In the fall of 2008, 100 students enrolled in advanced levels of English instruction at the University of Delaware ELI were surveyed about how much they know about plagiarism and how important it is, both in their countries and in the United States. Students were from Korea (32), China (25), Turkey (15), Saudi Arabia (5), Japan (4), Taiwan (4), and other countries (15).

The first question simply asked students how much they knew about plagiarism: quite a bit, something, or nothing. The results showed that, overall, more than half said they knew something about plagiarism; over one third said they knew quite a bit. Only 4 percent said they knew nothing.

The second question asked how important plagiarism is in the student's native country. Figure 1 shows the results from the six countries with the most respondents. Forty percent of students surveyed said that plagiarism was very important in universities in their country, 44 percent said it was important, and 16 percent said it was not important. These results were somewhat surprising, considering that we as a faculty had assumed that students didn't know about plagiarism or hadn't been told of its importance. According to our survey, most international students know something about plagiarism, and universities in other countries are not neglecting this aspect of academic work.

The third question asked about the importance of plagiarism in the United States. In this question, 89 percent of respondents said it was very important, 10 percent said important, and only 1 student said it was not important.

Figure 1. "How important is plagiarism in universities in your country?"


Very important


Not important

Turkey (N = 15)




Japan (N = 4)




China (N = 21)




Korea (N = 32)




Saudi Arabia (N = 5)




Taiwan (N = 4)




Figure 2. " How important is plagiarism in the U.S.?"


Very important


Not important

Saudi Arabia
























So, even though there are varied responses from different countries about the importance of plagiarism in their countries, no countries had more than 25 percent of students saying plagiarism was not important, and at least 75 percent of students from all of our six major countries believed that plagiarism is very important in the United States.

These results would seem to show that students are aware of the importance of avoiding plagiarism. And even though avoiding plagiarism may be more important in the United States than in some other countries, a strong majority of students are aware of this fact.

However, this survey was very short and very general. It only asked students about their opinions. It didn't assess their work or test the accuracy of their perceptions. Thus, it is very possible, even likely, that students are not sufficiently aware of the importance of exerting their maximum effort in order to avoid plagiarism. It is also possible, even likely, that many or most don't have the necessary skills to use sources appropriately in every assignment. So, even though most students believed that plagiarism is important to avoid, many of them do, at one time or another, use sources inappropriately even after studying and practicing. Although they know intellectually that the matter is important, they have many other concerns and priorities, and they may not have the proficiency in writing to complete their assignments fully and appropriately.

The ELI at the University of Delaware has two English for Academic Purposes classes that prepare students to enter an American university or college. They are at our highest levels, level V and level VI. These courses, which have exploded in enrollment in recent years, have as their goal the preparation of students to attend university degree programs. This is not a new trend in international education, but it has taken off recently.

Because of the rapid increase in conditionally accepted students (CAP students), and because of the importance to these students of good grades, cheating and plagiarism have become much more of an issue than in the past. The university has a strict policy in place, but ELI students aren't judged by this policy. The ELI has introduced its own policy, with the philosophy that students will make mistakes, so mistaken plagiarism should merit another chance. (See the discussion above about "cheating" and "intentional plagiarism" as opposed to "minor or inadvertent plagiarism.") This policy is more lenient than the university policy, but it is meant to let students know the seriousness of this issue. The first instance of plagiarism merits a warning, unless it is blatant and purposefully committed. The second instance results in a failing grade for the assignment or the requirement to repeat the work. The second offense also results in the reporting of the student to the appropriate committee, which keeps track of multiple offenders across semesters. The third offense can result in failure of the course or in dismissal from the program.

The kinds of behaviors that we have seen run the gamut from submitting papers previously written by others to awkward paraphrasing. Many students struggle with paraphrasing and end up either quoting too much or doing patchwriting. Teaching students how to paraphrase correctly and then giving them enough time to practice before being assessed is a real challenge in an intensive program. Judging between error and fraud is also difficult, but this is a challenge that we share with all teachers. Just as international students don't automatically know how to follow English writing conventions and how important they are, they have the same diversity of concerns and priorities that may lead them to do less than their best work. Correcting the honest mistakes while implementing consequences for behavior that goes over the line of acceptability is the most difficult challenge we all face.

One year later, we revised the policy once again: The Academic Dishonesty Policy of the University of Delaware ELI didn't distinguish between serious cheating and inappropriate use of sources. New teachers pointed out that there was no policy for intentional plagiarism and cheating. More senior teachers had not been using the official policy in cases of unintentional plagiarism but had been using a stricter, unofficial policy of giving zeros for deliberately copied or falsified work. There is some diversity among the faculty as to whether unacceptable work may be made up for a lower grade, such as 50 percent. The policy has been revised to include giving a grade of zero and reporting to the Student Conduct Committee for a first offense of unacceptable behavior copying at least a paragraph with intent to defraud. We are attempting to give clear and consistent standards for academic behavior. Both Scanlon and Neumann (2002) and Chen and Ku (2008) showed that students plagiarize less when they believe that consequences are severe and consistent.

In order to balance the renewed commitment we are bringing to consistent consequences, we are attempting to bring to the discussion a unified framework for teaching about plagiarism such as presented by Ursula McGowan (2008) at the University of Adelaide, Australia. The framework, which outlines what should be taught and required at each level of instruction, gives teachers tools to start teaching about documentation in lower instructional levels and gradually requires more sophisticated types such as APA or MLA. This piece has been missing from our institute, as we have discovered during our rapid growth from a small (25 teachers) to a large (50 teachers) institution. Thus students will have a consistent message about what to do, how to do it, and why plagiarism needs to be avoided in English academic writing. Hopefully this will help students develop the awareness as well as the skills that they need in order to consistently use their sources appropriately.

Clear instruction and clear yet forgiving standards are necessary. Clear and explicit teaching of paraphrasing, along with plentiful practice, will help students accept and eventually master the art of academic writing. Students need time to internalize the new standards. They need time to develop the language skills and cultural insights and the attitudes that will allow them to follow the conventions and that will prevent them, most of the time, from disregarding these conventions that are so integral a part of English academic writing.


Academic Dishonesty Policy. (2009). ELI Faculty Handbook. Retrieved from

Chen, T., & Ku, N. K. (2008). EFL students: Factors contributing to online plagiarism. In T. S. Roberts (Ed.), Student plagiarism in an online world (pp. 77-91). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

McGowan, U. (2008). International students: a conceptual framework for dealing with unintentional plagiarism. In T. S. Roberts (Ed.), Student plagiarism in an online world (pp. 92-107). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

Pecorari, D. (2003). Good and original: Plagiarism and patchwriting in academic second-language writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 12, 317-345. Retrieved from Science Direct Database, University of Delaware Library.

Scanlon, P. M., & Neumann, D. R. (2002). Internet plagiarism among college students. Journal of College Student Development, 43 (3), 374-385. Retrieved from

UD Student Guide to University Policies: Code of Conduct. (2009). Retrieved from