Top tips – designing out plagiarism

Plagiarism is a hot issue in education. Rather than just detecting it, there are ways to design your assessment so that it is difficult for students to plagiarise. Here are some ideas (mostly from other people so I hope I reference them correctly!)

1. Consider a change to the format of your assessment. Dr Liza Schuster from City University London has experimented with using individual wikis (using OU wiki on Moodle) for each student. Liza asked each student to write 300 words each week on the topic for that week under the following headings

Screen shot from Global Migration course

Screen shot from the wiki on the Global Migration course

Liza then went into the wiki weekly to look at a selection of student work to comment on. She reported that this meant that she was quick to identify any problems with student understanding, bad referencing and plagiarism.
The students had to put together a 3000 word essay from the weekly work in the wiki. Liza reported that the referencing and writing in the final submissions was of a better standard than when the assignment had purely been a 3000 word essay at the end of the course. The students reported that they preferred this approach as they were more confident they were on the right track and didn’t have a deadline that was the same for all their submissions.

2. Avoid using the same assignment title each year. I know, I know. As a teacher myself I know how much easier it is to mark the second and third year of using the same essay title. If you are loathe to make a big change, perhaps change the focus. Ask students to use the theories to explain a recent case study, for example. In this way, the structure of the marking remains the same but it is much harder for students to plagiarise.
(adapted from Culwin and Lancaster, 2001)

3. Ask students to make a brief presentation to the class based on their written assignments. This doesn’t have to be assessed but would help identify those that don’t understand what they’ve written or, worse, those that have bought their assignment from an essay bank
(adapted from Gibelman, Gelman and Fast, 1999)

4. The best way to design plagiarism out of a course is to teach students about good referencing in their first term of study. Don’t presume that students know how to do this effectively, even at Masters level. If you use a text matching tool e.g. turnitin, consider showing an example of a plagiarised script at the beginning of the course and show how turnitin picks it up. It may scare them into referencing properly if nothing else!

5. Come along to our designing out plagiarism workshop (if you work for the Schools of Arts and Social Sciences for City University London that is!). Click here to find our current workshop dates


Culwin, F. & Lancaster, T. (2001). Plagiarism, Prevention, Deterrence & Detection. Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, South Bank University, U.K.

Gibelman, M., Gelman, S. R., and Fast, J. (1999). The downside of cyberspace: Cheating made easy. Journal of Social Work Education 35 (3).