Tag Archives: ethics

Overcoming Plagiarism in an ESL Context

Academic dishonesty in the form of plagiarism is a common occurrence in academia. Generally, most students know that cheating is inappropriate on exams and what they are really doing is hoping that they are not caught.

However, plagiarism is much more sticky and subjective offense for many students. This holds especially true for ESL students. Writing in a second language is difficult for everybody regardless of one’s background. As such, students often succumb to the temptation of plagiarism to complete writing assignments.

Many ideas are being used to reduce plagiarism. Software like turnitin do work but they lead to an environment of mistrust and an arms race between students and teachers. Other measures should be considered for dealing with plagiarism.

This post will explain how seeing writing from the perspective of a process rather than a product can reduce the chances of plagiarism in the ESL context.

 Writing as a Product

In writing pedagogy, the two most common views on writing are writing as a product and writing as a process. Product writing views writing as the submission of a writing assignment that meets a certain standard is grammatically near perfection, and highly structured. Students are given examples of excellence and are expected to emulate them.

Holding to this view is fine but it can contribute to plagiarism in many ways.

  • Students cannot meet the expectation of grammatical perfection. This encourages them to copy excellently written English from Google into their papers.
  • Focus on grammar leads to over-correction of the final paper. The overwhelming red pen marks from the teacher on the paper can stifle a desire for students to write in fear of additional correction.
  • The teacher often provides little guidance beyond providing examples. Without daily, constant feedback, students have no idea what to do and rely on Google.
  • People who write in a second language often struggle to structure their thoughts because we all think much shallower in a second language with reduced vocabulary. Therefore, an ESL paper is always messier because of the difficulty of executing complex cognitive processes in a second language.

These pressures mentioned above can contribute to a negative classroom environment in which students do not really want to write but survive a course however it takes. For native-speakers, this works but is really hard for ESL students to have success.

Writing as a Process

The other view of writing is writing as a process. This approach sees writing as the teacher providing constant one-on-one guidance through the writing process. Students begin to learn how they write and develop an understanding of the advantages of rewriting and revisions. Teacher and peer feedback are utilized throughout the various drafts of the paper.

The view of writing as a product has the following advantages for avoiding plagiarism

  • Grammar is slowly fixed over time through feedback from the teacher. This allows the students to make corrections before the final submission.
  • Any instances of plagiarism can be caught before final submission. Many teachers do not give credit for rough drafts. Therefore, plagiarism in a rough draft normally does not affect the final grade.
  • The teacher can coach the students on how to reword plagiarize statements and also how to give appropriate credit through using APA.
  • The de-emphasis on perfection allows the student to grow and mature as a writer on the constant support of the teacher and peers.
  • Guiding the students thought process is especially critically across cultures as communication style vary widely across the world. Learning to write for a Western academic audience requires training in how Western academics think and communicate. This cannot be picked up alone and is another reason why plagiarism is useful because the stole idea is communicated appropriately.

In a writing as a process environment, the students and teacher work together to develop papers that meet standards in the students own words. It takes much more time and effort but it can reduce the temptation of just copying from whatever Google offers.


Grammar plays a role in writing but the shaping of ideas and their communication is of upmost concern for many in TESOL. The analogy I use is that grammar is like the paint on the walls of a house or the tile on the floor. It makes the house look nice but is not absolutely necessary. The ideas and thoughts of a paper are like the foundation, walls, and roof. Nobody wants to live in a house that lacks tile or is not painted but you cannot live in a house that does not have walls and a roof.

The stress on native-like communication stresses out ESL students to the point of not even trying to write at times. With a change in view on the writing experience from product to process this can be alleviated. We should only ask our students to do what we are able to do. If we cannot write in a second language in a fluent manner how can we ask them?

Academic Dishonesty and Cultural Difference

Academic dishonesty, which includes plagiarism and cheating, are problems that most teachers have dealt with in their career. Students sometimes succumb to the temptation of finding ways to excel or just survive a course by doing things that are highly questionable. This post will attempt to deal with some of the issues related to academic dishonesty. In particular, we will look at how perceptions of academic dishonesty vary across contexts.

Cultural Variation

This may be frustrating to many but there is little agreement in terms of what academic dishonesty is once one leaves their own cultural context. In the West, people often believe that a person can create and “own” an idea, that people should “know” their stuff, and that “credit” should be giving one using other people’s ideas. These foundational assumptions shape how teachers and students view using others ideas and using the answers of friends to complete assignments

However, in other cultures there is more of an “ends justifies the means” approach. This manifests itself in using ideas without giving credit because ideas belong to nobody and having friends “help” you to complete an assignment or quiz because they know the answer and you do not if the situation was different you would give them the answer. Therefore, in many contexts doesn’t matter how the assignment or quiz is completed as long as it is done.

This has a parallel in many situations. If you are working on a project for your boss and got stuck. Would it be deceptive to ask for help from a colleague to get the project done? Most of us have done this at one time or another. The problem is that this is almost always frowned upon during an assignment or assessment in the world of academics.

The purpose here is not to judge one side or the other but rather to allow people to identify the assumptions they have about academic dishonesty so that they avoid jumping to conclusions when confronted with this by people who are not from the same part of the world like them.

Our views on academic dishonesty are shaped in the context we grow up in

Clear Communication

One way to deal with the misunderstandings of academic dishonesty across cultures is for the teacher to clearly define what academic dishonesty is to them. This means providing examples explaining how this violates the norms of academia. In the context of academia, academic dishonesty in the forms of cheating and plagiarism is completely unacceptable.

One strategy that I have used to explain academic dishonesty is to compare academic dishonesty to something that is totally culturally repulsive locally. For example, I have compared plagiarism to wearing your shoes in someone’s house in Asia (a major no-no in most parts). Students never understand what plagiarism is when defined in isolation abstractly (or so they say). However, when plagiarism is compared to wearing your shoes in someone’s house, they begin to see how much academics hate this behavior. They also realize how they need to adjust their behavior for the context they are in.

By presenting a cultural argument against plagiarism and cheating rather than a moral one, students are able to understand how in the context of school this is not acceptable. Outside of school, there are normally different norms of acceptable behavior.


The steps to take with people who share the same background are naturally different from the suggestion provided here. The primary point to remember is that academic dishonesty is not seen the same way by everyone. This requires that the teacher communicate what they mean when referring to this and to provide a relevant example of academic dishonesty so the students can understand.