The boundaries of cheating and plagiarism
  • February 18, 2019

The boundaries of cheating and plagiarism

Students are under pressure. Students’ and parents’ expectations of university; the balancing of social and academic life; the fear of not achieving their expected grades, and the potential impact of that on their future employment prospects are all factors that can lead to students seeking uncharacteristic pathways to survive and succeed. The attraction of “cheating” should not be underestimated.

Alterline recently conducted a study, in partnership with 11 university library teams across the UK, to understand the information and digital literacy of undergraduates. The new evidence and insights from this study are being used by the libraries to support their students in the development of skills and learning around digital and information literacy, to improve student outcomes, and to prepare them for life after university

Our research identified that a large minority of students (24%) did not feel prepared for study when they were starting university. When preparing for an assignment or coursework, many students didn’t allow enough time for critical tasks such as referencing and searching for information.

“My skills at writing essays were not good. I had absolutely no idea how to reference my work and how to find sources, so I would say I was not very prepared.”

There are many contributing factors which can push students towards cheating and plagiaristic behaviours, for example: helping another student who is feeling overwhelmed by sharing assignments with them; not taking accurate notes in lectures and when researching; not leaving enough time to go back and check sources to reference accurately.

In our study  78% of students had shared answers with their course mates and 24% had copy and pasted text without referencing it.

One student shared their approach to searching for information, apparently without any concerns about possible academic misconduct.

What’s your first step when searching for information for an assignment/assessment? ………. ‘Google it’

What do you do next? Why? ……….‘Copy the work’

And then what do you do? Why?……….‘Paste the work. Because it’s a lot easier than doing it myself.’

Any tips, tricks, ‘life hacks’ and shortcuts for finding and using information?………..‘My tips and tricks just consist of copy and paste, and a lot of blagging to get the word count up.’

22% of students have asked somebody else to complete their assignment and 14% told us they had paid somebody else to complete one. Essay-mill companies are using increasingly creative ways to target students, providing more opportunities for cheating and potentially compromising the reputation and value of higher education.

Nearly two-fifths of students (38%) in our study admitted they would be too embarrassed to ask for help with their studies and we found that students expecting lower grades, who may be most in need of support, are more likely to be embarrassed about asking for it.

With increasing focus on the issue of cheating and plagiarism (University bosses call for ban on essay-writing companies) we are launching a new collaborative research project  Supporting students away from cheating and plagiaristic behaviours’  which will provide the intelligence and insight to better understand the reasons and motivations behind students cheating and develop recommendations and actions to help universities support students away from such behaviour. You can read more about our new project here.

If you’d like to find out more about more about this project and Alterline’s other work with university teams please contact Neesha Patel on 0161 503 5760 or email on