UK universities are suffering from a ‘plagiarism epidemic’ (Young-Powell, 2017), with a Times investigation finding that almost 50,000 students were caught cheating in a three-year period! This infectious spread of plagiarism is on the rise as the ‘number of students caught cheating at the UK’s top universities has shot up by a third in three years’ (Young-Powell, 2017).

What is causing this ‘plagiarism epidemic’?

Jessica Johnson, a student The Guardian reported on, was accused of plagiarising an essay. But Jessica didn’t set out to plagiarise; she had simply not taken notes properly and had failed to reference: ‘I was completely shocked because I hadn’t realised I’d done it’ (Young-Powell, 2017).

Whilst plagiarism is commonly associated with shady essay mills and the all too easy act of copying and pasting, many students plagiarise unintentionally through poor academic practice.

Students are arriving at university not knowing how to write proper academic references and having not developed good notetaking practices at secondary level. They are met with the alien language of referencing, which plagiarism expert Wendy Sutherland-Smith describes as ‘rather a strange thing to come to grips with’ (Young-Powell, 2017).

How can school librarians fight plagiarism?

As information literacy experts, librarians are especially suited to take the lead in educating students about plagiarism and promoting academic integrity. If this hasn’t been possible yet in your school, here are some suggestions of the key points to cover:

Making sure students understand what plagiarism is

Plagiarism is the act of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as your own (Bailey, 2018).

Students often fall into the plagiarism trap because they don’t properly understand what it is, so making sure they are clear on what plagiarism constitutes is the first simple step in preventing it. The main culprits:

  • Submitting someone else’s work as your own
  • Copying words, ideas, images, videos or music from someone without giving credit
  • Failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • Giving incorrect source information
  • Changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit

Talk about plagiarism

When students don’t fully understand plagiarism, they can think that using other sources to inform their work is cheating and something to hide. They need to be helped to understand that this isn’t the case and that referencing is in fact a way to strengthen their work.

Students can be deterred from asking questions about plagiarism because of its negative associations. They might even be scared by it. By being positive and proactive in talking about plagiarism it will help demystify it.

Using trusted sources

Online resources are invaluable for helping prevent plagiarism, with reference resources from publishers such as JSTOR, Gale and Infobase providing students with citation tools.

A referencing resource such as Cite them right, can also help students develop proper academic practice. Through interactive tutorials and citation instruction Cite them right helps equip students with the skills to reference any source type correctly and to avoid plagiarism with confidence. It’s also a very popular resource in universities.


Many university libguides now offer information for students on what plagiarism is and what students can do to prevent it.

Examples of helpful libguides include:

  • The University of Reading – their ‘Academic Integrity Toolkit’ covers what plagiarism is, how to avoid it and an online test to check students’ understanding.
  • The University of Cambridge – they provide tips on taking good notes, reporting, quoting, paraphrasing and summarising, as well as a quiz to test students’ plagiarism knowledge.

Collaboration is key!

None of the above is possible without collaboration between librarians and teachers.

Through combining librarians’ knowledge of research and information literacy with subject teaching, and integrating these skills into the curriculum, students will feel much more confident when they start at university.

An example of a great collaborative effort is that of Dr Julie Greenhough EPQ Coordinator and Emma Wallace, Librarian at St Benedict’s School, Ealing, in their guest blog.

Attending JCS 2019 to hear about practical initiatives from other librarians

This year’s JCS Conference, Digital Literacy in Schools: building capabilities, will feature lightning talks and workshops on important themes such as research skills and information literacy that lie at the heart of plagiarism.

Teacher-librarian, Susan Merrick will be delivering a talk on Building robust research skills and perseverance in secondary students (and beyond), which will cover how students can organise and manage their research and reference their sources properly. Dominique Collins, librarian and EPQ coordinator, will also look at online bibliography creators in her talk Challenges of teaching the skills programme to EPQ students.

Book your place, view the full programme and keynote’s and lightning speaker’s abstracts.


Referenced in this blog:

Young-Powell, Abby, “How serious is essay plagiarism?”, The Guardian, December 2017,, [Accessed: October 2019]

Bailey, Jonathan, “The Biggest Difference Between Plagiarism and Copyright”, Plagiarism Today, February 2018,, [Accessed: October 2019]