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Promote authorship – prevent plagiarism James Elander Collaborators and acknowledgements. Gail Pittam, Anglia Ruskin University Jo Lusher, London Metropolitan University Pauline Fox, Thames Valley University Nicky Payne, Middlesex University

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collaborators and acknowledgements
Collaborators and acknowledgements

Gail Pittam, Anglia Ruskin University

Jo Lusher, London Metropolitan University

Pauline Fox, Thames Valley University

Nicky Payne, Middlesex University

Katherine Harrington and Frank Su, Write Now CETL

HEA Psychology Network Departmental Teaching Enhancement Fund grant

authorial identity
Authorial identity

‘The sense a writer has of themselves as an author, and the textual identity they construct in their writing’

(Pittam et al., in press; see also Abasi et al., 2006)

psychology students views
Psychology students’ views

‘It seems a bit grand to describe yourself as an author ... it’s just not a word that I would associate with myself so much unless I wrote a book. I just thought of myself as a student writing an essay’ (First year undergraduate)

assignments and authorial identity
Assignments and authorial identity

‘… we don’t feel we are [authors] most of the time, because we’re all writing the same essay …’ (Second year undergraduate)

‘Now I’m starting to think that we are authors ... it might be since we’ve started doing projects as well, because it feels like it is your own work …’ (Second year undergraduate)

other obstacles to authorial identity
Other obstacles to authorial identity

‘I understand that we need backup from some scientific research ... but still I can’t help thinking that I am editing everything, not putting my idea or opinion ... or something new’ (Second year undergraduate)

‘… if we create something, really create something which is a really good thing, we tend to get less marks than editing something from others’ work. So it’s confusing to me, what do markers, lecturers, want us to do, be an author or be an editor?’ (Second year undergraduate)

student authorship questionnaire 17 items 6 scales
Student Authorship Questionnaire 17 items, 6 scales

Scale 1: Confidence in Writing

‘I enjoy writing in my own words’

‘I am confident that when I write ... it will look impressive’

Scale 2: Understanding authorship

‘I know what it means to be the author…’

‘I know the responsibilities of the author…’

Scale 3: Knowledge to avoid plagiarism

‘I know how to provide references …’

‘I know how to show which parts were not written by me…’

more sample items
More sample items

Scale 4: Top-down approach to writing

‘I begin by thinking about what I want to say…’

‘Writing an assignment is all about making an argument…’

Scale 5: Bottom-up approach to writing (lower = better)

‘Writing an assignment is all about finding material…’

‘I begin by looking for material I can include…’

Scale 6: Pragmatic approach to writing (lower = better)

‘I don’t have time to put everything in my own words…’

‘I get better marks when I use more material from books…’

year of study differences
Year of study differences

(Pittam et al., in press)

flexible intervention with 5 elements
Flexible intervention with 5 elements
  • Definitions and explanations
  • ‘Authorial decisions’
  • Examples of student writing
  • High profile cases of alleged plagiarism
  • Authorial identity and different assignments

(materials available at

1 definitions and explanations
1. Definitions and explanations

Author: “The person who creates a written work, such as a book, story, article or the like…” (

Authorship: “an explicit way of assigning responsibility and giving credit for intellectual work”. (


2. ‘Authorial decisions’

  • What the message is
  • What secondary material to use
  • How much importance or emphasis to put on different parts
  • How to interpret the material
  • What words to use to express the ideas
  • What conclusions to reach
a piece of journalistic style writing
A piece of journalistic-style writing

Eating disorders show how the culture of an affluent society can damage the health of its most vulnerable members. In western countries life is very stressful, almost everyone is dissatisfied with their body, and there is an epidemic of dieting. When emotionally vulnerable people try to get some control over their lives, the result can be anorexia or bulimia, which were once rare disorders but are now increasingly common. Psychological theory can explain what is going on in people’s minds, but the problem won’t go away until there is a change in western values and culture.

what did that author decide
What did that author decide?

To announce the conclusions right at the beginning of the piece

To adopt a very bold style

To place emphasis on cultural factors

To present some bald statements without evidence

To use certain words and phrases -

…epidemic of dieting…

…emotionally vulnerable people…

…going on in people’s minds…

a piece of psychology writing
A piece of psychology writing

Eating disorders make up a relatively new category of psychological disorders, and reflect the fact that psychological or emotional problems can manifest themselves as severe disturbances in eating behaviour. The most prevalent of these disorders are anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN). These are normally considered as separate disorders, although both are associated with an obsessive fear of gaining weight and the individual’s dissatisfaction with their own body shape (as compared, for example, with media projected ideal images of body shapes). Prior to the 1960s, both AN and BN were relatively rare disorders, but have since become considerably more prevalent in western societies.

(From Davey, 2004, Complete Psychology, p. 586)

what did that author decide1
What did that author decide?

To begin in a much more measured way

To use a more cautious style

Not to reach such a strong conclusion

To focus more on psychological factors

To use more moderate words and phrases –

…considerably more prevalent…

…psychological or emotional problems can manifest themselves as…

…both associated with…

part 3 examples of student writing
Part 3. Examples of student writing

“Bulimia patients typically binge when they encounter stress and experience negative affect. Patients with bulimia nervosa are low in self-esteem” (Garner, Olmstead & Polivy, 1983, p. 1). “Many young women with an eating disorder come from families that demand ‘perfection’ and extreme self-control but do not allow expressions of warmth or conflict” (Rosman & Baker, 1978, p. 1). “With regard to bulimia, there may be a deficiency in the neurotransmitter serotin, which plays a role in both mood regulation and appetite” (Hilgard’s Introduction to Psychology, p. 1).


another example an improvement
Another example: an improvement?

Bulimia has been associated with stress and negative emotional states, and Garner et al (1983) claimed that many patients with bulimia have low self-esteem. Family factors may also be important, especially in terms of the demands they may place on young women and the opportunities they provide for expressing emotions. For example, demanding perfection and self control, but not allowing expressions of warmth or conflict, were said to characterise the families of many young women with eating disorders (Rosman & Baker, 1978). There is also evidence that neurophysiological factors are important mechanisms in the development of eating disorders. For example, deficiencies in serotonin, which regulates both mood and appetite, may be part of the cause of bulimia (Hilgard, 1999).

part 4 cases of alleged plagiarism
Part 4. Cases of alleged plagiarism

Dan Brown accused of plagiarising a previous book in The Da Vinci Code

Tony Blair’s ‘Dodgy Dossier’ on Iraq’s WMD

The plagiarism expert

The case of Raj Persaud


From the government’s dossier

Saddam appointed Sabir 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Duri as head during the 1991 Gulf War. After the Gulf War he was replaced by Wafiq Jasim al-Samarrai. After Samarrai, Muhammad Nimah al-Tikriti headed Al-Istikhbarat al-Askariyya in early 1992 then in late 1992 Fanar Zibin Hassan al-Tikriti was appointed to this post. These shifting appointments are part of Saddam's policy of balancing security positions. By constantly shifting the directors of these agencies, no one can establish a base in a security organisation for a substantial period of time. No one becomes powerful enough to challenge the President.

(Government dossier, page 13, published Jan 2003)


From a previous PhD thesis

Saddam appointed Sabir ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Duri(80) as head of Military Intelligence during the 1991 Gulf War.(81) After the Gulf War he was replaced by Wafiq Jasim al-Samarrai.(82) After Samarrai, Muhammad Nimah al-Tikriti(83) headed Military Intelligence in early 1992(84) then in late 1992 Fanar Zibin Hassan al-Tikriti was appointed to this post.(85) While Fanar is from Tikrit, both Sabir al-Duri and Samarrai are non-Tikriti Sunni Muslims, as their last names suggest. Another source indicates that Samarrai was replaced by Khalid Salih al-Juburi,(86) demonstrating how another non-Tikriti, but from the tribal alliance that traditionally support the regime holds top security positions in Iraq.(87) These shifting appointments are part of Saddam’s policy of balancing security positions between Tikritis and non-Tikritis, in the belief that the two factions would not unite to overthrow him. Not only that, but by constantly shifting the directors of these agencies, no one can establish a base in a security organization for a substantial period of time, that would challenge the President.(88)

(al-Marashi document: Section: "MILITARY INTELLIGENCE”, published Sept 2002)

raj persaud s explanation
Raj Persaud’s explanation

‘I am happy to apologise for this error, which occurred whereby when I cut and pasted the original copy, the references at the end were inadvertently omitted. We only became aware of the error after publication’

‘He [Persaud] said he didn’t see the final version before it goes to press, and said the subeditors must have taken out the quotation marks and citation at the bottom’

(Guardian, 7-11-05)

the verdict
The verdict

‘[Persaud] admitted plagiarism but denied claims he had been dishonest …’ (Guardian, 20-6-08)

‘He [Persaud] told the GMC: “I realise I should have been much more careful when I started writing the book. At the time, given the stress I was under, given the deadlines and my other work, I thought I was adequately attributing work”’ (Times, 21-6-08)

“[Persaud] brought his profession into disrepute by cutting and pasting experts’ papers into his articles and a book, the General Medical Council found yesterday” (Guardian, 20-6-08)

5 authorial identity and student assignments
5. Authorial identity and student assignments
  • Essays
  • Critical reviews
  • Problem-based assignments
  • Dissertations
  • Authorial checklist on completing assignments

Before-and-after evaluation: 279 students

175 (63%) London Metropolitan University

61 (22%) Thames Valley University

43 (15%) Middlesex University

111 (40%) 1st year

71 (25%) 2nd year

75 (27%) 3rd year

22 (8%) MSc

  • Delivered in:
  • Lectures & small groups
  • Focusing on:
  • Essays
  • Reviews
  • Research project reports
the session on authorship helped me to
‘The session on authorship helped me to …’

‘… understand how to avoid plagiarism’

86% agree/strongly agree

‘… write better psychology assignments’

66% agree/strongly agree

‘… not need advice or support about writing…’

52% agree/strongly agree

‘… enjoy writing psychology assignments’ 39% agree/strongly agree

But …
  • No reduction in numbers referred to disciplinary panels for plagiarism
  • And only non-significant reductions in lecturers’ perceptions of students’ plagiarism-related behaviours
some conclusions
Some conclusions
  • Plagiarism prevention should be linked with positive support for student writing
  • Some evidence of improvements in authorial identity – most among first year students
  • But no apparent impact on serious cases of plagiarism
  • More research needed on authorial identity
  • This approach could be adapted for other disciplines?

Abasi, A.R., Akbari, N. & Graves, B. (2006). Discourse appropriation, construction of identities, and the complex issue of plagiarism: ESL students writing in graduate school. Journal of Second Language Writing, 15 (2), 102-117.

Elander, J., Pittam, G., Lusher, J., Fox, P. & Payne, N. (in press). Evaluation of an intervention to help students avoid unintentional plagiarism by improving their authorial identity. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.

Pittam, G., Elander, J., Lusher, J., Fox, P. & Payne, N. (in press). Student beliefs and attitudes about authorial identity in academic writing. Studies in Higher Education.

Project web site: