ESL: Academic Integrity & Plagiarism

From ESL Instructional Resources by Young-Kyung Min, PhD


Faculty should keep in mind that most ESL students, especially undergraduate students, are not familiar with US conventions for using sources in academic writing. In some cultures, students are not required to cite sources when they write papers. Many ESL students do not know that they commit “plagiarism” when they borrow someone else’s ideas or words without acknowledging the sources. They have never heard of the notion of “plagiarism” before coming to the US. So, when they are called in by their professors because they committed “plagiarism” in their papers, they may feel genuinely confused about what they have done wrong.

Most ESL students have very limited experience with academic writing; the genres of English texts that most international students have written before coming to the US are limited to timed-essay tests such as the TOEFL, GRE, GMAT, etc. They have been trained to write for standardized English tests based on the grammar correction model of writing instruction that focuses on guiding students to identify grammatical errors. Thus, many of them are not familiar with source use and synthesis skills. They do not know how to integrate sources into papers simply because they did not learn how to summarize, paraphrase, and quote sources to strengthen their arguments in their papers. Often times, they do not know when to paraphrase and when to quote and cannot tell the difference between a summary and a paraphrase.

Therefore, first of all, it is crucial to improve students’ understanding about what constitutes an act of plagiarism. One of the easiest ways to guide students’ understanding of plagiarism is to ask them to take a self-test such as the ones offered here ( and here ( This kind of self-test can help students become more aware of plagiarism issues.

Second, it is essential to enhance students’ ability to use and integrate sources in their papers. Some useful strategies students can use to summarize, quote, and paraphrase sources are explained in the Source Use and Synthesis Skills section of the ESL Student Handbook. One of the main problems that students have in quoting is the “dropped quotation,” a quotation that is left alone without being fully integrated into the paper. It is also known as a “dangling quotation” since it is dangling (separated) from the point of the writer’s discussion without being fully integrated into the text. Practical strategies that students can use to integrate quotes into their writing are explained in the Dropped Quotation section of the ESL Student Handbook.

It is imperative that faculty think about how to integrate source use and synthesis skills training in their pedagogical practices. One practical strategy that can help ESL students enhance their source use and synthesis skills is to utilize peer review sessions in class. The peer review session that is discussed here is an instructor-led peer review, which is different from a typical peer review. First, in small groups, students examine both rhetorical and grammatical aspects of academic writing. Then, faculty should ask students to focus on the source use and synthesis aspects of their writing and identify the strengths and weaknesses of the ways their sources are used in each other’s work.

After that, faculty provide students with a source use and synthesis worksheet—designed based on students’ actual errors of paraphrasing, summarizing, and quoting—and ask students to correct these errors with their partners. Then, faculty ask students to find similar errors in their own papers, correct them, and document them in their error logs. Students should revisit their error logs when they write up their final portfolio at the end of the quarter.

This kind of hands-on approach can help students better understand the fundamental connection between reading and writing as well as the significance of improving their source use and synthesis abilities in strengthening their own arguments. Also useful are textbooks to enhance students’ ability to use sources in their papers such as They Say, I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing (2014) written by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein and Working with Sources: Exercises for A Writer’s Reference (2011) written by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers. A series of ESL workshops will be held each year, and faculty should encourage their students to attend a workshop on source use and synthesis skills. 

Min, Y. K. (work in progress). Teaching ESL students: Guidelines for inclusive pedagogical practices.


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 Young-Kyung Min, PhD

Education Program