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Towards Consistency and Transparency in Academic Integrity

Edited By Salim Razı, Irene Glendinning and Tomáš Foltýnek

This book is an outcome of the 4th International Conference «Plagiarism across Europe and Beyond» organized by Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Mendel University in Brno, and the European Network for Academic Integrity. The conference is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships Programme of the European Union. It aims to be a forum for sharing best practices and experiences by addressing issues of academic integrity from a wide-scope global perspective. With regards to the crucial role of ethics and honesty in academic work, universities are in need of more effective policies against infringements of academic standards. The papers in this book therefore aim to contribute to the standardization of consistent and transparent approaches to issues of academic integrity from several perspectives.

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A Case Study of Plagiarism in Higher Education: Students’ Awareness, Information Sources, and Reasons (Elham Golzar Adabi / Dilek Pecenek / Markus Pissarek)

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Elham Golzar Adabi1, Dilek Pecenek2 & Markus Pissarek3

Ankara University, Turkey; Ankara University, Turkey; & Alpen Adria University of Klagenfurt, Austria

A Case Study of Plagiarism in Higher Education: Students’ Awareness, Information Sources, and Reasons

Abstract: The present study is a revised replication of a survey conducted in 2013 in Tabriz University-Iran and Ankara University-Turkey. The study consisted of three questionnaires applied to 170 higher education students from each university. The aims were to identify the participants’ overall knowledge about plagiarism, their sources of information, and reasons for committing plagiarism; participants’ comments were also included. The results of the current study revealed that though a majority of participants from Iran and Turkey knew that plagiarism is a serious offense, they lacked information about details like self-plagiarism, the consequences of plagiarism, and the policies of their universities. There were important differences in information sources between Iranian and Turkish participants. The results showed that due to internal and external factors, students still commit plagiarism. Participants’ comments highlighted that different types of plagiarism tend to occur. A comparison between the previous and current study revealed improvements in participants’ knowledge while Turkish participants were still ahead of Iranian participants.

Keywords: information sources, Iran, overall knowledge, plagiarism, reasons, Turkey

Introduction

Occluded genres are plagiarism, fabrication, deception, corruption, and sabotage, among which plagiarism is the most frequent (Mavrinac, Brumini, Bilić-Zulle, & Petrovečki, 2010). Carroll and Appleton (2001) noted that there are problems with different definitions of plagiarism in the literature. Some definitions are very extensive and outside our context, while others are very limited, some do not include a proper definition for common knowledge, and other definitions define plagiarism as a rather unpleasant and wrongful action without differentiating between intentional and unintentional plagiarism. There has always been debate ← 57 | 58 → between scholars who condemn any kind of academic dishonesty and those who believe that different cases of plagiarism must be treated differently, because they think some of them are inevitable (Gasparyan et al., 2017). Due to the complexities of plagiarism’s definition, causes and solutions (Thompson, 2006), a variety of factors have been defined as reasons for plagiarism (Norris, 2007). All these diversities have led universities and academic institutions to implement different anti-plagiarism penalties (Varghese & Jacob, 2015).

Ural and Sulak (2012) studied 347 students’ paperwork from 3 different universities in Turkey. They revealed that 50.2% of the students had copied sentences from without providing appropriate references and 27.1% of them had kept the exact format of the source. Amos (2014) investigated the rate of plagiarism and duplicated publications. The researcher found that Iranian university students, with 21.4% for duplication and 42.9% for plagiarism, respectively, held the fifth and third place; and Turkey with 15.4% for duplication and 61.5% for plagiarism, respectively, occupied eighth and second place in the list of reasons for retractions. The study of Jamali, Ghazinoory, and Sadeghi (2014) on 367 academic publications in 27 subject categories showed incidence of plagiarism in Iranian articles with medicine on top of the list. Almeida, de Albuquerque Rocha, Catelani, Fontes-Pereira, and Vasconcelos, (2016) studied the reasons for retractions from journals based on country of origin and the journal’s impact factor. Iran and Turkey were among the countries that had articles with low citations, which were retracted due to various plagiarism cases.

Unfortunately, cases of plagiarism not only among students but also among higher academic members are dramatically increasing (Jamali et al., 2014). The present study is a replication of research which was conducted among postgraduate students in Tabriz University-Iran and Ankara University-Turkey in 2013. We recognised that there were no or limited studies with the same scope, extent and purpose. This study questioned postgraduate students’ overall knowledge about plagiarism; including its definition, seriousness and consequences, their awareness about plagiarism rules and announcements at their university, and their familiarity with referencing methods. It also identified the participants’ information sources (i.e. how they learnt about plagiarism) and highlighted the participants’ personal ideas about the reasons for committing plagiarism. Another aim of the study was to elicit their personal comments and experiences. The results of the survey were compared between two universities, Tabriz University-Iran and Ankara University-Turkey, and the results from 5 years ago. ← 58 | 59 →

Methodology

Sample

The target sample was Master and PhD students from two public universities, Tabriz University-Iran (referred as Iranian participants) and Ankara University-Turkey (referred as Turkish participants). The participants were male and female students from different age groups, ranging from 23 to 35, who participated voluntarily. Returned questionnaires that had many blank parts were excluded and the remaining 170 questionnaires from each university were analysed.

Design

The instrument of the study was a set of questionnaires (see Appendix, Survey Questions). Based on the objectives of the research, most of the statements were extracted from a detailed literature review. The questionnaires were independently reviewed by experts in the field of applied linguistics from Turkey and Iran and statements with similar meanings or which were ambiguous were removed.

There were six questionnaires in the first study, the administration of which was a long process; therefore the first five questionnaires were shortened. Without damaging the original aims of the research, the revised instruments consisted of two questionnaires to which the third newly-designed questionnaire was added. All the statements were translated into Turkish and Persian.

The first questionnaire consisted of 39 statements. The statements were prepared to identify the participants’ overall understanding about plagiarism, including plagiarism’s definition, its seriousness and consequences, participants’ awareness of their university’s rules, and referencing methods. Answers were offered on a five-point Likert-type scale (Babbie, 2010), where 1 indicated “Strongly Disagree (SD)”, 2 “Disagree (D)”, 3 “neither agree nor disagree”, 4 “Agree (A)”, and 5 “Strongly Agree (SA)”. The second questionnaire with 9 items was designed to detect the participants’ sources, i.e. where they learned about plagiarism. The third questionnaire included 26 statements on reasons for committing plagiarism. The participants were free to express their personal ideas on Statement 9 in the second questionnaire and Statement 26 in the third questionnaire and to choose as many items as they wished in both the second and third questionnaires.

Questionnaire validity and reliability

Having had all the statements translated into Persian and Turkish, they were translated back to English by one translation expert from Iran and one from Turkey. The newly-designed questionnaires were pretested by administering to ← 59 | 60 → a smaller sample consisting of randomly-chosen 70 participants. The reliability of the statements was calculated by using Cronbach Alpha (> .70) and finally, 39 statements with reliability of .76 were obtained.

Procedure

After giving the necessary instructions, personal administration of the printed questionnaires took about 10–15 minutes. The participants were free to ask any questions or express any ideas within the procedure, some of which are included in the results and discussion section.

Methods of data analysis

In order to analyse the data of the first questionnaires, the percentages for each five-point Likert-type scale value were separately calculated with IBM SPSS Statistics 21. Also, Mean (M) and Standard Deviation (SD) of the present and old data were calculated for Iran and Turkey with IBM SPSS Statistics 21. Moreover, a value of 1 was assigned to each answer in the second and third questionnaires and the percentage of each item was calculated by the same method.

Results

Questionnaire one

The aim of the first questionnaire was to find out about postgraduate students’ overall knowledge of plagiarism in detail and compare it with the findings of the previous study. The results are presented in Table 1 and Table 2.

As shown in Table 1, both Iranian and Turkish participants are familiar with plagiarism. 87% (SA+A) of Iranian participants and nearly 90.5% (SA+A) of Turkish participants agreed that plagiarism is a serious offence. In this regard, the findings of the previous study (Golzar Adabi, 2013) showed similar results with quite close percentages of 88% for Iranian and 86% for Turkish participants. There was a clear increase from 86% to 90.5% for Turkish participants (Table 2).

Participants both from Iran (SA+A: 55.88%) and Turkey (SA+A: 68.3%) blamed their advisors and lecturers and believed that it was their full responsibility to teach and warn them about plagiarism (Table 1). Although there is no difference in the general results of the previous and current study (Golzar Adabi, 2013), the percentage of agreement for Turkish participants increased by 26.3% (Table 2). There can also be reverse outcomes, especially when the lecturers are not knowledgeable. One male participant from University of Tabriz explained about his experience, ‘Once I asked my advisor a question regarding a particular ← 60 | 61 → method of referencing. Now I really regret it, because the lecturer guided me wrongly’. Some said: ‘many of students learn about plagiarism when they are ready to defend their thesis; even then, a very small number of students and lecturers care about it.’

In the present study, compared to Iranian participants (SA+A: 66.47%), Turkish participants thought they could not reuse part of their previous assignment(s) for a new one (SD+D: 52.9%) (Table 1). Surprisingly, 67.65% (SD+D) of Iranian participants accepted self-plagiarism as a kind of punishable and harmful misconduct while this percentage for Turkish participants was only 64.12% (SD+D) (Table 1). One Turkish participant said that he did not know that there was a kind of misconduct called self-plagiarism. After having it explained to him, he added, ‘I think self-plagiarism is a kind of self-deception which cannot harm others but myself, then why punish someone who is already hurting him/herself’. Some Iranian participants commented that, ‘though self-plagiarism is wrong and punishable, it is very common among students because copying some parts of a previous assignment is a very useful way to pass finals and tutors could never know about what they had done’. In the previous study, 71% of Turkish participants had not agreed with the statement that ‘self-plagiarism is not punishable because it is not harmful’; whereas 23% of Iranian participants disagreed with this statement (Table 2).

In addition, the results of the present study showed differences between Iranian and Turkish participants regarding getting caught after committing plagiarism (Statement 12, and Statement 14). The findings indicated that only a little more than half the Iranian participants (SD+ D: 57.06%) thought that their lecturer could not find out about their act of plagiarism, while the percentage of disagreement for Turkish participants was about 86% (Table 1).

Table 1: Percentages of Iranian and Turkish Participants’ Answers to First Questionnaire

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Table 2: Mean and Standard Deviation Values for the Present and Previous Studies

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Iranian participants thought differently regarding strict anti-plagiarism policies. Unlike Turkish participants (SD+D: 78.8%), a quite smaller percentage of Iranian participants disagreed with anti-plagiarism policies, especially for authors of articles with high value (SD+D: 46.47%) and unintentional plagiarism (SD+D: Iran 15.88%; Turkey 65.8%) (Table 1).

Statements 28, 29, 32 and 33 were treated differently as the participants’ personal ideas. In the previous study (Golzar Adabi, 2013), 72% of total Turkish participants had declared that ‘plagiarism was regarded as a serious contravention of ← 66 | 67 → their university’s rules’ while only 32% of total Iranian participants had admitted their agreement. In the present study, this percentage increased to almost 83% for Turkish (vs. 31.76% for Iran; Table 1) participants. Interestingly, more than half of Iranian (52.36%) and Turkish participants (54.11%) did not agree that their university did well in announcing the university’s anti-plagiarism rules and plagiarism penalties (Table 1). In the previous study, this percentage was 2.1% and 11.36% lower, respectively for Turkish and Iranian participants (Table 2).

Our findings demonstrated different results regarding statements 32 and 33 about the types of punishment. In both statements, unlike Iranian participants (SA+A: 22.96% and 18.24, respectively), a larger proportion of Turkish participants agreed (SA+A: 49.4% and 48.2%, respectively) with the types of punishment (Table 1). This percentage was very low (25% and 12%, respectively) in the previous study for Turkish participants (Table 2). Some Iranian participants explained that ‘there is a form called ‘Student’s statement of commitment to the thesis’s authenticity’. Students fill it out after defending their thesis and nobody really cares about the truth of the information’. One Iranian PhD participant talked about his roommate who had used the whole thesis of another PhD student from another university and city just by changing some data.

Questionnaire 2

Another purpose of the present study was to discover participants’ sources of knowledge. Figure 1 illustrates the results of Questionnaire 2. To our knowledge, there have been no studies to investigate the sources from which students learn about plagiarism.

Figure 1: The information sources that participants use to learn about plagiarism

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Sources of knowledge. ← 67 | 68 →

As shown, university lecturers are the most important information source, especially for Turkish participants (73.7%). One prominent difference is training classes, with a mere 2.3% for Iranian participants, while compared to Turkish participants it was 31%. Another significant difference between Iran and Turkey is the percentage of articles, with 60.2% as the third essential information source for Turkish participants after the internet (64.3%), while this number for Iranian participants is only 22.1%.

Another interesting point is that 41.9% of Iranian participants had found out about plagiarism by reading and answering the questionnaire of the current study, while this percentage is only 28.7% for Turkish participants.

Media and friends were the third important information source for Iranian participants that shared the same proportion of 32%. Some participants talked about the news they had heard or read about famous plagiarism cases committed by political members and scholars. Finally, 7% of Iranian participants chose ‘the others’, and explained that they had experienced it themselves or knew other students who had purchased articles or theses and self-plagiarised.

Questionnaire 3

The third objective of the current study was to investigate the participants’ ideas about the reasons for committing plagiarism. Results are shown in Table 3. Eight of the statements that had the highest percentage and were considered as the most important factors are highlighted.

The results showed that with a minor difference of percentage there was just one common idea (Universities do not inform the students about the rules) between Iranian (43.5%) and Turkish (48.2%) participants. The lowest percentage belongs to factor 2 (There is no cooperation spirit among the students) for Iranian participants (10.6%) and factor 5 (Teachers blame the university’s high expectations and put the students under pressure) for Turkish participants (8.2%).

The top reason for Iranian participants to plagiarise was ‘simple ways of purchasing theses and articles’, with 62.9%. In the present study, the results illustrated that factors 13 (Most of the students have a high desire to produce more ISI manuscripts) and 24 (Students enter university unprepared to deal with the rules for academic writing) with equal proportion of percentage (58.8%) were two salient reasons for plagiarism, among the other factors.

Some participants from Iran explained how their professors and tutors had tried to use their articles in their own name, which refers to statement 3 (Teachers behave unfairly and use the result of the students’ hard work in their own favour) with 52.4%. One PhD participant from the department of humanities said ‘after I ← 68 | 69 → finished my M.A. thesis and defended it with a full mark, my professor threatened to write his name as the first and corresponding author otherwise I could not submit the manuscript. I had no choice because the university’s rule was to reduce 2 points from a students’ thesis mark if they did not have their manuscript submitted to a journal.’

Another mentionable factor for Iranian participants is factor 11 (Students lose motivation because of unclear future) with a high percentage of 50.6%. A female participant from the Department of Engineering at the University of Tabriz sarcastically explained that, ‘on one hand, the difficulties of finding jobs after graduation and the competition among the students in owning a bright resume, and on the other hand, strict rules of promotion for university lecturers, do not allow anybody to think about something like academic misconduct’.

According to Turkish participants, the highest percentage (77.6%) belonged to students’ laziness. There is a significant drop of 22.3% in the percentage of the second effective factor (Students think that the risk of being caught is too law). The results of the other top six factors (Education system is weak and wrong with 49.4%, Universities do not inform the students about the rules with 48.2%, Due to neglecting, in some universities, the risk of getting caught is already too low with 47.1%, Students do not have time management skills with 46.5%, Students think that plagiarism is not wrong with 45.3%, Non-native students lack confidence in effective writing with 43.5%) with a close difference of proportion from each other were partially in line with previous research.

Table 3: Percentages of Reasons for Plagiarism

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Discussion

Results of different studies have shown that only 1–2% acts of consciously committed fabrication or falsification are self-reported while the statistics of unreported and hidden plagiarism cases is very high, which should not be neglected (Fanelli et al., 2017). Studies conducted in Iran have shown that more than half of the students from different universities have a neutral attitude or even are in favour of plagiarism (Shahghasemi & Akhavan, 2015). It has also been reported that in spite of their negative view, research assistants in Turkey still commit plagiarism (Eret & Gokmenoglu, 2010). In our results, it has been shown that participants are aware of plagiarism but still commit plagiarism, mainly for intentional reasons. International senior trainees and academics from countries like Korea, China, India, Peru, and Iran, from which complaints have been received, are at high risk of committing plagiarism and being caught (Heitman & Litewka, 2011). Based on Nushi and Firoozkohi (2017), half of university teachers only addressed the issue very briefly in the rare cases of existence of plagiarism policy. Sharma (2007) reported that none of the students who she had interviewed blamed themselves as the main source of plagiarism and regarded the university and their trainees as the only responsible side. Based on the present study, participants did not have faith in their teachers and they blamed them for not tackling the problem and helping them.

It has been estimated that the rate of self-plagiarism is from 3% up to 6% (Horbach & Halffman, 2017). Text recycling or self-plagiarism is a kind of recent misconduct which is increasing rapidly especially among young researchers; it is assumed that it can be the result of lack of experience and students’ desire to publish more ← 70 | 71 → articles (Horbach & Halffman, 2017). Others believe that self-plagiarism mainly appears in the work of researchers with a fixed field of research focus; on the other hand, regarding novice writers and non-experts, various methods of paraphrasing can be challenging (Gasparyan et al., 2017). In contrast, Chaddah (2014) argues that plagiarism of ideas is a serious misconduct and the value of unique ideas is beyond the value of language. Some researchers do not consider self-plagiarism as a serious and punishable misconduct. As has also been shown in this research, self-plagiarism has other reasons, such as laziness, neglect of the importance of self-plagiarism by the teachers and universities, etc. (Andreescu, 2013).

Xiaojun, Hongli, and Fan’s (2010) findings showed that 56 out of 99 Chinese students who participated in their study believed that the plagiarised parts of their work are identifiable by their lecturers. In contrast, Pupovac, Bilic-Zulle, and Petrovecki (2008) noted that most students assume that their teachers will not be able to detect their acts of plagiarism; and Anderson (2009) found that approximately 60% of the participants were uncertain about their lecturers’ ability to discover their plagiarism cases or commitments. Based on the findings of the present study, what Iranian participants thought regarding the university and teachers’ failure in detecting plagiarised parts, was correct. To the extent that we could find, there was a form entitled ‘Student’s statement of commitment to the thesis’s authenticity’ on the website of the University of Tabriz (http://tabrizu.ac.ir/en). At the very end of the form it mentions that ‘If there is evidence of misconduct at any time, the University of Tabriz will pursue legal actions’. The students have to sign this form and include it in their thesis after defending it. No document could be found about details of legal actions and no plagiarism detection software was found on the website. In contrast, the students of Ankara University go through a process of getting their thesis checked by a plagiarism-detection program before receiving permission to defend their thesis. Moreover, the students have access to iThenticate and Turnitin plagiarism detectors. In February 2016, the Faculty of Health Sciences (http://sagbilens.ankara.edu.tr/?s=turnitin), and in March 2017 the Faculty of Engineering (http://www.eng.ankara.edu.tr/multimedia-archive/2017/03/) of the University of Ankara organised a presentation and training seminar on the use of Turnitin and plagiarism prevention methods.

Chandrasoma, Thompson, and Pennycook (2004) mentioned that without taking into account the intention of the act of transgressive intertextuality, no decisions can be made about penalizing methods. The results also revealed that a great number of the participants did not accept penalties such as failing an academic year or being suspended or expelled. According to Woessner (2004), the same punishment for a failure in citing a single sentence and copying one ← 71 | 72 → article as the term paper is unfair. Based on this researcher, the penalty must differentiate between “a minor misstep” and “fraud” (p. 319). Based on Macdonald and Carroll (2006), plagiarism prevention policies include the introduction of plagiarism, policies and rules, and penalties and consequences, which are put on universities’ websites for students. Pupovac et al. (2008) stated that the rate of plagiarism depends on the degree of devoted attention by the academic community to the issue of plagiarism. If plagiarism is allowed and no consequences are defined for the plagiarisers, then there will be more plagiarism cases. It has been suggested that in countries with serious policies against misconduct, the rate of commitment is also lower (Fanelli et al., 2017). Pecorari (2013) also emphasised the importance of influential plagiarism prevention policies along with appropriate anti-plagiarism education. Evidence from studies have shown that not only the effective announcement of sound punishments but also familiarisation of the students with clear definitions and anti-plagiarism methods by the universities can reduce the rate of plagiarism (Hu & Sun, 2017).

Regarding the second objective of the current study, based on the authors’ knowledge, there have been no published articles. The third objective of the study was to learn about the participants’ ideas about the reasons for committing plagiarism. The findings of the present study were consistent with the results of Adib et al. (2015), whose interviews showed that students at the University of Tabriz can purchase any kind of article or thesis from specific private institutes that are full of academic misconducts due to high demands and short time. Jamali et al. (2014) showed that the foundations of producing and presenting knowledge in Iran are weak because the researchers and authors have not received sufficient education in this regard. Habibzadeh and Marcovitch (2011) indicated another reason for non-native writers in Iran. They mentioned that it can be strenuous and tiring for a non-native speaker of a language to reproduce a sentence that is as brief and expressive, but at the same time detailed, as a sentence from a native speaker. On the other hand, the trend of the academic context in Iran is based more on quantity and not quality. This finding was also demonstrated by Fealy, Biglari, and Pezeshkirad (2012). They indicated that unintentional plagiarism cases take place because many students are not familiar with methods of referencing. Lack of anti-plagiarism rules and students’ dissatisfaction with their professors’ unfair practice of presenting the students research in their own name were another two reasons that tempted students to plagiarise. Research has shown that 83.6% of university curriculums suffer from lack of anti-plagiarism policies or unclear definitions (Nushi & Firoozkohi, 2017). ← 72 | 73 →

Eret and Gokmenoglu (2010) showed that research assistants at a Faculty of Education in Turkey committed plagiarism because of difficulties with using a foreign language and understanding assignments, overload or difficulty of assignments, and lack of knowledge about plagiarism and academic skills. Based on Unal and Ozenc Ucak’s (2017) cross-cultural study, in contrast to Hacettepe University, students in Turkey were first taught about plagiarism after they entered the university. Information and Library Science students from North Carolina had already been taught about it when they were in primary or secondary school. Ersoy (2014) revealed that university students from a Faculty of Education were involved in plagiarism because of their personal characteristics, with subcategories such as lack of confidence, being lazy, failure in managing time, friends, lecturers’ lack of concern, and the culture of using technology. The results of the present study showed consistency with these studies.

Conclusion

The present research was conducted with the aim of discovering higher education students’ overall knowledge about plagiarism, their information sources, and their reasons for committing plagiarism from two state universities, one in Iran and one in Turkey. Overall findings of the study showed that Iranian and Turkish participants had general but not detailed knowledge about plagiarism. In spite of this, striking and considerable results were obtained which indicated that the majority of Turkish participants gave more appropriate and true answers to the statements of the present survey.

The last five statements of the first questionnaire were prepared to find out about the participants’ knowledge of referencing methods. The findings of this part were not very promising, either for Iranian or for Turkish participants. As shown in the results of Questionnaire 2, there was a high percentage difference between Iranian and Turkish participants in obtaining information from a variety of sources, specially from their lecturers, internet, and anti-plagiarism courses.

Another conclusion can be drawn on the reasons for plagiarism among Turkish and Iranian participants. Participants from both universities commit plagiarism, mainly intentionally, due to some internal and external factors, even though they know that plagiarism is a serious offence. The reasons for plagiarism concerning the Iranian and Turkish participants were completely different. According to Iranian participants’ comments, many students are suffering from economic problems and an uncertain future has diminished their hopes. Educational differences may be another rationale to define the differences between Turkish and Iranian participants. ← 73 | 74 →

An overall comparison of the previous and current results demonstrated that Turkish participants were more knowledgeable than Iranian participants in 2013, as they still are in the current study, in addition to improvements in their knowledge and attitude. Similar to 2013, the current study showed that Turkish participants are aware that plagiarism is a serious offense based on their university’s rules; but they are still not satisfied with their university’s information service. Moreover, their uncertainty about the type of punishment for a plagiarism attempt has increased. The Iranian participants’ knowledge and understanding has improved over 5 years but they are still struggling.

Besides expanding the scope of the study to other universities, further research can include investigating and comparing different types of plagiarism in graduate or postgraduate students’ assignments or theses from different departments or different universities. Apart from this, future research can also demonstrate the methods that universities most benefit from when informing their students on plagiarism and anti-plagiarism policies.

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1 M.Sc., Department of Linguistics, gadabieli@gmail.com

2 Professor, Department of Linguistics, dilek.pecenek@ankara.edu.tr

3 Professor, Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies, markus.pissarek@aau.at