How Do University Students Attempt to Avoid Plagiarism?

A Grammatical Analysis of Undergraduate Paraphrasing Strategies


  • Casey Keck San Francisco State University



plagiarism, paraphrasing, summary writing, university students


Over the past decade, university student plagiarism has received considerable attention, and a number of text-based studies have investigated the extent to which student writers copy source text language into their own written work. Much less is known, however, about student paraphrasing. To address this gap, the present study analyzed a corpus of summaries written by a group of native English speakers (n=124) writing in their first language (L1) and by a group of students from other language backgrounds (n=103) writing in their second language (L2), and aimed to identify the major grammatical strategies that students employed when paraphrasing source text language. While many of the paraphrases analyzed contained copied strings of 5 or more words, most did not. And while the strategies of deletion and synonym substitution were frequently used, many students, both L1 and L2 writers, made a number of grammatical changes to the original. Students who avoided copied language used a common paraphrasing strategy: Rather than simply select individual words to replace with synonyms, they divided the original excerpt into its major components (e.g. subject, main verb, direct object) and transformed those components into new units typically of a different grammatical form) that expressed the same idea. These findings suggest that continued investigation of student paraphrasing may help to refine our understanding of the linguistic strategies associated with effective textual borrowing.

Author Biography

Casey Keck, San Francisco State University

Casey Keck is an Assistant Professor of English in the MA TESOL Program at San Francisco State University. She obtained her PhD in Applied Linguistics from Northern Arizona University. Her research interests include corpus linguistics, second-language writing, and pedagogical grammar.


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How to Cite

Keck, C. (2010). How Do University Students Attempt to Avoid Plagiarism? A Grammatical Analysis of Undergraduate Paraphrasing Strategies. Writing and Pedagogy, 2(2), 193–222.



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