Inclusive Teaching

Prioritizing Writing Integrity among International Students

by Eric Royer, PhD, Instructional Developer

Plagiarism is a concern frequently raised by instructors when teaching international students. Through conversations with students and instructors, I’ve come to realize that plagiarism among international students is a multifaceted issue. Intentional and overt cases are a reality, but often the exception. In most cases, international students unintentionally plagiarize due to not having the skills to write in academic English or how to approach a complex writing assignment. They may have different interpretations of what constitutes plagiarism. They may even believe that using the work of others is a show of respect instead of being a violation of one’s “property” (in an intellectual sense). Compounding the issue, international students may lack — just like any student — adequate time management skills, which turn final projects into last minute exercises of submitting an entire paper in the matter of days.

As you think about what steps you can take to prioritize writing integrity among international students, remember that detection is not the only solution. Detection is merely a reaction to this multifaceted issue — one that does not lead to self-improvement or increased self-efficacy among international students in their writing. If anything, detection is a punitive response that exacts a painful toll on international students, often resulting in them receiving a zero on a major assignment, losing motivation, and facing consequences in their academic programs.

Instead, we can prioritize writing integrity among international students through intentional course design and good pedagogy. In a review of the literature, Amsberry (2010, 33) writes that “[international] students [often have] not encountered the English word plagiarism until arrival in North America … or, if they [are] aware of a similar word, the meaning [is] quite different.” An easy way to deconstruct the term, as Amsberry suggests, is to be clear when conveying your expectations and instructions for writing assignments. Tell students what constitutes plagiarism and how citations function as a scholarly practice. Walk them through how to properly source research and use in-text citations. Help them understand citation styles and what types of ideas, information, and data require proper attributions. Providing examples of citations styles in your discipline or having students scour an example article to see how citations are used can build student capacity.

Simpson (2016, 9) comments that “…for a student who understands the English language, but is unable to communicate it in writing, it seems easier and less confusing to cut and paste words from another author than to struggle with the proper writing style on his/her own.” A solution here is to scaffold your writing assignments, with students either turning in “chunks” at different times or submitting drafts of a paper leading up to a final due date. This way, students are receiving feedback and can be directed to additional help and resources (e.g., campus writing services). Scaffolding also builds time management skills, lessening incentives to plagiarize due to time constraints.

This leads to Adhikari’s (2018, 375) observation that “… international students may not have the practical skills needed to properly document and engage courses, may not be able to develop original positions and ideas because they struggle with content or context, and may make mistakes because they cannot manage time or information in the research and writing process.” So what can you do? Teach students how to develop thesis statements, structure a paper, and take information or data from various sources and knead those together. Teach students how to develop original arguments or fill gaps in the literature by conducting a review of the existing literature. We can’t assume international students are equipped with those skills, so take the time or devote learning activities dedicated to building these critical student skills.

If you would like to talk further about prioritizing writing integrity among international students, please contact the Reinert Center or fill out our consultation request form. Please also consider sharing your perspectives or strategies for prioritizing writing integrity among international students in the comments section below.


Adhikari, S. (2018). Beyond culture: Helping international students avoid plagiarism. Journal of International Students 8(1), 375-388.

Amsberry, D. (2010). Deconstructing plagiarism: International students and textual borrowing practices. The Reference Librarian 51, 31-44.

Simpson, D. (2016). Academic dishonesty: An international student perspective. Higher Education Politics and Economics 2(1), 1-22.