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Cheating & Plagiarism in Nursing

Cutting corners devalues work and undermines credibility.

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Learning Scope #414
1 contact hour
Expires Dec. 31, 2014

You can earn 1 contact hour of continuing education credit in three ways: 1) Grade and certificate are available immediately after taking the online test. 2) Send the answer sheet (or a photocopy) to ADVANCE for Nurses, Learning Scope, 2900 Horizon Dr., King of Prussia, PA 19406. 3) Fax the answer sheet to 610-278-1426. If faxing or mailing, allow 30 days to receive certificate or notice of failure. A certificate of credit will be awarded to participants who achieve a passing grade of 70 percent or better.

Merion Matters is an approved provider of continuing nursing education by the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association (No. 221-3-O-09), an accredited approver by the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation.

Merion Matters is also approved as a provider by the California Board of Registered Nursing (No. 13230) and by the Florida Board of Nursing (No. 3298).

The goal of this continuing education offering is to review the latest information on dealing with cheating and plagiarism in nursing. After reading this article, you will be able to:

1. Recognize how reframing cheating may reduce instances of cheating and enhance one's chances of future success.

2. Discuss copyright and how it protects authors' rights for use of their work.

3. Discuss ways to avoid plagiarism.

  • The author has completed a disclosure form and reports no relationships relevant to the content of this article.

Some educators maintain that cheating has never been easier. But don't fear. Dr. Michael Hartnett offers three rules to obtain a cheat-free classroom:1

1. Ban electronic devices from the classroom.
2. Do not allow bathroom breaks during exams.
3. Prohibit students from putting their hands below the tops of their desks.

Oh, if only life was so simple!

What really happens is more like what Ed Dante (pseudonym) admits to in his article in the Chronicles of Higher Education. He describes how he makes his living writing papers, roughly 5,000 pages worth in one year, for a multitude of disciplines, including nursing. He also admits to attending three dozen online universities and completing 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more.

He boldly states to the Chronicles of Higher Education readers: "My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can't detect, that you can't defend against, that you may not even know exists."2

The goal of this CE offering is to offer techniques for both students and teachers that may help reduce the need for the services of Mr. Dante.

Who Cheats & Why

Some students are more prone to cheating than others.3 For example, students who are involved in many extracurricular activities or who have competing responsibilities, those who do not relate well to the subject or teacher, and weaker students are more prone to cheating. Males tend to cheat more than females, and students are more apt to cheat if their friends cheat.

Most educators who have studied the problem of cheating agree that students, no matter their age, cheat mainly because of pressure from self or others to get good grades, because they are unprepared or for the challenge of trying to get away with it.

Cheating comes in a variety of forms. Low-tech cheating methods include crib notes, copying from others and giving answers to test questions to a classmate. An example of high-tech cheating is the use of micro-recorders hidden in commonly used objects such as eyeglass cases so that the test taker can whisper questions and get answers.4

Reframing Can Help Prevent Cheating

Teachers, parents and friends of students who are prone to cheat can help potential cheaters look at cheating in a different context.5

One way to help reduce cheating is to have a discussion about how cheating impacts cheaters in the long run. Although cheating in any form might appear to make the student more successful in the short run, students who cheat do not improve their chances for future success. Within nursing, the question needs to be posed: How will cheating affect your ability to provide safe patient care? Does it set the stage for unsafe patient care practices?

Reframe cheating as a form of lying. Cheating is lying about one's own fund of knowledge. When liars are found out, those close to them are less likely to trust them. When cheaters are exposed, others will distrust those individual and their abilities. So, in the long run, cheaters - found out to be liars - lose face and credibility.

Reframe that the process of learning is often more important than the outcome. For example, in nursing, the process of safe medication administration is vital to safe nursing practice. In the same way, the process of learning how to research a particular healthcare topic also is crucial to safe nursing practice, as doing so may lead to suggestions for changes to nursing practice.

Reframe the focus of any learning activity to becoming a better student. A good student asks significant questions, looks at situations from many different angles, critically analyzes situations and draws conclusions only after all data have been collected and evaluated. Facing the challenges and muddling through the process of critical thinking toward the completion of the project leads to becoming a better student and a more successful nursing professional.

Reframe so the focus is on the knowledge and not the grade. The process of gaining knowledge is not easy. It takes hard work, many hours and consistent dedication. Oftentimes, a heart-to-heart exploration of how to make sure students have enough time for their studies helps them put school work in perspective.

Helping Students Avoid Plagiarism

Writing a paper involves learning many skills: how to research, organize materials and thoughts coherently, and present ideas in a written form. In preparation for her upcoming class, Assistant Professor of Nursing Wanda Kim pondered how to help students write quality papers while avoiding plagiarism. She decided to discuss this as part of the course orientation.

Knowing from past experience some students plagiarize because they lacked an understanding of the concept of copyright infringement and the rights of authors, Kim prepared a handout on copyright. She listed the definition of copyright as a "legal device that provides the creator of a work of art or literature, or a work that conveys information or ideas, the right to control how the work is used."6 She purposely chose to use a definition from a well-known manuscript to show how to quote material in the body of a paper.

Next, she chose to paraphrase information about the three necessary criteria for copyright set forth by the U.S. Copyright Office and included the following in her handout:

To be considered for copyright, the work needs to be fixed or tangible, original and creative.7

• Tangible or fixed means that it is available for retrieval: printed on a piece of paper, posted online or stored on a computer or other electronic device.

• To be original, the work must be a novel message. However, the novel message can be combined with other writings, or adapted or transformed in a new way.

• Creative means that the work must include something that is above and beyond anything else written or otherwise produced.

When Kim began the discussion of copyright with her students, she stressed that when written material is copyrighted the author is granted certain rights and control over that piece of work. Rights of the author include the right to make copies, sell and distribute, prepare new works based on the protected work, and perform the protected work, such as producing a play or displaying painting.7

It was at this point that a student asked what copyright had to do with plagiarism. Kim was happy that question was asked. She explained to the student group that when they include someone else's copyrighted work in their papers without properly referencing it, they are in fact declaring it is their own work and are infringing on the author's rights. She emphasized all plagiarism is a copyright infringement. She also reinforced that including another's work in a paper is appropriate only as long as proper credit is given.

Kim took this opportunity to ask for open discussion among the students on plagiarism for she knew her students had previous experience with topic research and paper writing.

She asked, "What are some reasons that students might be tempted to use material of another author and call it their own?" Students readily listed a variety of reasons: deadlines come around more quickly than expected; things just happened in the student's personal life that prevent the student from having time to write a quality paper; some students might be overwhelmed with too many assignments; many students have competing priorities; and the ever-present problem of poor planning and waiting until the last minute to start the assignment. One student then ventured to suggest some students like the thrill of sneaking a plagiarized paper past the professor.5 Kim pointed out this is known as intentional plagiarism.

She then mentioned the unintentional events of plagiarism and asked if the students could think of some examples. The students readily admitted that sometimes the boundaries of plagiarism and research just get confusing, and that oftentimes the authors' words just sound so good and much better than anything they could ever write.5 One student shared: "Late at night when the paper is due it just seems so much easier to cut and paste from the research articles than try to analyze the material on my own. And then the concerns about making a good grade creep in and I find myself just wanting to get the paper done and handed in and get on to the next project."

Kim took this opportunity to explain she respected their concerns and pointed out she believed the process of learning was as important as the outcome of learning. She explained to the student group how she intended to help them by discussing how they could divide up any writing assignment into manageable sections to help reduce their feelings of being overwhelmed.

The discussion then turned to ways to reduce plagiarism. Kim had listed a few situations on the handout. Using these, she led a discussion on ways to avoid falling into these traps:5

• Citation confusion. Perhaps the most common reason for unintentional plagiarism is simply failing to reference the citation properly. Kim included the proper ways to reference materials in a handout she prepared for the students.

• Plagiarism vs. paraphrasing. Many students retain the essential ideas of the original material but change the style and grammar to fit in the context of their assignment. Kim explained that paraphrasing someone else's ideas needs to be referenced.

• Copying notes. Students often mix their own ideas and those of their sources when they take sloppy notes. Kim spent time describing thorough note taking and reference notation.

• Not being able to find the source. Students also may neglect to take the time to write down the bibliographic information of their sources, leaving them unable to properly attribute information when it comes to writing the paper. Kim explained it is important to keep careful track of references during the note-taking stage of paper writing and advised the students to take the time to write out a complete reference.

• Thinking you don't need to quote facts. Because the Internet makes information so readily available, some students find it difficult to tell the difference between common knowledge they are free to use and original ideas that are the intellectual property of others. Kim reminded the students using the Internet for research purposes does not make it a free ride. Same rules apply regarding authors' rights and the use of copyright.

Basic Rules for Internet Research

Kim explained writers need to credit the source of all information obtained on the internet.8 She said that if they do not see an individual named as the author, the author may be the organization responsible for the website, so credit the organization. Always check to see if the author or organization provides information on how to reference the work posted. If this is provided, include the reference as directed.

Sometimes it is possible to contact the author and request to use the material and ask for guidance on how to note it. One simple way to determine if a work is copyrighted is to look for the copyright symbol (©). However, if it is not there, don't assume it is not copyrighted. Always check with the website, author or organization for clarification.

Kim ended her discussion by stressing the real skill of paper writing is in the interpretation and analysis of the data found when researching. It is an important process to learn, as it is a skill that can be replicated in the workforce. She listed some simple rules to help students use referenced materials and provide an original written paper:

• Research thoroughly and prepare complete notes.

• Make sure you list the complete citation on all notes taken.

• State what you found during your research and then analyze it. Use various writing techniques such as compare and contrast or summarization.

• Process or critique the material found during research using your own words.

• Feeling overwhelmed? Think of the project in four or five sections. Then complete each section as if it were an individual assignment.

• Have a habit of waiting until the last minute? Schedule the work in stages. Or make an artificial deadline for yourself. Complete the assignment by your predetermined date.

• Talk with family and friends about your need for time to complete projects. Most loved ones are happy to accommodate you.

Acquiring the Knowledge

Not all cheating and plagiarism can be stopped. However, by addressing the reasons for cheating and reframing it as a "no-win" situation, both teachers and students come out ahead.

Emphasizing how cheating impacts cheaters in the long run and devalues their work and undermines their credibility is a worthwhile discussion. Focusing on the process of learning helps build better students and well-prepared professionals. Engaging students in the activity of learning and forming small groups for study and support also helps. In this way, the focus can be on acquiring the knowledge needed to be successful professional nurses and ultimately lead to our primary goal - safe patient care.

1. Hannigan, T. (2011). 3 rules for a cheat-free classroom. Retrieved Sept. 24, 2012 from the World Wide Web:
2. Dante, E. (2010). The shadow scholar: The man who writes your students' papers tells his story. Accessed Sept. 24, 2012 from the World Wide Web:
3. Haskvitz, A. (2005). Why students cheat. Retrieved Sept. 24, 2012 from the World Wide Web:
4. Faucher, D. (2007). Innovative cheating techniques. 2007 Arizona State BON Statewide Nurse Educators Annual Conference. Retrieved Sept. 24, 2012 from the World Wide Web:
5. Drexel University. Educational tips on plagiarism prevention. Retrieved Sept. 24, 2012 from the World Wide Web:
6. Fishman, S. (2011). The copyright handbook: What every writer needs to know. Berkeley, CA: Nolo.
7. U.S. Copyright Office. (2008). Copyright basics. (Circular 1). Retrieved Sept. 24, 2012 from the World Wide Web:
8. Copyright and fair use in the UMUC online or face-to-face classroom. University of Maryland, University College. Retrieved Sept. 24, 2012 from the World Wide Web:

The Copyright Clearinghouse:

Joan M. Lorenz is a clinical specialist in psychiatric mental health nursing for adults. Throughout her career, she has held a variety of clinical positions, including patient safety manager, nurse manager, staff development educator and patient education coordinator. She currently provides consultation and workshops on a number of issues designed to empower work teams to make changes needed to put more joy in their work environments.

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