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Citation Assist - how early, personal support can help avoid unintentional plagiarism

Brendon Low

Brendon Low

Oct 20, 2020

There are few issues as critical for the Australian higher education sector right now as the issue of academic integrity. To tackle this issue, the status quo has been deterrence, detection, investigation, and penalty. However rising numbers of international students, first-in-family students, and a competitive re-focus on the student experience are unprecedented drivers of change; spurring Government, public, and media scrutiny

RESEARCH: In 2018, a study was carried out with the participation of 12 universities and their students across Australia, New Zealand and the UK. The research investigated students’ general attitudes towards plagiarism, to determine impact the Studiosity service can have on their abilities to avoid plagiarism. (Devlin & McKay, 2018) The findings from this research, together with feedback from the sector, led to the development of Citation Assist, which sits inside your core Studiosity Writing Feedback service. The goal is to help students with referencing, during the formative feedback process.

The majority of students are well-intentioned, but are being served messages of deterrence rather than support

"How universities can help students avoid plagiarism: get them to write better."
- Stuart Wrigley, Royal Holloway, University of London, The Conversation 2016

What is obvious to educators, but less so to the public and media, is that a large amount of plagiarism is inadvertent, and a result of inadequate academic writing and referencing skills, rather than intent to cheat. Students might simply miss or forget to add a reference, be referencing inconsistently, or lack understanding about how to cite information correctly. 

That’s why university leaders are looking to balance deterrence and costly plagiarism investigation with smart, personalised, early prevention and an emphasis on student self-efficacy and awareness. It's also why we're always thinking about how we can continue to develop the services used in your institution, to solve evolving problems.

“Inadvertent plagiarism constitutes the vast majority of breaches of academic integrity, and Citation Assist is a welcome innovation that addresses the issue via enhanced and developmental student support.”
- Dr Tracey Bretag, Associate Professor at UniSA, Founding Editor of the International Journal for Educational Integrity


Citation Assist in Studiosity is early intervention, during the writing process

With all these things in mind, we developed Citation Assist in 2019, which can be integrated within our widely-used Writing Feedback service. It leverages those otherwise invisible moments of students’ critical thinking during early draft writing. In this way, early plagiarism prevention is augmented by the timely, human help that students really want.

Since its launch, we have honed and refined Citation Assist's functionality. When a student submits their draft to Writing Feedback, the document is run through a plagiarism-checker powered by Plagscan, which compares the document against one billion public online sources, and flags possible text matches. 


The text matches are highlighted within the student’s draft, and presented to our assigned Specialist, to assist them in their overall review of the student’s work. These automatically-generated matches aren't able to differentiate between text that has been properly cited, and text that hasn't. A real person, the Specialist, can then review the automated matches and categorise them as they determine (either ‘cited’, or ‘not cited’), alongside their explanatory, in-depth feedback. This approach guides the student, reduces anxiety around study and the consequences of unintentional cheating, and provides a teachable moment rather than a detection or correction.

“We need to start viewing academic integrity and feedback literacy as symbiotic. As things to be developed together. We need to stop thinking of academic integrity and feedback as separate. They are so closely related.”
- Assoc. Prof Phill Dawson, at the ‘Students First 2019’ Studiosity Symposium, La Trobe University City Campus


For students: less stress, more thoughtful work

When they receive their feedback file, the student will see all the Specialist’s feedback alongside the text matches flagged by Citation Assist.

“Thank you for your feedback. I really appreciate the help, especially picking up that missing reference! Your feedback was clear which makes it easy to implement and find other points where I had made similar errors. Thanks again.”
- University of Canberra, 2nd year student, 19 Sep 2019, 4:53 PM

In the ‘Your Feedback’ section, extensive, personalised detail is provided both in the focus areas selected by the student and any referencing-based issues discovered by the Citation Assist feature. This allows the student to get a good understanding of their work, and what steps are needed to make it a better and more academically sound piece of writing.


The second section, ‘Your Submission’, is the student’s own document, as annotated by our Specialist. The student can see specific examples of the feedback highlighted within their own work, categorised by learning area. They’re broken out into two tabs, ‘Specialist highlights’ and ‘Citation Assist’, to help students differentiate between the different highlights and what they mean, and giving students a multifaceted starting point for their subsequent draft. 

In-text commentary and Citation Assist

In text Citation Assist text matches



Plagiarism prevention, at scale

Unlike plagiarism-detection software, which compares a student’s document to private files - often other students’ previously-submitted writing - in order to identify students who have used other students’ work, Citation Assist is about plagiarism prevention, integrated into the draft-writing process.

Because we know that most students are doing the right thing, and often need help with referencing sources, our goal is to provide the extra support and scaffolding at scale, for all those seeking it.

The additional Citation Assist feature leverages these existing moments of positive help-seeking, in order to improve outcomes for awareness and behaviour around academic integrity, and to improve the student experience and satisfaction.

Both plagiarism-detection and plagiarism-prevention are important steps in the sector’s push against academic dishonesty and contract cheating. At Studiosity, we constantly develop our product and service to adapt to the changing needs of students, institutions, and the education sector, and we are always looking for ways we can better support both students and education providers.  

For more information, please contact Chris Fitzpatrick or your Partner Services Manager directly.


About Studiosity

Studiosity is personalised study help, anytime, anywhere. We partner with institutions to extend their core academic skills support online with timely, after-hours help for all their students, at scale - regardless of their background, study mode or location. 

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