Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Bennett A. Rafoth, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Michael M. Williamson, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Jean Nienkamp, Ph.D.


This dissertation describes an empirical research study of plagiarism at the college undergraduate level. In a series of semi-structured research sessions—nine individual interviews and six focus group conversations—the researcher met with 31 college students to ask questions and prompt discussion about plagiarism. Plagiarism has been of broad interest to the academy, and scholars from Composition Studies and other disciplines have examined it through theoretical and empirical lenses. Their research has revealed substantial disagreements in the ways that plagiarism has been constructed and represented within the academy. Some studies have explored how college students understand and negotiate the academic construction of plagiarism; few studies, however, have asked what college students see when they consider the topic. This dissertation employs a phenomenological research approach; it seeks to understand plagiarism as it is understood and experienced by college students themselves. The study addresses plagiarism both as a concept and as an act with significant ideological, ethical, institutional, and pragmatic aspects. In doing so, it considers some of the social, ethical, and textual implications of contemporary Western conventions and expectations regarding source use and citation, and it addresses the nature and function of source-based writing in college. Based on an analysis of the conversation from the study’s interview and focus group sessions, the dissertation presents, describes, and analyzes the research participants’ construction and representation of plagiarism. The students’ voices, stories, and experiences reveal a series of alignments with and disconnections from many of the primary beliefs and assumptions we hold about plagiarism, authorship, and student writers. The teaching and policy implications of these alignments and disconnections are at times confirmatory, at times unsettling. In conclusion, this dissertation suggests that college students’ perspectives on plagiarism can and should inform our disciplinary and institutional constructions and policies regarding plagiarism.