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Existing literature provides insight into the nature and extent of plagiarism amongst undergraduate students (e.g., Ellery, 2008; Parameswaran & Devi, 2006; Selwyn, 2008). Plagiarism amongst graduate students is relatively unstudied, however, and the existing data are largely based on self-reports. This study investigated the rates and potential causes of plagiarism amongst graduate students in master’s and doctoral programmes in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and science or mathematics education by examining actual research proposals written by graduate students. Results indicate that plagiarism is a prevalent issue at each of the three university sites sampled and across all of the investigated disciplines. Fine grained analyses suggest that this plagiarism may be largely unintentional and due to a lack of disciplinary enculturation. Specifically, participants that plagiarised had approximately one less semester of research experience than graduate students who did not plagiarise. Furthermore, participants who lacked primary literature in their research proposals were significantly more likely to plagiarise and often used inappropriate citation styles. Follow-up correspondence with participants indicates that participants plagiarised, in part, because they lacked an awareness of the role of primary literature in the research process. This suggests that explicit training in the role and use of primary literature may provide an opportunity for programmes or mentors to accelerate the development of graduate students’ research skills. This study also revealed that plagiarism was more common amongst English as a Second Language (ESL) participants. Potential causes of plagiarism and solutions to address plagiarism among the ESL population will be discussed.


© International Journal for Educational Integrity 2010, BioMed Central Ltd.

APA Citation

Gilmore, J., Strickland, D., Timmer, B., Maher, M., & Feldon, D. (2010). Weeds in the Flower Garden: An Exploration of Plagiarism in Graduate Students’ Research Proposals and its Connection to Enculturation, ESL, and Contextual Factors. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 6(1), 13–28.

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