Journal of Academic Ethics

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 227–236 | Cite as

Plagiarism Among Dissertations: Prevalence at Online Institutions

  • David Carl Ison


The current research literature has claimed that plagiarism is a significant problem in postsecondary education. Unfortunately, these claims are primarily supported by self-report data from students. In fact little research has been done to quantify the prevalence of plagiarism particularly at the advanced graduate education level. Further, few studies exist on online education even though this is a rapidly growing sector of higher education. This descriptive study quantified the amount of plagiarism that existed among 100 doctoral dissertations that were published by institutions granting doctorate degrees through a primarily online format. The dissertations were submitted to Turnitin plagiarism detection software for analysis. The mean similarity index of these dissertations was 15.1 (SD = 13.02). The results were then categorized per previous research. Forty-six percent of the dissertations were classified as having a low level of plagiarism while 11 % had a medium level and 3 % had a high level. Further analysis revealed that 72 % of the dissertations had at least one case of improper paraphrasing and citation (verbatim text accompanied by a citation) and 46 % had verbatim text without any citation. The results of this study should encourage faculty, dissertation committee members, university administrators, and accrediting bodies to take action to help reduce the level of plagiarism among doctoral learners. Suggestions for future research include comparing online and brick-and-mortar dissertation plagiarism rates, a larger study to investigate plagiarism trend data, and surveys of faculty about how they address plagiarism and ethics during the dissertation process.


Plagiarism Higher education Doctorate Dissertation Research Ethics Turnitin 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Embry-Riddle Aeronautical UniversityDaytona BeachUSA

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