Science Fair Research Paper Citations

Few studies have attempted to assess the degree of plagiarism actually occurring in student papers, especially at the important high school and middle school levels that feed into higher education.

Given that confusion regarding how and when to cite sources likely begins in the pre-college years, this investigation contributes a new perspective to the body of literature by looking at source citation in student research reports at regional science fairs and state science conferences.

Regional science fair projects were selected for this investigation because they are presented at the school level and evaluated by teachers and judges before being presented at a regional science fair (Society for Science & the Public 2008; Savannah River Site 2012) providing ample opportunity for remediation.

In addition, all of the projects at the regional science fairs sampled won awards at the school level (Society for Science & the Public 2008).

Any discussion of research writing in the sciences will inevitably lead participants to the topic of plagiarism.

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Plagiarism has been cited as the most common form of academic misconduct at universities (Breen & Maassen 2005; Mc Cabe 2005; Selwyn 2008) and it is particularly common in STEM classes (Simon et al.At a minimum, teachers and officials who supervise student research projects should ensure that students give proper attribution to their sources.This will avoid the development of bad habits that may be troublesome in college.Much of this confusion likely stems from high school, either from lack of or inconsistent instruction across classes.To determine the extent of plagiarism issues in middle and high school student science papers, the authors surveyed student research reports to evaluate their use of in-text and reference page citations.It was expected that college science faculty would expect at least a moderate amount of high school instruction regarding source use and citation and would perceive the importance of the instruction to be higher than the perceived amount of instruction given.Librarians and classroom teachers have long been concerned with instructing students in the ethical use of information and attribution of source material.Plagiarism is a recognized problem at high school science fairs.According to the hosts of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, (Society for Science & the Public 2012b) plagiarism is one of the most common reasons for disqualification from the international fair.How much instruction or mentoring the students received in the writing of their research reports was not known, but, regardless of the level of instruction, students were likely to infer that their citation strategies were adequate given that they won awards for their projects.When students enter college with an inadequate understanding of proper source citation they often struggle to meet the expectations of collegiate level research.


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