Root Cause Analysis of Plagiarism

Root Cause Analysis of Plagiarism

St. Petersburg College

Five Whys to Determine Actual Problem

The Five Whys Analysis is the process of asking a series of “why” questions to develop a cause-and-effect based understanding of how a situation developed and how it got to its end-point. It is to get a descriptive indication of the situation and exactly why the outcome occurred (Fraser, 2015). A series of why questions will be asked to get answers to the reasoning for the plagiarism. The questions along with the answers are provided below:

Why #1 Why are students using an online tool for essay writing? The students do not know how to properly write.
Why #2 Why do students not know how to write appropriately? Students only take two college writing classes that are centered for grading.
Why #3 Why are students only having to take two writing classes when writing is the base of most degrees? Colleges only require that two classes be taken that are heavy in the writing element.
Why #4 Why are colleges only required to take only two classes that are heavily based on proper writing? Colleges think that after two classes based on proper writing students are prepared to write at college levels.
Why #5 Why do colleges think that students are prepared for writing after only two classes? Colleges feel that the two writing classes create enough background in writing to ensure proper writing.

After asking the five why questions, it can be determined that the lack of education in proper writing elements within a college is the actual problem that leads to students using essay-writing services. The questioning started with the initial question of, “why students are using an online tool for essay writing?” The following questions are why questions based on the answer to the previous question. Through the process of asking the five why questions, it was concluded that students do not get enough writing experience within the two required classes that teach correct writing methods.

Cause and Effect Analysis

The first step when using the cause and effect analysis is to define the problem (Fraser, 2015). The problem in this case is that students in Brown’s classes are not writing their own papers and using an online tool to write the papers for them.

The second step within a cause and analysis is to identify the major causes of the problem. Major causes to a problem consist of people, process, materials, and environment. These causes are identified below.

People – Students that do not know how to properly write and format an essay are the reason why online tools are being used to write essays.

Process – The process of having students only take two classes that teach them how to properly write causes students be unqualified to write college essays.

Materials – Since most classes rely heavily on writing assignments for grading, it pressures students to use online writing tools to get better grades because of their lack of knowledge and skills in writing.

Environment – Most degrees require an extensive knowledge of writing to succeed within the class.

The third step within the cause and effect analysis is to identify sub causes of the problem. These sub causes are discovered from brainstorming sessions and the use of the five why approach (Fraser, 2015). Sub causes are shown below.

People – The reason students lack knowledge of proper essay formatting is due to only having to take two writing classes as prerequisites.

Process – Colleges feel that two writing classes prepare a student enough to be able to format and write essays properly.

Materials – Students who perform writing classes at home have a higher tendency to use an online writing tool because they do not have any one watching over their work.

Environment – With lack of knowledge in writing, students are pressured to plagiarize their essays to ensure a better grade than they can do without using the tools.

Displayed below is a fish bone diagram of the following causes, sub causes, and effects that have been discovered through the analysis process.

Influence Diagram

Another risk cause analysis tool that can be used to determine why students use plagiarizing tools on essays is an influence diagram. This diagram lists possible causes that could lead to students using essay writing tools (Fraser, 2015). An influence diagram is provided below.

Recommendations to Reduce Plagiarism

The benefit for professor’s today is the ability to use programs such as to check a paper for plagiarism. While this service will catch a student who uses information without citation from known sources, it will not catch the student paying an essay writing service. The easiest way to reduce plagiarism in essay writing is to have it proctored for the first submittal. This will give the professor a baseline to compare the future submittals of the student as the class progresses. This is a labor-intensive suggestion that puts the burden on the professor to thoroughly read every paper for lack of consistency. Students who are not near a campus can use an online service like Proctor-U to complete their first paper. Acts of plagiarism should be brought to the attention of the college dean.

Another solution could be to have Professor Brown analyze her class herself. For Professor Brown to cut down and discourage the use of online writing services she should start by asking her students the real reason they are utilizing the service. She needs to determine why the students are utilizing these services, is it because it is simply easier, is the work load too much for students, or because students are not confident in their writing abilities. After determining the reasons to why students are using services she can then analyze her class, not saying the class workload should be changed. However, maybe the prerequisite classes should be changed, or the class should be added to a different year’s work (freshman to sophomore class). Cheating and using such services are to never be allowed regardless of the reason behind the use. If Professor Brown discovers that students are utilizing the services because they are not confident in their writing abilities she can then address that and potentially add less challenging writing assignments along with the essays or provide a link in the online course section that gives helpful tips and reminders for essay writing.

Overall it is more important that Professor Brown discover why her students have started utilizing the services. After all, they may have always been using the service and she is just now discovering the cheating.


Fraser, J.R.S., Simkins, B.J., & Narvaez, K.(Eds.). (2015). Implementing enterprise risk management: Case studies and best practices. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Son, Inc.

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