When emotion stands to reason : a phenomenological study of composition instructors' emotional responses to plagiarism


Ann E. Biswas

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Educational Leadership


Department of Educational Leadership


Advisor: Michele M. Welkener


Plagiarism has been the focus of considerable scholarly research in recent decades, much of which has examined the number of students who are plagiarizing, why they plagiarize, and what instructors can do to teach students to effectively and ethically integrate their own words and ideas with those of their sources. Overlooked in this scholarship is empirical research on how student plagiarism affects writing instructors. This dissertation describes a qualitative, phenomenological study of writing instructor emotions when students in their composition courses plagiarize. This research identified the specific emotions that were experienced as well as the many ways these emotions impacted instructor pedagogy and relationships with students, administrators, and colleagues. In addition, this work examined how instructor gender played a role in composition instructors' emotional responses. To understand how instructors emotionally reacted to plagiarism, this research employed semi-structured, one-on-one interviews and written pre-interview responses from 12 composition instructors at a mid-sized public university in the Midwest. Based on an analysis of the interview and written responses, the researcher found that a considerable focus of the work composition instructors perform centers on nurturing students' growth as writers, yet there exists an equally important responsibility to enforce academic integrity policies by policing student plagiarism. As such, suspecting plagiarism in student writing serves as a significant catalyst for writing instructor emotion. This research revealed that participants worked at controlling their emotions during experiences with plagiarism in various ways according to what they felt was appropriate for the profession and their institution. This emotional labor" (Hochschild, 1983, p. 7) complicated and shaped their professional identity, their pedagogical choices, and their relationships with students. In addition, the research showed that negative, or undesirable, emotions emerged for participants during their interactions with colleagues and administrators when student plagiarism was involved. An analysis of emotional responses by participant gender revealed that participants' written and verbal responses aligned with gender emotion stereotypes, and there were considerable gender differences between the emotions expressed in writing and those discussed in interviews. An analysis of the findings of this dissertation suggests that far more can be done by higher education administrators and writing program directors to acknowledge and value the emotional work composition instructors experience when their students plagiarize. Faculty development and graduate teaching assistant training efforts should be offered to explore the impact of emotions on teaching, to discuss writing instructor professional identities, and to help instructors find ways of better balancing their responsibilities as instructors with their professional stances in the writing classroom. In addition, administrators are urged to reexamine the policies, procedures, and penalties involved in plagiarism to take into account the complex nature of plagiarism and the emotional costs involved for instructors. Work such as this could substantially reduce the emotional labor that is involved for writing instructors when their students plagiarize."


Graduate teaching assistants Job stress, College teachers Job stress, Plagiarism Psychological aspects, Cheating (Education) Psychological aspects, Teacher-student relationships Psychological aspects, Composition (Language arts) Study and teaching Psychological aspects, Graduate teaching assistants Sex differences, College teachers Sex differences, Composition, Educational Leadership, Educational Psychology, Educational Theory, Higher Education, Higher Education Administration, Mental Health, Teacher Education, Teaching, Education, plagiarism, emotion, writing pedagogy, emotional labor, writing assessment, teaching writing

Rights Statement

Copyright 2015, author