The existing literature shows issues pertinent to students’ inappropriate textual borrowing behaviors require further examination. Our study aims to address two questions: What are the reasons why postgraduate students’ misuse their dissertation sources? How do the dissertation supervisors react to students’ inappropriate source use, if any? In this situated qualitative study (Atkinson, 2005), we used data collected through in-depth email interviews with two applied linguistics postgraduate students and their dissertation supervisors. Regarding the analytical process, the researchers condensed the provisional themes through techniques suggested by grounded theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). The results reveal that causes for postgraduate students’ misuse of sources include students' lack of access to literature, poor literature-searching and documenting skills, and lack of instructional support on using literature. Supervisors have neither identified nor addressed the source misuse in their feedback given to students. This finding suggests the university's regulating culture/pedagogical support and cross-culturally variant perception of plagiarism are crucial to our understanding of textual plagiarism among postgraduate students. The commonly suggested language proficiency may not be perceived as a cause of plagiarism in the current study. The discussion includes implication for a need to provide students with a disciplinary appropriate way of citing sources.


email interviews, situated qualitative research; dissertation writing, source use, textual borrowing, perceptions

Author Bio(s)

Yin Ling Cheung is an associate professor of English Language and Literature at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Yin Ling’s area of research and teaching is second language writing. She co-edited Advances and Current Trends in Language Teacher Identity Research (Routledge, 2015) and co-authored English Style and Usage (Prentice Hall, 2011). She has published in journals such as System, The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher, RELC Journal, INTESOL Journal, TESL Reporter, Asian Journal of English Language Teaching, English Australia Journal, and TESOL Quarterly. Please direct correspondence to yinling.cheung@nie.edu.sg.

Shuangjuan Kang received her M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. She is currently a Chinese Language teacher at a Singapore primary school.


We would like to thank the editors (in particular, Sally St. George) and the reviewers for their constructive comments that help improve the quality of the paper.

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