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Perceptions of Authorial Identityin Academic Writing amongUndergraduate Accounting Students:Implications for UnintentionalPlagiarismJoan Ballantine a & Patricia McCourt Larres ba University of Ulster , Northern Ireland, UKb Queen's University , Belfast , Northern Ireland, UKPublished online: 16 Apr 2012.
To cite this article: Joan Ballantine & Patricia McCourt Larres (2012) Perceptions of AuthorialIdentity in Academic Writing among Undergraduate Accounting Students: Implications forUnintentional Plagiarism, Accounting Education: An International Journal, 21:3, 289-306, DOI:10.1080/09639284.2011.650452
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09639284.2011.650452
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Perceptions of Authorial Identity in
Academic Writing among Undergraduate
Accounting Students: Implications for
JOAN BALLANTINE and PATRICIA McCOURT LARRES
University of Ulster, Northern Ireland, UK; Queens University, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
Received: November 2010
Revised: June 2011; September 2011
Accepted: October 2011
Published online: April 2012
ABSTRACT The current study explores first, second and third-year UK accounting studentsperceptions of authorial identity and their implications for unintentional plagiarism. The findingssuggest that, whilst all students have reasonably positive perceptions of their authorial identity,there is room for improvement. Significant differences in second-year students perceptions werereported for some positive aspects of authorial identity. However, results for negative aspectsshow that second-year students find it significantly more difficult to express accounting in theirown words than first and third-years. Furthermore, second-years are significantly more afraidthan first-years that what they write will look unimpressive. Finally, the results for approaches towriting, which also have implications for unintentional plagiarism, revealed that students acrossall years appear to adopt aspects of top-down, bottom-up and pragmatic approaches to writing.Emerging from these findings, the study offers suggestions to accounting educators regardingauthorial identity instruction.
KEY WORDS: Unintentional plagiarism, authorial identity, approaches to writing
Academic dishonesty at college level appears to be a very real problem with one recent
study describing cheating in US college classes, rather alarmingly, as rampant
(Simkin and McLeod, 2010, p. 441). This is of particular concern to professional accoun-
tants in that, what students learn as acceptable behaviour in the classroom impacts on their
Accounting Education: an international journal
Vol. 21, No. 3, 289306, June 2012
Correspondence Address: Professor Joan A. Ballantine, Department of Accounting, Room 03C23, University
of Ulster, Jordanstown Campus, Shore Road, Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim BT37 0QB, UK. Email: joan.ballanti-
This paper was edited and accepted by Richard M.S. Wilson.
0963-9284 Print/1468-4489 Online/12/03028918 # 2012 Taylor & Francishttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09639284.2011.650452
expectations of what is acceptable professionally (Swift and Nonis, 1998). Given the bad
press which accounting has received in the wake of major scandals such as Enron and
WorldCom, this apparent epidemic of cheating by college students does not augur well
for the ethical future of accounting and the trust we, as accountants, are seeking to re-
establish with the public as regards our honesty, integrity and reliability.
The definition of what constitutes cheating at college level may vary, depending on the
research study. However, there is one area of academic cheating which appears in most
definitions, namely plagiarism. According to the Oxford Dictionary, plagiarism is
defined as the practice of taking someone elses work or ideas and passing them off as
ones own. Notwithstanding this concise definition, Bennett (2005) argues that:
in the context of university education . . . plagiarism does not have a single meaning and canrange from the citation of a few sentences without attribution through to the copying out of anentire manuscript (p. 138).
Given this continuum, it is understandable that students might be confused as to when
they are engaging in plagiarism. For example, students may be unsure of when they can
claim a concept or an opinion as their own if the inspiration for it came from another
source. Similarly, they may be uncertain as to whether referencing the source is sufficient
when including another authors idea verbatim in their text (Ashworth, Bannister and
Thorne, 1997). By the time they reach tertiary education, students are so used to
cutting and pasting school projects from the internet without acknowledging others
intellectual property, that plagiarism becomes a grey area of academic dishonesty
wherein they may perceive it to be less serious than, say, cheating in an examination.
Indeed, the instant availability of information via the internet has done much to influence
the readiness to take others ideas and pass them off as ones own (McLafferty and Foust,
2004). Park (2003) includes this general lack of understanding of what constitutes plagiar-
ism as one of the reasons for its incidence in higher education. He argues that a general
lack of understanding occurs among students
when they are not familiar with proper ways of quoting, paraphrasing, citing and referencingand/or when they are unclear about the meaning of common knowledge and its expressionin their own words (p. 479).
This general lack of understanding, Park (2003) argues, can lead to unintentional
Whilst a number of empirical studies have explored students perceptions of intentional
plagiarism (see, for example, Bennett, 2005; Kidwell and Kent, 2008; Gullifer and Tyson,
2010), there has been less work which has specifically addressed the issue of unintentional
plagiarism. One recent study which has addressed this issue is that of Pittam et al. (2009).
Responding to calls from a number of authors (see for example, Park, 2003; Valentine,
2006) for a more holistic approach to plagiarism which recognizes that students may
not actually understand plagiarism and be prepared to deal with it when they enter
higher education, Pittam et al. (2009) developed a research instrument, the Student
Authorship Questionnaire (SAQ), which measured attitudes towards authorial identity
in academic writing among UK psychology students. Authorial identity refers to the
sense a writer has of themselves (sic) as an author and textual identity they (sic) construct
in their (sic) writing (Pittam et al., 2009, p. 159). Authorial identity, Pittam et al. (2009)
argue, is strongly linked with unintentional plagiarism in that, if the former is poorly
developed, then the latter is more likely to occur.
Whilst unintentional plagiarism has been considered to some extent in other literature, a
review of the accounting literature reveals no study which has investigated unintentional
290 J. Ballantine & P. McCourt Larres