This paper conjectured why students in higher education, particularly in language, literature, and culture courses, plagiarise. It considered some of the ways assessors respond to plagiarism and suggested how we might reduce its occurrence.

It argued that most lecturers and tutors simply lack the time and, for sensible and practical reasons, even the motivation to track down the sources of suspect material in order to prove a charge of plagiarism. And anyway, the levelling of formal charges not only demoralises all concerned, but fails to respond to the conditions that give rise to plagiarism in the first place.

Rather than resort to judicial type practice, we might better serve our students and ourselves by recognising that plagiarism is a common recourse of those who have not developed learning strategies adequate to the tasks before them. While some students do wilfully and deliberately ‘steal’ material, others are ignorant of the academic conventions that would allow them to appropriately and legitimately incorporate borrowed material, and still others are simply at a loss for how to distinguish their own ideas from someone else’s. The problem is as intellectual as it is mechanical.