Detecting Plagiarism

Here are some ideas to try:

  • Popular search engines, such as Google or Yahoo are capable of identifying original sources.
    • Search unique phrases within the suspected paper.  
    • Try unusual combinations of words.
    • Think like a student and type a keyword or phrase they might use.
  • Since not all search engines index the same sites, try the search with two or three different engines or a meta search engine (ex. DogPile or Metacrawler).
  • Run a search in the library's full-text databases.
  • Look for odd layout and spacing, which occur with the cutting and pasting of Web pages.
  • Check for British spellings or colloquial phrases.
  • The scholarliness of a paper can be a marker for cheating.
    Look for sophisticated syntax and abstruse terms that are inconsistent with the student's vocabulary and writing style.
  • If you suspect plagiarism but do not have proof, ask the student about the subject matter of the paper, unusual vocabulary, and cited references.

So What's A Prof To Do?
There are a number of strategies for preventing plagiarism.

  • Let students know that you are aware of term paper mills by taking them to a Web site. Have them look at a weak paper and analyze its failures.
  • Show students how to correctly cite electronic sources.
  • Approach plagiarism as an issue of fair use and intellectual property.
  • Whenever possible, give specific, non-generic instructions for papers. For example, don't assign a paper on the broad topic of AIDS.
  • Approve topics in advance and do not allow last minute changes.
  • Give writing assignments which will capture students' attention.
  • Include specific instructions about the bibliography, such as requiring all students to include material from required readings among their sources.
  • Use the issues raised by the paper mill Web sites as a writing assignment on ethics.
  • Watch your students write by having in-class writing assignments as well as requiring them to turn in drafts of their papers.
  • Require students to turn in a copy of the first page for all sources used in the paper.
  • Ask students to reflect personally on the topic or the processes of research and writing, either in the paper or as an additional writing assignment. 
  • Require oral reports of student papers. Ask them questions about their research and writing. 

Plagiarism Awareness Sites