Category Archives: plagiarism

A plagiarism checkup is just what the doctor ordered

What a savvy concept (that’s underused): check a paper’s first draft for plagiarism before final submission. Students do a “spell check,” so why not a plagiarism check?

A plagiarism checkup’s benefits are manifold. A student spotting mistakes beforehand saves both the student and instructor the aggravation of a messy paper that could have been cleaned up earlier. The student learns some basics of preventing plagiarism the easy way, instead of the hard way. Deliberate plagiarizers discover, before they get themselves into trouble, that they can’t get away with it.

There are free sites, besides Google, that are useful tools for such a checkup: the University of Maryland’s The Plagiarism Checker (dustball.com/cs/plagiarism.checker) and Plagium.com. For a modest fee, there’s WriteCheck.com.

Preferably, though, students are enrolled in Turnitin and can submit their draft themselves and read the Originality Report for a good analysis. (Not all instructors are aware of the first draft checkup feature of Turnitin, especially the newbies to Turnitin.) A five-step checklist is available to aid students in interpreting their Originality Reports (bit.ly/plagiarismcheck). But even with Turnitin, the free sites and even Google are useful as supplementary tools—it’s not unusual for Turnitin to miss stolen text that the free sites will pick up.

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Rapid response plagiarism detection

Instant coffee. Minute rice. Google. Turnitin Quick Submit.

There are the “quicker solution,” shortcut options to tasks we are faced with.

Checking a student’s paper for plagiarism is no exception.

An instructor can sign up the whole class under Turnitin, and every paper routinely gets the Turnitin scrutinty, a report generated to show the percentage levels of legitimacy, or “originality,” in the paper.

Or the instructor can pick and choose the occasional paper that looks suspicious and check it for plagiarism. The simplest way is to simply google some phrases from the paper and see if it guiltily matches something on a website. Another relatively simple way is to use Turnitin’s Quick Submit.

To use the Turnitin Quick Submit, the whole class does not have to be set up within Turnitin. All that is required is that the instructor be registered (“joined”) within Turnitin, and that the Turnitin Quick Submit option is enabled.

The downside of using something like Google or Quick Submit is that it’s less labor intensive for the busy instructor pressed for time than using the full-featured Turnitin. Saving time with the abbreviated plagiarism checkups using Google or Quick Submit means that many other cases of plagiarism might be missed by not using the full Turnitin. A glaring case of plagiarism may catch the instructor’s eye, but less obvious cases will escape notice.

Remember also, it’s best to prevent plagiarism than trying to detect it. A lot of plagiarism can be achieved by simply educating the student about plagiarism and the power of Turnitin.

Pointers for quickie plagiarism detection:

(1)  Be on the lookout for shifts in writing style and quality (does a suspicious paper suddenly deviate in certain stylistic ways from the student’s usual output?). Sometimes it could be just a sentence or paragraph that is “different,” a direct quote or poor paraphrase that is not credited.

(2)  If you decide to google for a quickie check, find an odd or distinctive phrase in the paper to throw in the search engine and see what results come up. Beginning sentences from papers sometimes yield good hits. Place phrases within quotes for best results. Additionally, use Yahoo! and other search engines if you Google comes up with nothing.

(3)  If Turnitin fails to find the elusive text, even searching through its designated library database, like ProQuest, try a keyword search of the paper’s passages in other library databases.

What if, after trying the above tools, your plagiarism check is unsuccessful?

You feel certain the paper or sections of the paper are not the student’s work. The search engines and even Turnitin have not located elsewhere the text in question. Keep in mind that no search engine or even Turnitin is 100 percent effective in detecting plagiarism in the vastness of the publishing world.

Interrogating a student can be effective in eliciting answers. Here are some ways one can question a student, as suggested by Montgomery College Libraries:

  • Give the student a chance to prove that the paper is not plagiarized.
  • Quiz the student and see if he or she can define some of the words in the paper. A question such as: “Why did you use ‘egregious’ here?” can be enlightening.
  • Copy some sentences from the paper and leave blanks for some important words. If the student cannot fill in the blanks with the word used in the paper itself or a synonym, the student did not write the paper.
  • Ask questions about one of the sources used in the paper. “This article by X looks fascinating, why did you choose it? Can I see a copy?”
  • Ask the student how he or she searched for the information. Ask what database they used.

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