An Educator's Guide to Detecting and Preventing Plagiarism

Plagiarism is taking another person’s work, whether literary, musical, or artistic images, and claiming it as your own unique work. It is not simply copying another’s work word for word, bar by bar, or canvas stroke by canvas stroke. Derivative works are also considered plagiarized works if the new work is not significantly different from the original. For example, paraphrasing or rewording a literary idea is another form of plagiarism if it lacks attribution. Likewise, someone else can plagiarize a song without being an exact duplicate, if the new song derives the bulk of its composition from an original work.

Plagiarism affects negatively on the academic world on numerous fronts. First, to plagiarize research papers or finding results casts doubt on the outcome of the research. Second, plagiarism in academic assignments is cheating. Not only does the student not get the full benefit of learning by cheating, but also other students who do not cheat sit at an unfair advantage. They work hard to write their papers, while another student simply cheats to get a good grade. In terms of academic reputation, colleges and universities with high profile cases of faculty plagiarism are at risk to reputation, private funding, and community standing.

The internet has made plagiarism both more prevalent and easier to detect. The availability of information from vast sources, coupled with the ability to simply “cut and paste” text makes it easier for students to cheat by plagiarizing. However, the internet also provides instructors with simple but powerful allies in the war against plagiarism. There are tools available freely online to check for plagiarism, and even a simple internet search using a suspected plagiarized passage can provide an educator with proof of the offense.

There are numerous tools for detecting plagiarism, including many now endorsed and used by universities all across the country. There are also other, less high-tech methods instructors can employ. For example, familiarity with a specific student’s previous work provides insight into their natural tone and written cadence. This familiarity provides clues to when a passage is outside of a student’s normal writing style, a possible indication of plagiarism.

Unfortunately, many students do not realize that copying text directly from the internet is indeed plagiarizing. Many believe that Creative Commons License applies to anything on the internet that does not bear a copyright notation. This makes it more difficult to weed out intentional cheating from unintentional copyright infringement. In this regard, faculty, educators, and instructors are tasked with the responsibility of teaching students what constitutes plagiarism to help avoid it.

When an educator suspects plagiarism, it is wise to confirm the suspicion with factual evidence. Evidence in the form of results of plagiarism detection software or publicly viewable internet pages often provides ample proof. Once proof of academic dishonesty is established, many schools and universities have very clear policies on proper procedure for handling plagiarism. It is the educator’s responsibility and duty to her other students not to ignore a case of plagiarism. Likewise, she owes it to the student committing the plagiarism to correct his behavior so that he may continue to benefit from educational resources.

In the absence of clear guidelines for instances of plagiarism, an educator is left to her own judgment. Depending on the severity of the infraction, the minimum consequence of no credit for assignments containing plagiarized passages or works of others is appropriate. In more severe cases of plagiarism, lawsuits and charges of copyright infringement to which the student is subjected may prove more appropriate than any consequence an instructor might inflict. In such cases, failing a class may be the least of the student’s worries.

The following resources provide a more in-depth look at plagiarism, how to prevent and detect it, as well as strategies for dealing with cases of plagiarism.

The Plagiarism Resource Site. WCopyfind, a free software tool to detect plagiarism.

Coastal Carolina University. Links to sites offering online plagiarism detection.

Bob Jensen, Trinity College. Numerous links to articles, discussions, and other information on detecting plagiarism, including a review of various plagiarism tools.

Leeward Community College. Detection of plagiarism. Sometimes, all an instructor needs is a Google search.

Plagiarism Prevention. Article discussion of what plagiarism is and how to help prevent it in an academic setting.

University of California Academic Integrity Project. Article entitled The Meaning and Prevention of Plagiarism.

University of Cincinnati. Plagiarism resources for prevention as well as information on how to detect plagiarism.

Florida International University. Tips and tools to help identify and prevent plagiarism.

Taylor University. Consequences of plagiarism, both at the University level and in legal systems.

The U.S. Copyright Office. Anything and everything about copyright law in the U.S.

Copyright Law and Education. Copyright law, from history to current electronic formats, what is covered and what it means.

Colorado State University. Example of a typical university’s policy on plagiarized work and subsequent consequences.

Duke University. How to cite sources in both APA and MLA.

Purdue OWL. Online writing lab from Purdue, includes links to APA and MLA guidelines for citing sources.

North Carolina State University. Citing your sources, includes links to resources, tips, examples, and a link to the Landmark Project’s Citation Machine.

Princeton University Academic Integrity. Tips on when and how to cite sources.

Famous Cases of Plagiarism and Fraud. An extensive list of links to various plagiarism cases of the last ten years, including the case of Mike Allen of the Washington Post in 2003.

Gustavus Adolphus College. List of famous cases of plagiarism with summary, including mentions of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s plagiarism found in his doctoral dissertation and other academic papers.

Arizona State University. Webquest through plagiarism resources includes examples of plagiarism such as the notable cases of JK Rowling and Michael Bolton among several others.

UCSan Diego Library. Real world examples of plagiarism. Includes a list of high profile plagiarism cases and the consequences resulting from each case.

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