Most Effective Ways to Detect Plagiarism for Teachers in 2021

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24 Nov 2021

The following guide will help you learn about plagiarism, teach students how to avoid it, and help you detect it!

Effective Ways to Detect Plagiarism for Teachers

Why Plagiarize?

There are many reasons students plagiarize. Many students lack confidence in their own abilities, do not understand the work, face pressure from family or peers to achieve well, are subject to time pressures (especially if they also work), or simply do not understand how to properly cite sources of information, as well as the obvious reason; wanting to take short cuts and get work over with! Evidently, it is important to bear all these factors in mind so that you can sensitively do plagiarism prevention in your classroom.

Sources of Plagiarized Work

Academic plagiarism is very common, ‘Based on a 7-year research study by Donald McCabe of over 70,000 high school students, it was found that 64% confessed to cheating on a test, 58% confessed to plagiarizing content, and 95% admitted to some form of cheating’. Thus, teachers need to be on the ball!

In the past, students were required to visit a library to copy information from books or scholarly journals. Alternatively, they may get hold of past term papers or the work of peers to copy from. However, due to the mass availability of the internet in the 1990's, copying the work of others became much easier. Texts are far easier to locate, copy, and paste without the time-consuming act of re-writing. The student of today, also has access to website services that will provide them with work (for a fee) that often includes plagiarized content.

Tips for Teachers to Detect Plagiarism

Students can be quite creative when it comes to hiding plagiarism. In their intents to fool the software, they can replace roman letters with cyrillic ones or place pieces of text in white font in between the lines or words. It can trick some plagiarism checkers while leaving no obvious trace for the professor. Some students would even make up references to hide the copied pieces or make their bibliography look more impressive. Teachers should always be on guard and look out for possible plagiarism issues, and there are several ways to do so:

Inconsistent Writing Style

You may find that reading a student’s papers over a term allows you to become familiar with their writing style. If you find that there is a sudden change in their writing style from one paper to the next or sudden changes throughout the same paper, the work may not be entirely their own. Examples to watch out for include distinct repetitions, more academic, formal, or eloquent vocabulary.

Different Types of Fonts, Colors, and Format

It is extremely easy, in the age of the internet, to copy and paste large chunks of text to insert into text. This can be a useful means by which a student can collect valuable and relevant information to their work that they may wish to incorporate. However, if these chunks of information are not cited accurately, the student is claiming these to be their own words or ideas. The student may be fully aware of this, or they may simply have forgotten to cite the information or be unaware about how to cite accurately. Either way, this equates to plagiarism and sudden changes in font, color, and format e.g., line spacing changes, are a good indicator that this may have occurred.

Strange Changes in Tenses

Academic papers are often written in the first person (plural), therefore, first-individual contributions can be an indication of stolen work or ideas.

Quotation Marks and Citation

When the citation style changes, for instance, the student has cited sources in a mixture of APA and MLA, their work may include copied content and if a student fails to accurately cite original sources of work or ideas, it is plagiarism. To avoid this occurring, ensure students fully understand your educational institution's required citation style and the consequences of not adhering to it.

Use a Search Engine

It is quite easy to copy and paste any suspicious sentences from a student’s work into a search engine, such as Google, and find out if it has been copied. The search engine will also quickly locate the document in which the sentence appears. If the search engine does not bring forth any matching results, it is an indication that the work may be the student’s original work.

Use of Plagiarism Checker

Plagiarism checkers are an amazing way to test any student’s paper and identify exactly which parts have been plagiarized and where the original work has come from. Advanced plagiarism checkers are generally more effective but there are many free checkers that are effective too. Your academic institution may allow you access to an advanced plagiarism checker free of charge (as they pay the fee for it) but if they do not, try out the Online plagiarism checker. Please bear in mind that plagiarism checkers may identify quotes, citations and references or bibliographies as plagiarized content, but these can be ignored as the source is acknowledged. 

How to Avoid Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a huge problem in the field of education and according to plagiarism statistics: Among those who were involved in cheating at least once, only 7.5% were caughtPlagiarism is often intentional, but it can also be unintentional. Fortunately, there are many ways in which you can aid your students to avoid both. Help your students by teaching them simple ways to ensure their work is plagiarism-free via the following methods:

Red Equals Danger!

Suggest that when they are copying and pasting useful text or material into their documents for possible use, to immediately colour it red or highlight it, so they remember that it requires citation (if they use the text or material) and leave the webpage open (from which they sourced it) on a tab. The student can change the text to black and close the tab after they have correctly cited it. 

Citations Rule!

Encourage students to accurately cite their sources within their text and in the reference list or bibliography in the required style of their educational institution (e.g., Harvard, MLA, APA, Chicago, etc).

Quotation Accuracy

Help students understand that direct quotes must be written within quotation marks. If copied text is not written in quotation marks, explain to the student that they are ultimately claiming that the words are their own and emphasize that In-text citations must follow all copied text. The exception to this is when longer quotes of more than 4 lines, or 40 words (approximately) are used. Student’s will then need to be shown or reminded of how write the quote in block form (with no quotation marks) and following a colon. The in-text reference will remain the same.

Paraphrasing Dangers

Explain to students that paraphrasing needs to be very carefully carried out! Although some students may think they have re-written the information, if the ideas remain the same, they will still need to acknowledge the source, but of course, speech marks will not be required.

Encourage Originality!

Remind students to include their own ideas and work! Sounds obvious, but sometimes students get so caught up in presenting the ideas and work of others, they forget to give their own! 

Technical Tools

Show them how to use a plagiarism checker! These amazing tools can quickly identify plagiarism in their paper, and you can work with them to eliminate these areas until it passes the checker! They can then hand in their work feeling assured that they will not receive any embarrassing accusations of plagiarism!

You Can Make a Difference

Plagiarism is a major, time-consuming, and difficult problem for all educational establishments. Even the most conscientious and honest of students can be caught out and face the consequences. It is such a shame to see any student go through this, but you can make a difference. Taking the above advice and putting it into action in your classroom can significantly reduce the likelihood of this occurring to your students.

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