“Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man; and, therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit; and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not.” - Francis Bacon
Homework isn’t always easy. Nowadays, students have a lot of resources to draw upon, including the internet. You can find everything on the web so beware of plagiarism!
Plagiarising someone else’s work, especially in an academic context, can have grave consequences for the student. It can be dealt with internally, but there are cases when plagiarism is illegal and can carry legal consequences.
How can a teacher check if work is copied or plagiarism?
Here are some solutions.
Plagiarism in the Internet Age
Plagiarism is the act of copying text or ideas and not acknowledging the original author or creator. Students can commit plagiarism unintentionally, too, by not correctly following the protocols for acknowledging another's work.
Of course, some people might be copying work or ideas to make things easier or get their homework done more quickly. However, others may be completely unaware that what they’re doing is wrong, which is why students need to be taught what plagiarism is and how and why they should avoid it.
Plagiarism doesn’t just occur in academia, though. Plagiarism can occur in many different fields. From art to literature, plagiarism is everywhere.
With the advent of the internet, there has been an increasing amount of plagiarism. It’s never been easier to copy and paste, after all.
Why waste your time coming up with your own ideas?
The majority of work is now submitted digitally, too, with this trend continuing during school closures and the restrictions surrounding COVID.
There’s so much information available on the web. Whether it’s for an essay or a dissertation, students can find a lot of useful information on the web so the temptation to simply copy and paste this information will always be there.
Teachers need to be aware of these problems. Whether you’re a teacher in a school, a university lecturer, or a private tutor, you need to know how to detect plagiarism. If you’re a tutor offering homework help, you’ll need to bring up plagiarism and show students how to avoid copying and pasting information and how to correctly cite reference when they do.
Understanding What Plagiarism Is
To better inform your students, you must know what plagiarism is. There are a lot of cases of involuntary plagiarism just because a student didn’t realise that what they were doing was plagiarism. Furthermore, a better understanding of plagiarism will help you to better detect voluntary plagiarism.
Plagiarism is essentially intellectual misrepresentation. Most commonly, it’s copying entire sentences and paragraphs. However, the idea itself is also protected. If you’ve found research claiming that “the weather is better in the south of the UK than in the north”, there’s nothing to stop you from saying “the climate in the north of the UK is worse than in the south” as if the idea is your own.
You definitely shouldn’t copy any sentences word for word. However, if you’re trying to pass the idea or concept off as your own, that's also plagiarism. If the above concept is a proven idea from an established academic, you may want to credit them with the idea by referencing them. Referencing shows that you’re acknowledging someone else’s work and using it to inform your ideas.
As a teacher, you need to know the difference between plagiarism and incorrect referencing. In either case, you’ll need to talk to the student and make them aware of the consequences of plagiarism, especially for official exams or at university.
You’re allowed to copy sentences, paragraphs, and ideas, but you need to use the appropriate citations to show where you got the idea.
It’s common for students to quote sentences and just forget the quotation marks and the reference.
Plagiarism isn’t just copying famous authors and academics. Students can also copy their classmates. Even if the latter has allowed them to do so, it’s still plagiarism. Students can even find essays and dissertations that have already been done by someone else on the internet.
You need to be aware of what work your students are submitting.
Using Search Engines to Detect Plagiarism
It’s not always obvious whether work has been copied. For hard-copies, you can’t just copy and paste them into plagiarism-checkers, which makes it difficult for teachers to check whether or not the work is a copy. However, plagiarism predates the internet and plagiarism-checkers so there are ways to get around it.
The simplest way to check is by searching for an exact expression from the work and see if it appears in search results. If the student has copied their work, you’ll find results with that exact phrasing. This is a way to see if work has been copied without having to copy the entire text.
It’s worthwhile doing this a few times with different parts of the text just to be sure. After all, the more times you try, the more confident you can be of your results. Certain groups of words may occur quite regularly online and not be the result of plagiarism so you’ll want to take entire sentences or paragraphs and make sure that you’re searching for them in that order.
If the sentence appears on another site, go to the site and check it against the student’s work to see where, when, and if the work has been plagiarised. A quick look at the two texts side-by-side will show you whether or not there’s any malfeasance.
It’s always a good idea to look at Wikipedia and check the article for the subject the student has been writing about since a lot of students will go directly to Wikipedia for their homework.
With digital copies of homework, you can use online tools to check the work against other texts and websites. For hard-copies, you can still use plagiarism-checkers. Much like with using search engines, you can always search for a few sentences or paragraphs at a time.
You won’t be able to check the entire text at once unless you’re willing to transcribe the whole thing. However, if a few expressions show up as appearing elsewhere online, you can check others.
Plagiarism-checkers can check work against the web. There are a few different types of plagiarism-checkers, though.
Some allow you to compare two texts, which is useful if you already have an idea of where the student has copied their work.
Others allow you to analyse the text and compare it to websites and online resources, which will make it easier to find which sources the student may have plagiarised.
Tips for Finding Plagiarism
In addition to tools and resources for finding plagiarism, teachers can also use their intuition. You can often tell if something doesn’t seem right in your student’s work. Trust this intuition and do your research.
If terms are used without a clear understanding of what they mean, their work may be copied. Similarly, expressions that the student wouldn’t usually use are a clear sign that the work isn’t theirs; their use of language may differ from sentence to sentence.
If you’ve been teaching a certain student for a while, you may be familiar with how they write, speak, and express themselves. Unusual vocabulary is often a clear indicator.
If a student has copied an entire text, it’ll be really easy to compare it against something that they’ve written themselves. Of course, the student may just be trying to expand their vocabulary and write better. In this situation, they may incorrectly use certain terms, something you’ll probably notice quite quickly.
It’s harder to detect plagiarism if a student has copied a classmate’s work. However, it does mean that you’ll have both texts to compare to one another.
Don’t hesitate to talk to your student. As for private tutors, you don’t want to pressure the student but rather help them learn how to correctly reference and how to present ideas in their own words as well as get to the root of the problem and why they were plagiarising in the first place.
Laziness? A lack of confidence? To make things easier? Or were they struggling?