“I've been imitated so well I've heard people copy my mistakes.” - Jimi Hendrix

Some students really struggle with writing. That doesn’t justify plagiarism, though. Other students don’t even realise that they’re plagiarising someone else’s work.

So how can teachers see if their students are plagiarising?

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Plagiarism and Digital Work

Computers have changed the world of education and while computers have been around for a few decades, in recent years, they’ve become an important part of education.

How can you find plagiarism in digital files?
Checking for plagiarism digitally is much easier than checking hard copies. (Source: Free-Photos)

From a very young age, students learn how to type on a keyboard and browse the net. IT tools are part of most students’ education and many students will now do most of their work and note-taking on a computer or laptop.

There are also drawbacks to using computers and a lot of teachers have the problem of stopping their students copying work. It can happen to any teacher. But not every student is trying to plagiarise, though.

How so?

In some cases, a student may forget to cite reference or not even be aware of what they’re supposed to do. A lot of students, especially in the age of the internet, aren’t aware that plagiarism is illegal, which is why it’s important to teach them about it.

Others aren’t even aware that what they’ve written is a copy of somebody else’s work. After searching online, they may have coincidentally written something that’s identical to another author’s work with segments, sentences, or phrases, that are coincidentally identical to another text.

Of course, many cases of plagiarism are voluntary. Whether it’s through laziness or a lack of creativity, some students decide that they’d rather copy somebody else’s text than find the right words to describe what they’d like to say.

In some cases, plagiarism could be through a lack of self-confidence. It doesn't make it right, but it's an important reason to consider.

Plagiarism is made more appealing by the sheer number of online resources available to students. While students used to have to look in books, they can now find almost all the information they’ll ever need with a search. Copying and pasting is an easy way to plagiarise as it's much easier to copy text from a website than from a book, after all.

School teachers, university lecturers, and private tutors should all take the time to educate students about the risk of plagiarising and explain how to correctly reference.

Find out more about plagiarism.

What Counts as Plagiarism?

It can be tricky for students to understand what does and doesn’t count as plagiarism. You can reference another author’s work as long as you correctly indicate where you took the idea or work from and aren’t trying to pass it off as your own.

What counts as plagiarism?
There are sites and resources that protect against copying which won't allow users to copy and paste. (Source: jmexclusives)

So what is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of copying text or ideas and not acknowledging the original author or creator. Paraphrasing or rephrasing other works is also considered plagiarism. However, this is harder to detect than outright copying.

Plagiarism is similar to copyright infringement and intellectual property theft and is largely illegal. Most plagiarism is covered by the copyright laws in the UK. According to the law, plagiarism generally falls under copyright and it’s the idea that you’re presenting an idea or a piece of work as if it originated from you and that you are the original author.

Plagiarism doesn’t just cover the words themselves. You need to reference the author if you’re taking their ideas of discoveries; you couldn't claim you’ve discovered gravity or speak like you went on the same journey as an explorer. Big ideas and concepts need to reference their creators, which is particularly important in academic research and work.

Pay attention to mistakes, too. Each teacher or tutor should let their students know if there’s a suspicion of plagiarism. They may need to explain how plagiarism works or how to correctly reference or cite other works. There’s also a big difference between deliberate plagiarism and poorly citing reference. It could be something as innocent as missing quotation marks or forgetting to put the author’s name.

Keep an eye out for pre-written works as students can find essays and dissertations online. This type of plagiarism exists but is much harder to detect than copying from sources.

Learn more about detecting plagiarism.

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Using Search Engines to Detect Plagiarism

It’s much harder to detect plagiarism on physical copies of work than on digital copies of work as there are a lot of tools that can effectively detect plagiarism in digital texts.

How can you use search engines to check for plagiarism?
If you simply search for a passage that you think has been copied, you can see if it appears elsewhere on the web. (Source: Free-Photos)

You can use a search engine to help you look for plagiarism. Just search for a sentence or paragraph from the text that looks suspicious. You can then find if the results show similar texts or identical sentences.

You can then check to see if it’s been directly copied from a given source.

If the work is a PDF, it can also be tricky to convert into text that can be copied and pasted. There are sites and tools online that you can use to transform PDFs into text. This can make searching much easier.

Make sure you copy the sentence in its entirety. Just copying a few words won’t work as very common words will be found on thousands of different sites and sources.

You might also want to check the Wikipedia page on the topic of the work, too. Many students, especially young ones, will go straight to Wikipedia for their research.

Using Plagiarism-Checkers

There are tools for detecting plagiarism. The most popular include:

  • Copyscape
  • Plagiarisma
  • Small SEO Tools
  • PlagScan
  • PlagTracker
  • Viper

Plagiarism-checkers are free for the most part or offer a trial version. In this instance, the teacher just needs to copy and paste the two texts and the software will take care of the rest.

There are also tools like Compilatio that can be used by academic establishments to check for plagiarism. This tool, for example, can compare texts online and other texts that it has already checked, which makes it easier to see if one student has copied another.

There are some downsides to these tools, though. If the sentence isn’t copied verbatim, some checkers won’t consider this plagiarism and it’s also much more difficult to check for plagiarism against sources with no digital versions.

Discover the best tools for finding plagiarism.

How to Detect Plagiarism by Reading

Since plagiarism-checkers aren’t 100% accurate, the teacher can always use their intuition to find plagiarism.

Can you check for plagiarism without tools?
You know your students. If it doesn't look like their own writing, it probably isn't. (Source: StockSnap )

A teacher may know their students’ writing style and the type of vocabulary they like to use. When a student copies someone else’s work, the writing won’t be like it usually is. There are small details and clues that the teacher can use to discover whether or not they’ve been cheating.

Find out more about the consequences of plagiarism.

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Joseph

Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.