Not every student is a potential plagiarist. In order to detect plagiarism, you need solid clues.
Indicators of Plagiarism
In an effort to avert suspicion of plagiarism, many students try to disguise their copying. Passages of text are rearranged or mixed together from various sources.1
A trained eye, however, can tell just by reading whether a document is internally consistent. The following signs may indicate an instance of plagiarism:2
Unusually Good Writing Style
Naturally there are some documents written by students which are very good in style.
However, when a text is extraordinarily well written and the diction is too perfect, you should begin to entertain doubts. These could be signs of plagiarism, especially in the case of inexperienced writers or those just beginning their studies.
Change of Style
A sudden change of style within a document could indicate that “cribbing” occurred while it was being written.
- the text suddenly becomes flawless after a significantly large section with spelling errors
- the subjunctive is frequently used
- or the formatting suddenly changes in the middle of a running text (different headings, line spacing, margins or fonts),
you should conduct a manual plagiarism check.
If you notice exceptionally strange words or unusual expressions in a document that are not part of a student’s vocabulary, this could be an indicator of plagiarism.
Unusual misspellings can be a sign of plagiarism. Mistakes are sometimes copied word for word from a source since the plagiarist believes that they are actually examples of technical jargon.
Likewise, proper nouns written several different ways in the same document may also indicate that the text was copied from several different sources. A plagiarism check would also be advisable in this situation.
Methods of Checking for Plagiarism
If suspicions begin to mount, there are various methods for establishing whether plagiarism has taken place.3
Online Search Engines
At first you should randomly check some of the passages in question, using a search engine such as Google or Yahoo. z. B. Google oder Yahoo.4
Simply type whichever sentences grab your eye into the search box. For optimal search results, these sentences should be at least six words in length.
Note: Do not forget to document the websites where you have located the sources of plagiarism so that you can find them again if necessary. As websites are constantly changing, you are best advised to print out the relevant documents with date and source.
Online Plagiarism Software
An efficient alternative to time-intensive searches and manual evaluation would be an online program for automated plagiarism checking.5
Such an online service allows you to simply upload suspicious documents for immediate analysis. The results are listed along with all sources located.
Additionally, you can have all matches shown directly within the text and compared with one another. The number of matches is displayed as a percentage.
Even with the internet’s numerous possibilities, conducting research at the library is still advisable in many cases. Although this method of research is a bit more time-consuming, it is well worth the effort when plagiarism is suspected.
Tip: Many libraries now have access to an online catalog where you can retrieve books in digital form.
Handling Cases of Plagiarism
Once you have established that plagiarism has taken place, you should act without delay and respond appropriately.
The first thing you should do is speak confidentially with the student, asking them why they plagiarized.6
In the first case, you will often thereby obtain helpful information for preventing similar cases of plagiarism from occurring in the future. Secondly, by discussing it, the incident can be made into a learning experience for the student.
Inform yourself about the guidelines concerning plagiarism and the consequences for it prescribed by your educational institution.
At the university level, it is necessary to inform the university’s attorney. Moreover, you should find out whether there exists a committee responsible for handling cases of plagiarism and inform them right away.
Some educational institutions have an honor code which explicitly defines penalties for plagiarism.