Every HE professor, lecturer and tutor has to deal with the issue of plagiarism at some point in his or her career and so it is worth working out early on in your career the best ways to help your students avoid such mistakes.
Increasingly with the use of electronic and online resources plagiarism (or the deliberate copying of unattributed material) is becoming more common. It has been in the news this week as reports that a German politician and one of Gaddafi’s sons may have plagiarised their PhDs. Accusations of plagiarism are mercifully rare amongst academics although they can happen and can ruin a career. However, among undergraduate students some think this problem is rife and that teachers are not doing enough to detect or prevent it.
There are several pieces of detection software that you can try using that will do the work for you. Plagiarism can also be detected manually by you simply by entering small quotations into Google. Many students steal information from websites or Google books so a quick search will bring up the problem. How do you spot plagiarism in the first place?
– change of style. The main think to look out for is a student who writes poorly suddenly becoming very fluent! This is usually an indication that they are using someone else’s words.
– change of font. It sounds silly, but if students are cutting and pasting information from the internet, they often don’t bother to change the font to make it uniform with the one they used earlier in the essay.
– something that sounds familiar. Ideas or turns of phrase that sounds familiar to you probably are so double check the key texts in that field to see whether any theft has taken place.
– a suspicious reference. Sometimes plagiarism is accidental (i.e. unwittingly a student will write someone else’s words as their own because their note-taking has been poor). Occasionally it is deliberate and students can try to mask this using fake references. Keep an eye open for a reference detailing a non-existent book or an item that the student definitely would not have had access to.
If you can show your university that you are aware of their regulations and are alert to the possibility of plagiarism, you will be showing yourself to be an excellent teacher and interested in protecting the reputation of the institution. The other side of this is to talk to your students to make sure that they understand what plagiarism is in the first place.
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