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Detecting Plagiarism

Here are some clues to look for:

  • Vastly different writing styles within the paper or from other in-class student writing.
  • Does the paper address the assignment requirements or are portions left out?
  • Is it the correct type of paper - descriptive, persuasive?
  • Incomplete references, made-up references, mixed citation styles
  • Bibliography: are there recent sources or are they all 4 or 5 years old?
  • Common facts footnoted, controversial points or statements not documented.
  • Last minute topic change
  • Unusual formatting, uneven margins, broken lines of text.
  • Odd sentences stuck into an otherwise smoothly written paper.
  • Many sources used that are NOT owned by local library.
  • Web sites listed that are inactive.
  • Sources used are mutilated or lost-destroying the evidence.
  • Strange anachronisms.
  • Quality is grade-school.
  • No current information or referring to historical events in the present tense.
  • Smoking guns-paper handed in with URL's in the footer, labels that say "Thank you for using Termpapers.com!", names or titles or headers that don't match title page, obviously whited-out names.

Be careful when confronting student about plagiarism. It is often possible to get a "confession" about plagiarism if the student is asked "Why is your writing style so different on other assignments?" "I was surprised at your findings and I've done some investigation into the sources you used. Before I tell you what I found out, is there anything you would like me to know?"

Preventing Plagiarism

  • Have students submit papers through the detection software TurnItIn.com.
  • Make sure students know what plagiarism is.
  • Make the penalties for plagiarism clear.
  • Let them know that YOU are aware of the ease of cut and paste and term papers mills on the web.
  • Analyze an online paper in class, focusing on its weaknesses. This sends a signal to students about the quality of what they will find on the web and is a useful critical thinking exercise.
  • Demonstrate or provide guidance on proper citation methods, especially for web-based formats. Be sure to properly cite or give credit to ideas you present in class or on your class handouts.
  • Provide specific instructions for the paper, including periodic deadlines to review progress. Make the PROCESS of writing the paper as important as the final product! Annotated bibs early in the process are good to get students going.
  • Have students take their list of references to a librarian for analysis and consultation about other possible research sources they might use.
  • Demand papers that go beyond regurgitation of facts. Have students make judgments and express opinions. They shouldn't just find the answer, they should make the answer.
  • Have students turn in drafts with the paper.
  • Require up-to-date references, or specific types of references (e.g. two websites, two books, two articles)
  • Have students hand in copies of title pages and articles used in their research.
  • Do oral reports or either private or classroom question and answer sessions.
  • Have students write a post-paper essay about what they learned. This gives you another writing sample for comparison.
  • Have an essay question on the final that addresses the student's paper.
  • Consider requiring shorter, but more frequent papers. Most term papers on the Internet are longer than 6 pages.
  • Make papers due before the end-of-the-semester crunch time, to avoid desperation cheaters.
  • Do alternative assignments that require library research.