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Preventing and detecting plagiarism

It’s up to you to stress the importance and benefit of original work to your students. University is not just about grades; it's about learning!

Preventing plagiarism

Make your expectations clear and follow through

This sales pitch from the online paper mill called "Due Now" is a good example of what you're up against: 

“Are you sick-and-tired of spending hours in a library or online searching for an essay on your topic—only to end up with no essay and no quality information? Tired of slaving all night long writing an essay—only to get a garbage grade? Do you have better things do with your time than spend it writing a useless essay?” 

It’s up to you to stress the importance and benefit of original work to your students. To remind them that university is not just about grades; it's about learning. 

The best prevention is talking about the problem by educating your students about academic integrity and what plagiarism is and isn’t. Bring examples. Explain why citing is important. Explain how to paraphrase and cite properly. Ask a librarian to come and talk to your class. 

Below are more tips that will help you prevent plagiarism in your classes.

Have students sign an awareness statement

You can have students sign a student awareness statement to affirm that the work they are submitting is original, has not been submitted for academic recognition or credit in any other class, and has not been copied from other sources. You may choose to distribute the statement at the beginning of every term or with each assignment. 

A number of faculty at Dalhousie have chosen to require that their students sign a declaration indicating that the work they are turning in is their original work and not copied or purchased. If the students plagiarize after signing such a statement, this statement can form part of the evidence considered by the Academic Integrity Officer.

Following is an example of a student awareness statement used by Dr. David Egan in the School of Physiotherapy:

“I hereby declare that the work presented in this paper, except as acknowledged in the text and references, is my own original work and that it has not been submitted for academic recognition or credit at Dalhousie or any other university, neither has it been copied, retrieved by any means, or purchased, in whole or in part, from any other source.” 


Another example, shared with permission of the author Dr. Phil Cox of the Faculty of Computer Science, is:

“I declare that I have read and understand the Dalhousie University policy on Intellectual Honesty. I also declare that the answers attached are my own work, done without collaboration, and that I have fully disclosed all information sources that I used in preparing them (other than class notes and text).”

Ask students to write an honour pledge

The University of Maryland has an honour pledge that is meant to be handwritten by students and reads: 

"I pledge on my honour that I have not given or received any unauthorized assistance on this assignment/examination." 

Writing out the code makes students think about what it says every time they commit it to paper. You could also require the students to include an honour statement on their papers which declares that the work is their own unless cited.

Talk about what happens when students are caught cheating

You should also talk about what happens if students are caught plagiarizing, collaborating without authorization, cheating on exams, or sharing information. Let students know there’s a discipline process in place and the consequences can be serious. You could even review Dalhousie’s policies with your class.

Explain the benefits of completing assignments ethically

Convince students that assignments are developed for their benefit and clarify what the benefits are:

  • Develop honest critical thinking.

  • Strengthen thinking ability.

  • Gain a wider view of the subject. 

  • Clarify ideas.

  • Promote lifelong learning. 

  • Values thinking, analyzing, organizing, and reasoning. 

Emphasize the importance of using and citing sources

  • Help students understand why they should cite
      • To help the reader if they are interested in reading further on the topic; 
      • To show respect for fellow researchers; 
      • To avoid plagiarism.

  • Explain why students should use sources for their paper
      • Strengthens their arguments; 
      • Adds interest to their paper; 
      • Provides new ideas; 
      • Reveals controversies; 
      • Helps them understand how reasoned argument works.

  • Emphasize good citation style and the benefits of citation.

  • Define plagiarism and explain how to document sources.

  • Model appropriate behaviour by providing references to lecture content. 

  • Teach students citation tips and tricks. From The New Plagiarism: Seven Antidotes to Prevent Highway Robbery in an Electronic Age comes this idea — "stress green ink and citation ethics." Author Jamie McKenzie suggests students use black ink to write about ideas they've collected from others, and green ink to connote any ideas or conclusions the student has themselves made. In short: "Black signifies the ideas of others. Green text signifies fresh thinking." What makes this argument compelling is that it will force students to get away from the handy cut-and-paste method of having the Internet close at hand. During the process of their research, they'll actually distinguish between the ideas from others they're citing, and the original conclusions they're drawing for themselves.

  • Demonstrate how to honestly incorporate web papers into their research.

Build students’ knowledge and skills

Set students up for success by teaching them the skills they need to succeed honestly. Some ideas include:

  • Making sure students have the research skills necessary for doing the assignment. Consider having a librarian teach them how to find appropriate resources.

  • Sending students to the student resources section (link to student resources) of this site.

  • Giving details other supports and services that are available on campus including the Writing Centre and Dal Libraries.

Detecting plagiarism

Detecting plagiarism isn’t always easy. It’s important to know some of the cues that will help you recognize dishonesty. As you become familiar with your student’s work, for example, you will recognize when specialized vocabulary, scholarly language, or terms of expression are out of character for that student.

Here are some other ideas for detecting plagiarism:

Look for visual cues

Visual cues might include:

  • Unusual formatting, for example inconsistent font sizes or styles, greyed out letters or words, multiple page numbers on a single page.

  • Mixed citation styles.

  • Mixed up spelling styles, for example American and Canadian stylings: both "color" and "colour", "centre" and "center.” 

  • Strange or poor layout.

  • Strange grammar or syntax (could be the result of using a web translation service to translate a copied paper into French or German and then back to English to foil detection).

  • Quotations that sound out of place.

  • Sections or sentences that do not relate. 

  • Anachronisms.

  • Check for original author and source identification clues.

  • Look to see if the paper was printed from browser.

Look for content questions

  •  Does the paper line up with the assignment?
  •  Is it the correct type of paper — descriptive, narrative, or research-oriented?
  •  Does it stray off-topic, with a few paragraphs thrown in to bring it back?
  •  Is the language consistent? Does it stay at a consistent level, or change from good to poor and back again?
  •  Examine the bibliography:
    • Are sources current or out of date?
    •  Does it match the sources referenced in the paper?
    •  Are the reference books cited available locally?
    •  Are the websites listed active?
    •  Does it use a consistent style?

Test the students’ knowledge of paper content

  • Can the student summarize the main points in their paper?

  • Can they provide copies of cited material?

  • Can they produce detailed research notes?

Track down originals

  • Look for the original text of the sources listed.

  • Search for unique keywords or phrases using Google or the search engine of your choice.

Use online detection tools and services

Some common online detection tools include:

  • Using Google or other search engines to check if the content in a student’s paper appears in search results.

  • Ouriginal (formerly Urkund) is integrated into Brightspace and can check student papers for plagiarism.

  • maintains a large database of digital material including online paper mills and papers from academic websites. 

  • MOSS is a system for detecting software plagiarism. It can automatically determine the similarity of C, C++, Java, Pascal, Ada, ML, Lisp, or Scheme programs.