Detecting Plagiarism

Learn what to watch for

Detecting plagiarism isn’t always easy. So it's important to know some of the cues that will help you recognize dishonesty. As you become familiar with your students’ 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

  • 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 identification clues
  • Check for original source identification clues
  • Essay was printed from browse

Look for Content questions

  • Does the paper line up with the assignment?
  • Is it the correct type of paper — descriptive, narrative, 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?
  • Bibliography:
    • Does the bibliography use a consistent style?
    • Are sources current or out of date?
    • Does the bibliography match sources referenced in the paper?
    • Are the reference books cited available locally?
    • Are the web sites listed active?

Student knowledge of paper content

  • Can the student summarize the main points in their paper?
  • Can the student provide copies of cited material?
  • Can the student produce detailed research notes?

Tracking down Originals

  • Look for original text of sources listed
  • Search for unique keywords or phrases in Google or the search engine of your choice

On-line detection services

  • Google
  • See Urkund page for more information.
  • maintain a large database of digital material including online paper mills and papers from academic web sites. A paper is compared against the database, utilizing a matching algorithm, resulting in a report of originality. ($100-$750)
  • MOSS A System for Detecting Software Plagiarism — an automatic system for determining the similarity of C, C++, Java, Pascal, Ada, ML, Lisp, or Scheme programs