Being aware of what you are up against is a useful starting
point so think about the plagiarist’s ‘craft’. How could
you shortcut the task if you had been given it?
Visit some homework ‘help’ sites and look at what is on offer.
A May 2002 Google search for ‘homework’ returned 4.6 million
sites; by September 2003 this had risen to 7.8 million! These sites vary
from the laudable, eg, the National
Geographic, to the exploitative ‘paper mills’, sites which
have a huge range of papers for sale. You can even select a particular
grade, presumably so you can stay in your own league and not make it too
obvious it’s not your own work. The Kimbel
Library maintains an excellent site tracking the ‘mills’.
They note that, ‘in March 1999, it had 35 sites on it. In March
2003, there are over 250 general sites listed.’ There are also subject
Lovers of irony should visit ethicspapers.com,
providing ‘research papers to assist students studying ethics’.
If they don’t have it, they'll, ‘write one as quickly as you
Well known mills include, homework.com,
These sites may be filtered on school networks so try from elsewhere or
have the site unblocked. Probably the best-known detection site is turnitin.com
which checks student work against potential sources and then reports back
to the subscriber. Students of subscribing schools can even submit work
through this site so it has been authenticated before handing up.
Steps any teacher can take before going to this expense include the following.
Search topics you set to acquaint yourself with what is available. Try
more than one search engine as they throw up different results. Note that
people rarely go beyond the first page or so of the sites returned. You
might casually ask targeted students which engines they find most helpful.
CD/online encyclopaedias are particular favourites of the lazy so check
these if nothing else. Having assignments emailed to you saves the tedium
of keying in suspect passages accurately.
Students may try to disguise plagiarism by changing the introductory paragraph
or the first line of other paragraphs so start looking elsewhere. Look
for technical terms and/or complex language and choose a ‘string’
of 5~10 words. Type or paste the suspect string into the search engine
find field enclosed in double quotes forcing a search for the complete
string. Search engines use different algorithms so some are better than
others. I often start with www.alltheweb.com because it looks for the
string exactly as entered and will often return a single accurate hit.
Google is currently the most popular engine and what a plagiariser finds
with it will also be found by the righteous! Before giving up on a search
try different suspect strings and different engines. Colleagues who tried
this technique found the results ‘quite scary’, particularly
as they were not initially suspicious and were simply experimenting. Remember,
if you don’t find anything it does not mean the work is not plagiarised,
only that you did not find it. Your intuition could still be correct.
You may wish to practise this technique using the examples you will find