Plagiarism: Alive and Kicking in Academia

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education

As any resource that talks about it will tell you, plagiarism is a serious infringement whether intentional or not. As the saying goes, ignorance of the law is no excuse. However, despite the numerous books, articles, brochures, blogs, and websites dedicated to educating and warning about plagiarism and how to avoid it, it still happens and happens frequently. The Plagiarism Prevention Blog, for instance, highlights a case of an individual being stripped of his PhD in education at the University of Virginia when plagiarism was discovered in his dissertation. Unfortunately this is not the only case.

As an instructor I make it clear to my students that plagiarism is a violation of academic integrity and encourage them to use sites such as Indiana University’s How to Recognize Plagiarism tutorial and Purdue OWL’s Research and Citation Resources. If they are still not sure, they should ask me.

We also have at my university, Purdue University Calumet, a couple of proprietary resources that can check for plagiarism. I am reluctant to use these because they store the student’s work for future comparisons and I am not comfortable with that. However, I do often use the simple expedient of searching for the suspicious word or phrase in Google. By capturing the phrase in quotes, I can learn if this exact wording is used in any of the millions of documents linked through Google. Sometimes, a phrase may fall under “common knowledge.” However, that is usually a fairly easy call to make. There are two red flags that identify a phrase or sentence as suspicious. One is when it is referring to something that is not really common knowledge, such as specialized knowledge about a topic. The other is when the tone or voice of the paragraph changes. For instance, a student’s style in a paragraph is rather informal and, suddenly, a very formal phrase or sentence, very different in character from the surrounding text, appears.

Why am I writing about this topic? Unfortunately, it is not only students turning in papers or dissertations who resort to plagiarism. Today, I was reviewing an article submitted for possible publication in a journal, which will remain unnamed (not ETCJ), and the introductory paragraph sent up a red flag. I googled first one sentence then another. I soon discovered that the entire paragraph was taken word for word from an article that Google was able to access. Of course, I immediately notified the editor of the journal, and I assume that this article will be rejected out of hand.

Students and other writers have always plagiarized. I have been told that plagiarism is a serious issue among international students in the US because some cultures do not see plagiarism as an offense. Regardless of the reasons for plagiarizing, I do think that the Internet has proven to be a boon and a curse around this issue. On the one hand, it is very easy to find what you want and copy and paste it into your paper. On the other, as I can attest, it is also easy to find out where the suspicious materials came from.

Then there are SOPA and PIPA related to copyright infringement, which I see as a related issue. Perhaps someone else would like to go there.

4 Responses

  1. Two tools to search Google effortlessly are
    http://www.dustball.com/cs/plagiarism.checker/ checks the document phrase by phrase and gives possible plagiarism.
    and
    http://www.paperrater.com/plagiarism_checker

    I usually use both to cross check paying particular attention on quotations.

  2. […] jQuery("#errors*").hide(); window.location= data.themeInternalUrl; } }); } etcjournal.com – Today, 3:36 […]

    • Thanks for the links. I checked them both out with one of the suspicious paragraphs from the article I was reviewing. The first link, dustball.com, identified “possible” plagiarism which I was able to follow up. The second, paperrater, was less reliable – it showed this paragraph to be plagiarism-free which is not the case! I assume that paperrater must access fewer sites.

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