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Preventing Plagiarism from the Web
Presentation by Randy Rambo, Illinois Valley Community College
Home Page The Crime Motivation Accomplices
Investigation Suspects Prevention Resources
"Cheats, however, may soon learn that what the Internet giveth, it can taketh away" (Altschuler, 2001).


    Being alert to characteristics of plagiarized work can help you catch cheaters. Once you suspect plagiarism, you can identify work plagiarized from the Internet by using one of available plagiarism-detection programs or by using a search engine such as Google to search for key phrases from the suspect essay.

Red Flags Suggesting Plagiarism

Inconsistencies in the writing style (Notice these two sentences from a plagiarized paper: "Many bad qualities are displayed" and "He is tortured by man's insignificance and haunted by his fettered state of mind")
An extreme range in the weaknesses and strengths of the essay (such as excellent sentences but a weak sense of paragraphing) 
A writing style much more sophisticated, or much less sophisticated, than what you are used to seeing
A sudden radical and unexpected improvement in the student's writing
Inconsistent fonts in the essay--different font colors, sizes, or styles
Sentences or sections of the essay that do not relate clearly to the rest of the essay
Material in the essay that appears to originate from a classroom lecture but was not part of your lecture
A different documentation style than required for the essay
The student's inability to supply synonyms for some words used in the essay

Discovering Plagiarism with Detection Programs

The essay "A Matter of Choice" was plagiarized from five websites. Three paragraphs of the essay were copied from three different free essay websites, and two paragraphs were copied from other websites, all online sources that are freely accessible. One hundred percent of the essay was plagiarized. 

The essay was then tested for plagiarism by EVE 2, MyDropBox.com (formerly Plagiserve), and Turnitin.com. How well did these program detect the plagiarism?

Date Tested Percentage of Essay Detected as Plagiarized Links to Reports
EVE 2 Aug. 2002 18.19 percent EVE 2 report
MyDropBox.com Jan. 2004 100 percent MyDropBox.com report
Turnitin.com Aug. 2002 100 percent Turnitin.com report

Searching Your Own Set of Essays for Plagiarism
The programs above search the Internet for sources of plagiarism. Other programs search for common phrases in files on a local network or computer.

In 2001, professor Lou Bloomfield of the University of Virginia designed a computer program to scan essays and identify those essays with shared phrases. His program revealed widespread plagiarism in his courses. Professor Bloomfield has since made this program, called WCopyfind, freely available. A similar program is CopyCatch.

To use these two programs, you could have students submit electronic copies of essays and save those essays on your computer or network drive.

Discovering Plagiarism with a Search Engine

Using a search engine such as Google is one of the most effective ways to identify work plagiarized from the Internet. Using the instructions at the top of the "A Matter of Choice" page, see if you can identify the sources of plagiarism for the essay.

(Click Suspects to continue.)

This page was last updated on 06 June 2013
Copyright Randy Rambo