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Signs of Cyber-Plagiarism

17 Nov

For as long as schools have educated young minds, the practice of plagiarism has been a problem and a dirty little secret of otherwise sanctimonious institutions. Adding to the frequency and breadth of plagiarized work submitted by students, however, is the internet. As web access and amount of tech savvy students has increased, so too has the ease with which pupils gain access to and submit work that is not their own. Often referred to as “cyber-plagiarism” this practice is like the plagiarism of yesteryear on steroids. Students copy content and concepts found online without providing any attribution to a source. Cyber-plagiarism also involves attaining already completed papers (research, theses, whole DISSERTATIONS—whatever a student needs there is probably a way to download or buy it online) and handing them over to an unsuspecting teacher or professor as original work. This widespread cyber problem is especially affecting colleges and Universities and without the proper attention could lead to dire implications.

When initially reading a student’s work keep your eye out for the following “tells” of cyber-plagiarism:

1.         False sources-Students may make up sources to give the appearance that the information they are regurgitating verbatim is actually paraphrased content from a legitimate source. If a source looks suspect or you have never heard of it, a simple Google search will reveal if it is an actual book/scholarly article/etc.

2.         Changes in writing-If the writing style of a paper changes drastically during the course of reading it, it is possible that it came from multiple sources OR the student wrote parts of it and copied other parts. In this same vein, changes in the quality of the writing throughout the paper could be a red flag.

3.         Knowledge base-As the instructor, you know what information the student had access to as a result of your class and reading assignments. If the paper far exceeds this knowledge base it could be cause for concern.

4.         Not quite on point-The paper is quite good, well-supported and well-written, but not EXACTLY on the topic or question you assigned. It is possible in this case that the student found something online that was a “best fit” to their assignment and went with it.

5.         Strange sources-Their sources may be actual books and journals but if those books are extremely outdated or the journals are not accessible through your library or library’s online database, then it is highly unlikely that the student referenced them.

6.         Anachronisms-References to past politicians as “current”, outdated electronics as “brand new” or celebrity has-beens as “popular” could be cause for a more thorough examination.

7.         Format discrepancies-Just LOOKING at a student’s work can sometimes reveal questions. Varied fonts, different styles between pages, multiple bibliographic styles (Chicago, MLA, APA), American AND British spelling, could all raise suspicion before ever reading the actual text.

If one or more of these telling signs is present in a student’s work, NEVER FEAR—cyber-plagiarism can be combated through the very technology that ushered it in. Hop on the internet; go to a search engine and type in a key phrase from the assignment. When using this approach make sure to find a distinctive phrase, perhaps with multiple uncommon words in one sentence. Another option is to resort to a grammar checker, while the main objective of these tools is to check for grammatical correctness you will find that most feature a plagiarism filter.

This means of combating the issue, however, can be time consuming and many students take content from multiple sources to piece together a final product—so pin pointing ALL the plagiarized source material can be difficult. As such, plagiarism detection electronic programs and software have become a valuable resource for colleges and Universities. These programs allow the instructor to identify borrowed text from websites, online content and paper-mill databases.

If you or your organization is in charge of large amounts of content where originality and quality are imperative consider using Grammarly the best resource to remain in compliance with all grammar rules.

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