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Preventing & Detecting Plagiarism

*FROM: THE PLAGIARISM HANDBOOK: Strategies for Preventing, Detecting, and Dealing with Plagiarism by Robert A. Harris

Top Three Strategies for Preventing Plagiarism

1. Require specific components for the paper. Develop a set of requirements that allow flexibility but that also prevent a canned or downloaded paper from fitting the assignment.

     + At least two sources must be less than a year old.
     + Include a table of data collected by the student in a survey or experiment.
     + Include a discussion or analysis of a specific book or article named by the instructor.
     + Make use of at least two books, three articles, two Web articles, and an interview.

2. Require process steps. To prevent a student from handing in a paper downloaded or borrowed the night before the assignment is due, require that you see evidence of ongoing construction of the paper. Points should be given to each piece of the process, so that a student who hands in a paper without turning in the pieces will not pass the assignment. Consider requiring some of these steps, spread out over the time allotted for creating the paper.
     + Explanation of topic chosen
     + Research plan
     + Preliminary bibliography
     + Annotated preliminary bibliography
     + Prospectus (the problem, possible approaches or solutions, writer’s proposed approach)
     + Outline
     + Rough draft (on which you make suggestions for additional sources or rearrangement)
     + Final draft
3. Require copies of sources. Have students attach printouts of articles or Web pages cited and photocopies of printed articles and book pages     used. Have them highlight the words they have quoted or otherwise cited. Comparing the sources to the paper will enable you to determine how effectively the students use source material. You may also find uncited material in the paper that is plagiarized from one of the sources. When students know that their sources are attached, they may be more careful in using them.

Top Three Strategies for Detecting Plagiarism

A large percentage of student plagiarism appears to be coming from the Web because searching, copying, and pasting are so easy. These strategies focus on finding information taken from the Web.

1. Use the Google-Plus-Four method. Google ( is a search engine with a very large database, and it is one of the best places to begin. Find a four-word phrase that appears to be unique to the paper or paragraph you suspect. For example, in a paper about Dickens’ Great Expectations, the phrase “Pip still snobbishly thought” was chosen because “Pip” is an unusual word and the phrase “snobbishly thought” is unusual as well. The two items together are probably close to being unique. Next, take the phrase to Google and perform an exact phrase search by typing the phrase into the search window, and surrounding it with quotation marks. In the case of the Dickens paper, Google returned two Web sites containing the stolen paper. Using other search engines may also be useful, as well as a metasearch tool such as Dogpile (

2. Look at online paper mills. Go to Google and type in “free term papers” and you will find many sites. The sites are often linked with each other (some even plagiarize each other’s papers), so you can visit several. Search by subject or title. For paper mills that sell papers, try Essay Finder ( Search by subject. Compare the description of the paper (including length and number of citations) with your suspect paper.

3. Try a software approach. Visit for information.

Final Advice to Instructors

In my experience, other than the whole-paper or paragraph-after-paragraph type of plagiarism, much plagiarism occurs through the student’s lack of understanding about how to quote, paraphrase, and cite sources. Many students simply do not know what they are doing. Providing them with clear instruction about plagiarism and how to avoid it will help reduce the amount you see.

--Robert A. Harris
The Plagiarism Handbook: Strategies for Preventing, Detecting, and Dealing with Plagiarism
Using Sources Effectively: Strengthening Your Writing and Avoiding Plagiarism Copyright 2002 Pyrczak Publishing.

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