Teacher Tips how to Spot Plagiarism in an English Essay

Most teachers could tell you that plagiarism is a big problem in education today. In September 2011 it was reported that the Pew Research Center found a drastic increase in plagiarism at the college level over the previous decade. Almost 90 percent of the college administrators polled thought that the rapid increase in Internet usage was playing a major role in the prevalence of plagiarism. With almost any student at the secondary and post-secondary levels able to copy-and-paste with a few clicks of the mouse, it is no surprise that plagiarism from online sources is on the rise.

How to spot plagiarism in an English essay? First of all, a good idea is to, like teen and twentysomething plagiarists, use the Internet. Plagiarism detection software, such as SafeAssign and Turnitin, allows users to scan in segments of students’ work. If the work matches published works online, the program reports it. Both college professors and high school teachers use such software to scan for plagiarism.

However, the use of such software may report false positives, reports Louisville University, which refuses to use the software. Louisville University claims that use of the software may signal a lack of faith in students, creating an academic culture of distrust. Certainly, a student may randomly string together words in an identical manner of a published author whom he or she has never read, thereby being accused of plagiarism when none genuinely existed.

If using plagiarism detection software seems excessive, a teacher may try to spot plagiarism in an English essay by comparing a student’s latest efforts to his or her previous performances. After a teacher has read several writings from a student the general level of performance should be apparent. When a student turns in a writing that seems far more sophisticated than usual, plagiarism might be the case. For example, a high school student who usually writes at about an 8th grade level might be copying someone else’s work if he or she suddenly turns in a paper that is of college-level quality.

If a teacher does not want to invest in, or rely heavily on, plagiarism detecting software a simple Internet search should bring up the most likely sources of plagiarism on a given topic. A jaunt through Google, Wikipedia, and Yahoo! could help a teacher narrow down likely sources of plagiarized material without having to spend money and time on dedicated software.

Another way to detect plagiarism is to compare student work. Do multiple papers sound suspiciously alike? It does not take long for teachers to determine which students are part of the same clique and like to “work together” in class. While some working together is warranted, too much may be considered cheating, especially if students are doing more than simply brainstorming concepts together. Students whose writing involves similar sentences, sentence structure, and paragraphs may well be plagiarizing each other’s work.

A way to determine this more accurately is to grade each class separately, taking breaks in between to remain fresh. Once a teacher knows the “cliques” he or she can figure out which tests to grade in order. By grading cliques at the same time a teacher can better see if students X, Y, and Z are copying from each other. By the end of the first six- or nine-week grading period a teacher will often know which students are likely sources of material to be plagiarized from (i.e. students who will loan out their papers) and which students are dedicated copiers.

If a teacher wishes to mitigate plagiarism as much as possible he or she can limit the sources to a few books or websites, or perhaps even to the immediate reading itself, forcing the students to cite passages from a set text instead of being able to tempt fate via the Internet.