Signs to Look For

Some Obvious Signs of a Plagiarized Paper

  1. Changes in formatting, including mixtures of straight quote marks and curly (Smart Quote) marks.
  2. Printed off the Internet with the URL visible in the header and footer.
  3. Anachronistic references (e.g. ‘The Soviet Union currently maintains….’).

Some Subtler Signs

  1. Lack of recent reference sources or unusual references.
  2. Paper veers away from topic.
  3. Changes in writing style within one paper.
  4. Mysteriously improved writing style or mysterious grade-school style.
  5. Odd grammatical errors or phrasing. These could be signs of a bad translation engine or content from a non-native speaker.
  6. Common phrases which appear in more than one paper (you can search for unusual phrases on the Internet).

Plagiarism Detection Services

Notify Students First

A number of plagiarism detection services are available, but it is recommended that you inform students in your syllabus that you may use these tools. First the warning alone may deter some cases of plagiarism. Second, the written notice clarifies expectations at the beginning of the semester and eliminate the chance for students to claim they were “unaware” the services might be used.

Using Google as a Detection Service

If you think a paper has been plagiarized, try searching for a key phrase on a search engine such as, preferablyenclosed in quotation marks. This is free and least likely to have negative legal consequences.

Library Databases as a Detection Service

You can also enter the search phrase into any database from the University Libraries or elsewhere. Make sure it is enclosed in quotes so that the database searches for the exact phrase and not selected keywords.

Turnitin at Penn State

Penn State currently has a license for the Turnitin® plagiarism detection service. See the Penn State Turnitin information page for details. This service compares text from a submitted document against a database of papers from Turnitin and from the Web.

Note: It is strongly recommended you read the Turnitin Faculty Information page before implementing the service in your course so that you understand all implications for using the service and guidelines for assessing sanctions.

Note On Results

Some points to consider evaluating a plagiarism result:

  1. If you do suspect plagiarism, a check on two or more sources is recommended. A paper may be scored “original” in Turnitin or other plagiarism service, but be found via Google.
  2. A negative report on Turnitin or other plagiarism evaluator is not “proof” of guilt. Each case should be investigated individually. It could be the case that the “plagiarist” is actually the original source or it could be that the student committed one of the subtler forms of plagiarism due to ignorance.

See Turnitin Information for Faculty for more details.

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