Tell-tale signs

With the advent of the internet, it has become much easier to plagiarise material, which in most instances, occur in academia. However, plagiarism can be found in virtually any field, including scientific papers, art designs, and source code.

In academic circles, plagiarism is unacceptable.

The tell-tale signs are unusual phrasings, noticeable unevenness of style (sophisticated sentences followed by some amateurish ones), concepts that appear too sophisticated for the level of the class, unclear or incorrect sources listed in the bibliography, and a writing style in a particular paper that seems inconsistent with that found in other samples of a student’s writing.

Detection can be either manual or computer-assisted. In the former, it requires painstaking efforts and an excellent memory. Given the volume of documentation involved, it is impractical and difficult especially when the original documents may not be available. Therefore, computer-assisted detection makes successful detection more likely.

Computer-assisted plagiarism detection (CaPD) is an Information retrieval (IR) task supported by specialised IR systems, referred to as plagiarism detection systems (PDS). Here, the aim is to recognise changes in the unique writing style of an author as an indicator for potential plagiarism.

There is also citation-based plagiarism detection which is a computer-assisted plagiarism detection approach for use in academic documents. It does not rely on the text itself, but makes use of citation and reference information.

Another form uses stylometry where statistical methods analyse a writer’s unique writing style. By using stylometric models for different text segments, passages that are stylistically different from others, and which indicate potential plagiarism, can be detected.

The following are standard detection methods:

A simple technique is to enter an unusual phrase or sentence into a standard free search engine (e.g., Google or Yahoo or FindSame) and see if a match is found.

A second technique is to discuss the paper with the student and determine his/her familiarity with the paper he or she has written and its concepts.

With pressure on the student to do well and with numerous assignments to be submitted, there are sites that offer papers to students, either for free or for money. New sites appear weekly, some of them being Essay World, EssayBoy, FreeEssayNetwork and Top 100 Essay Sites.

To tackle these, there are plagiarism search services, like or IntegriGuard which compares a student’s text to a database of papers as well as to Internet databases and web pages, providing a report highlighting exact phrase matches and links to the matching pages. There are annual fees. More popular though are internet-based plagiarism-prevention services like Turnitin, which check the documents for unoriginal content.

Anti-plagiarism software is used extensively by western universities to weed out applicants. For example, UCLA uses the “Turnitin” essay-check software to check admission essays. Harvard, Stanford and Wharton employ anti-plagiarism software.

Some universities adopt what is called a Plagiarism Screening Program, where students self-test their papers to detect plagiarism. Suspect areas are deleted and replaced with blank spaces which students have to rewrite before submitting their papers.

However, there are critics who allege that the use of such software violates educational privacy and intellectual property laws.

The best way to discourage plagiarism is to space out assignments and be specific, instead of a general topic, with the need for research being made clear.

It also helps to file a student’s work in an electronic database.

Plagiarism in the literary world is another story. But here too, detection of some of the recent examples which involve high-profile writers/mediapersons has used one or more of the methods listed above.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 2:54:18 AM |

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