Can the Age-Old Plagiarism Problem be Resolved?


The introduction of the Internet has bred a huge information exchange; unfortunately all of it is not with honest intention. Indeed, this very ease of information accessibility has a direct correlation to the dramatic rise in plagiarism. Or does it? It is possible that, in fact, the Internet has merely helped to expose the incidence of plagiarism through its ever-advancing technology. Either way the Internet is now not only a part of the problem; it is a part of the solution as well. Below are tactics for deterring and detecting plagiarism on all scales. Through raising awareness, establishing preventive measures and educating others about detection methods, plagiarism can undeniably be curbed.


  1. Educate yourself about plagiarism.
    • First understand why students cheat. Students are most tempted to cheat when they have planned poorly and run out of time near the due date for a paper. Try to avoid these situations by structuring research assignments so that intermediate parts (topic, resources, interviews, outlines, rough drafts) are due at regular intervals. This prevents complete procrastination and therefore that mad despair for any quick shortcut.
    • Also, familiarize yourself with the various online search engines and cheat sites.

  2. Educate your students about plagiarism, and its consequences. Never assume that anyone knows what plagiarism is, even when they nod their heads when asked. Define plagiarism explicitly, including examples of both properly and improperly citing material. Emphasize that plagiarism is using someone else's words or ideas without giving him or her credit, and that is stealing. Even if students revise or paraphrase the words or just use their ideas, credit to the author must be noted.

  3. Make the penalties clear. Quote institutional policies in the syllabus. Specify the penalties of your individual policy as well.

  4. Discuss the benefits of citing sources. Citing sources actually strengthens writing. It shows that the writing is a synthesis of the researched findings. It also shows that the writer is aware of other thinkers' positions on the topic. Quoting well-respected sources strengthens the student's own position.

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  1. Provide a specific list of topics and require students to choose one of them. Change topics each semester. The more unusual the topic, the fewer already-written papers will be floating about. You may want to all students to customize their topics. If so, be sure to approval a topic proposal long before the assignment is due.

  2. Require drafts of the paper well in advance of the due date. Drafts require the student to think about the paper long before due date and therefore such preparation quells the temptation to cheat. Also, at the draft stage you can educate the student about how to properly cite the information.

  3. Require oral presentations. Have them talk about the writing process, the research process and how the synthesis exceeded or fell short of his or her expectations. Ask students to define technical language or bombastic-sounding phrases.

  4. Have students include an annotated bibliography. The bibliography should include a brief summary of the source, where it was located and an evaluation of its usefulness. Also having students photocopy and submit the actual text that they researched will drastically reduce the incidence of plagiarism.

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  1. Check for blatant signs of plagiarism. Professors report incidents where students occasionally turn in a paper the includes a line at the end such as, "Thank you for using A-1 Termpapers." If the paper has the format of being printed from a Web browser (i.e. dates in the corners) it probably was. If the paper includes citations to Web articles, visit those URL's to see if the entire paper is there. Students have repeatedly quoted or cited a sentence or two, while copying the text verbatim.

  2. Search for the paper online. This is time consuming, but if you suspect plagiarism go to a popular search engine like, Fast Search or Alta Vista to perform an exact phrase search on a distinctive four-word phrase from the paper.

  3. Check the contents. Are all the reference dates old? Are they themselves unusual? Is the prose style remarkable or different from the student's personal style? Is there ornate rhetorical structure? Does the introduction fumble over words to trip into a glowing, flowing discourse? None of these will provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but you can use these issues in a one on one discussion with the student.

  4. Use a plagiarism detector. Instructors register their classes with the detector service, such as Then each student must upload his or her paper to the Web site. The detection technology converts each paper into an abstract "fingerprint." Each paper is then statistically compared to a database of other manuscripts collected from various sources including the Internet. Only cases of flagrant plagiarism are flagged as unoriginal. The service then mails a report to the instructor detailing the degrees or originality for each paper checked. For more information check out

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Most Recent Update: April 16, 2000
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