PlagTracker is a plagiarism-tracking tool that I've used to my own advantage, and perhaps you can, too.
In a recent article posted here on the Parlour, Julie J Carr discussed plagiarism-prevention tools from the student perspective. PlagTracker was one of a number of free online tools that students can use to ensure they don't fall foul of accidental plagiarism. Says Julie, "[It] automatically compare[s] the text with all web pages and over 20 million academic papers from different university databases to generate a complete plagiarism report. The report shows the percentage of the work that has been plagiarized and the original sources of each plagiarized phrase and sentence. The free service limits the amount of text that can be checked in one go to 5000 words."
You can turn this tool on its head if you're proofreading for students. If you're like me, you have strict caveats about working on Master's dissertations and doctoral theses, and don't want to assist plagiarists. If you're proofreading a student's work, you can run it through PlagTracker and generate your own report. You'll probably have to do it in several batches, unless the dissertation is very short. Of course, no software can guarantee that plagiarism hasn't occurred but PlagTracker could highlight some major issues.
Note: Heed, too, the wise words of my editorial colleague Liz Broomfield, who recently spotted serious plagiarism after a student had downloaded large chunks of text from an essay-selling site. I asked how she tracked it down. "Easy," she replied. "Bad English suddenly turned into good English. Such a give-away. Googled a sentence and there it was!" Which serves as a good reminder that common sense will often do the job just as well as a piece of software. If something looks suspicious, pop the offending lines in your search engine and see what happens.
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