The Proofreader's Parlour
A blog for editors, proofreaders and writers
Spotlight: Preventing Plagiarism – Online Technologies to Track Down Plagiarized Content (by Julie J Carr)
A note from Louise: Digital technologies are key anti-plagiarism tools in today’s online educational environment, argues Julie J Carr. In this latest Spotlight, my guest explores some of the options that students can use to help them identify possible breaches of copyright prior to submitting their work …
As long as there has been writing there has been plagiarism. Today, writing requires just as much effort as it always has; plagiarism, on the other hand, is easier than ever before. If a writer wanted to cheat prior to the existence of the internet they had to go to a library (or other physical resource) to find works appropriate to their subject, then copy that content and present it as their own. These days, the internet allows the cheater to find thousands of relevant sources in just seconds and copy whole (or parts of) term papers, essays, articles and other published works. The situation is worsened by the complexities and perceptions of intellectual property laws and rights – electronic resources are easily reproducible, in a way that their material counterparts are not, so students who would have thought twice about copying from a book or published article might not approach online works with the same degree of respect.
Plagiarism is a not a criminal offence, but is considered to be morally reprehensible. For those accused plagiarism, the consequences can be serious. Perpetrators can be found guilty of copyright infringement, and penalties for university students can include suspension or expulsion, even if the plagiarism was unintended.
Educators are keen to ensure their students are aware of the seriousness of the offence and that they don’t exploit the online accessibility of others’ original works. The owners of that content – bloggers, website owners, academic researchers, artists and authors – also want to protect their work from theft.
There are online technologies and algorithms that help students to track down possible abuses in their written work, thus preventing plagiarism and the consequential damage. These are one part of the process a student needs to go through to ensure they are correctly citing the primary and secondary sources they have used in their work. Here are a few of the most popular:
Copyscape is a web-based plagiarism detection solution that provides both a free and paid premium service. Unfortunately, the free version only allows the user to check their writing if it’s published on the internet, by way of inputting a url – there is no facility for uploading files.
More advanced options are available for registered paying users. This premium service provides better plagiarism detection and includes the ability to upload files, carry out copy–paste checks, and implement batch searches. There are of course drawbacks.
Copyscape only compares the content you are checking for plagiarism with available online content currently indexed in Google’s database. It does not check for any printed sources. Nevertheless, it still is a useful online tool for detecting plagiarism and one of the most popular.
PlagTracker is an online plagiarism checker that offers a broader free service – it allows the user to upload a paper, or copy and paste the content that needs to be checked into a text box.
After the user has clicked on Start Checking, the software will automatically compare 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. Users with premium accounts can upload whole Word documents and text files and exclude lists of references from their papers to get more accurate results.
One of the limitations of this software’s free service is that it can highlight as problematic certain widely used phrases. Users therefore need to check their sources carefully and make sure the rest of the content is original, that the argument being presented is in the user’s own words, or that the necessary citations are provided. In this way users can be confident that their writing is unique.
Google Alerts is a great free tool that can also be used by bloggers, freelance writers and website owners interested in protecting their own works by tracking down plagiarized content. Users can set up an alert for their name or byline; if these are copied and posted onto another website, Google will notify them.
An alert can also be set up for sentences of up to 32 words, alerting the user if their content has been stolen. When using Google Alerts it is important to use quotation marks at the beginning and the end of the sentence to avoid spam and results unrelated to the search terms.
Since Google Alerts is Google tool, the searches are limited to Google’s own database. This is a great monitoring tool for detecting plagiarism on the internet, but doesn't provide a way of enabling students to monitor whether their own work will be an infringement prior to submission.
It’s worth reiterating that the consequences of even unintended plagiarism can be serious. Technologies such as the above are a useful adjunct to the writing process but students should first and foremost always take responsibility for citing the sources they have used in their work according to their institution’s guidelines.
Copyright 2012 Julie J Carr
Julie J Carr is a freelance writer and representative of the new plagiarism checker PlagTracker. She is keen on new technologies, adores flavoured coffee and books, and likes to visit places where she can enjoy the latter two at the same time. You can mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and copyeditor. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour and is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors and proofreaders.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
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