Are you good at spotting plagiarism? I think, I’m pretty good. I can identify material that doesn’t have a student’s typical style or skill level, although I often rely on technology to find plagiarism. Our university doesn’t offer plagiarism software, so I used to google phrases to find their original source. Recently, I started using Plag Tracker, a free site. You can copy and paste a paper into Plag Tracker, and it highlights parts that may have been plagiarized and links them to the original source.
When I first tried the site, I ran a student’s paper through that I thought was not plagiarized. Well, I was surprised to find that the student had in fact plagiarized a small part of his essay. He had taken a quote, the sentence introducing the quote and a nice summary of the quotes main points. He had cited the source of the quote, but not the other material. It was a relatively small mistake, and he might not have even known that what he did was plagiarism. I started to think that the site might help him reflect on his own writing and to identify and rework any instances of plagiarism.
On the other hand, it might help him learn to beat sites that identify plagiarism, like Plag Tracker. In fact, Quick Student has learned to beat these plagiarism trackers and let’s other students do the same for free. According to the Quick Student, here is how it works:
- Smart Thesaurus Replacer – Replaces commonly used words with other common words. It uses a large database that is constantly growing and all words have been handpicked and checked for authenticity.
- Adjective Adder- Adds common and vague adjectives onto specific words; for example “truck” might become “crimson truck” or “shiny truck”.
- Big Word Replacer – Most students don’t use complex words like “Bombastic” or “Erudition”, this function replaces big words with simpler ones.
- Common Word Replacer – Switches out common words to more specific ones; for example “orange” might become “clementine”.
I have to admit that sites, like Quick Student, worry me. They introduce little mistakes and throw off the plagiarism trackers. So, here is the question: Do you tell students what/if you use a plagiarism tracker? How do you educate students about plagiarism?