As a teacher, it breaks your heart to discover that a student has copied another’s original work word for word. But as educators, we need to know how to tell if students are plagiarizing. Here are some telltale signs that maybe your student’s work isn’t their own:
1. Writing varys dramatically in tone and style
If one paragraph contains short, choppy sentences with simple words and the next contains long, complex sentences with multiple subordinate clauses, this may indicate that your student has cut and pasted someone else’s work.
2. Highly unusual vocabulary
If your student talks like Beavis in class, but hands in a paper that woud put the British Prime Minister’s vocabulary to shame, you may want to ask yourself why. A word or phrase seems to pop up out of nowhere that is highly theoretical, sounds like jargon or is very obscure, this could be a red flag that it is not your student’s original work.
3. No clear topic, research question or argument
A paper starts with a clearly articulated topic. If you receive a paper that seems like a bunch of paragraphs loosely linked together under a vague theme such as “world peace”, this could indicate that your student has copied others work without clearly developing his or her own clear topic or research question.
4. Missing references
If a student has cited previous studies in the body of his or her paper, but has not put them in the list of references at the end, it could be a simple oversight. It could also mean that they have cut and pasted someone else’s research work right into their own paper and have failed to cite the original research themselves.
One trick I use is to cross-reference all citations the student has noted in the body of their paper with their bibliography or list of references at the end of their paper. I make a list of any in-text citations that are missing from the bibliography. The more missing references there are, the more cause for concern there may be.
5. Data or statistics that seem out of place
If you are reading along and suddenly find yourself confronted by an entire paragraph of data or statistics that seem to have popped up out of nowhere, there is a chance that your student may have “parachuted” in a paragraph or two of someone else’s work in order to make their own paper appear more scholarly than it really is.
It is important for us to teach students how to reference and cite others’ work propertly. Even if the student attempts to cite others’ work properly, but makes some mistakes in referencing, this is still better than cutting and pasting without acknowledging that the work was originally done by someone else.
There is no single way to tell if a student has plagiarized or not. These are simply a few “symptoms” that may lead you to dig deeper. Before accusing a student of plagiarism, it is important to find the original source of the information and document it.
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- Success Strategy for Students: How to Make Sense of Scholarly Research Articles
- Success Strategy for Students: How to Cite Class Notes
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