By Biz Bledsoe
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday November 19, 2002
Plagiarists beware: For those of you who rely on your instructor's perceived ignorance to pass off a plagiarized paper as your own, get ready to pay. Instructors have new resources for exposing your shameless cheating. And, surprise; one of those resources is the very same service that provides you with the lifted work. That's right, the Internet is coming back to bite you where it hurts.
Sites like http://www.turnitin.com and http://www.plagiarism.org provide easy and quick resources for instructors to check all their students' papers for plagiarism. The way it works is the instructor, or a student per request of the instructor, turns in a paper to the Web site. The submitted paper is then checked against millions of other papers, journals, and online sources for similarities. Based upon the percentage of text that overlaps other text found on the web, the paper is given a color code.
"We began using the program after one of our faculty members received a final paper from a student that was of a significantly higher quality than that student had been turning in throughout the semester," said Joan Weinberg, the academic affairs manager for the planetary sciences department. "We ran the paper through the free trial of turnitin.com, and found that 95 percent of the material in the submitted manuscript matched, word-for-word, with an article on a Web site."
The site can be used by anyone who purchases a license, which is available on an individual, departmental or institutional basis. Costs vary from 10 cents to $1 per report. Some departments on campus have purchased a license to use turnitin.com, while others recommend their instructors use it on an individual basis.
However, the use of plagiarism sites is not a surefire way of deterring plagiarism.
"It is another tool," Weinberg said. "Diligence is always required."
At the UA, discovery of plagiarism holds serious consequences. As stated by the UA Code of Academic Integrity, a "student's submitted work must be the student's own." Depending on the severity of the case, plagiarists run the risk of expulsion and a permanent citation on their academic file.
According to www.turnitin.com, every post-secondary institution in the United Kingdom now uses the program to protect against plagiarism. That trend may be making its way to the United States soon.
Departments buying plagiarism software may be a possibility in the future if online plagiarism becomes a problem, said Jean Goodrich, currently an English 370 instructor. "My sense is it's not a real problem, yet, mostly because of the way that instructors create assignments Ě they limit using just a generic paper."
The most ironic, or for plagiarists, horrifying, aspect of the new technology is that the Internet owns both sides of the plagiarism market. No sooner do some Internet paper mills provide plagiarists with pre-written papers, than they turn around and provide instructors with resources to catch plagiarists.
"The same guy who's getting money for selling (pre-written papers) is also basically telling the instructors where these papers are," Goodrich said. "It's like he's taking advantage of both sides."
And there's another reason not to buy papers over the Internet.
"Most of the papers you can get off of the Internet are not very good," Goodrich said. "Oftentimes, a student, especially if you talk to your instructor Ě can generate better ideas and write a better paper than what you can actually get on the Internet."
Although plagiarism is encountered on a regular basis, exactly how pervasive the problem is remains a subject of debate. Often its cause is not intentional. Citation error, in which students forget or are unaware of how to correctly cite a source, is one of the most common problems.
"I'm wondering if the ╬urban legend' nature of plagiarism doesn't make it seem worse than it is," Goodrich said. "Most everything I've seen has really just been error more than an intentional problem."