Signs Denoting Possible Plagiarism

Oftentimes, teachers suspect a student of plagiarism because something in the paper just doesn't seem right somehow. They can't always put their finger on it, but there is a suspicion. What should you do if you are a teacher and you suspect that what you are reading may be plagiarized? Here are a few things you can look for to help you figure out what exact features are causing you to view the writing as suspect.

The most important step in spotting potential plagiarism in your students' writing is familiarizing yourself with their own writing style. One way to go about this is to assign in-class writings that you keep on file for future reference or comparison should questions of plagiarism arise. These samples should give you some idea of your students' voice, tone, vocabulary, sentence structure, level of sophistication, etc.

Now that you have a point of reference with regard to your students' writing, you can be aware of features in the writing that are different from that you have come to expect from the student. Things to notice:

  • Sudden changes in audience, tone, vocabulary, sentence structure, level of sophistication, degree of depth or understanding of topic
  • Writing that seems far more sophisticated than that you normally see or expect in students of the same level
  • Anything else that strikes you as different from student's other writing or interests

You will likely come to recoginze features of individual students' writing as the semester progresses and you become more familiar with your students and their writing.

Independent of knowing your students' writing, other features that may suggest a fully or partially plagiarized paper may include:

  • Font of paper suddenly changes (suggests copy/pasting)
  • Inconsistencies in citation format or usage
  • Complete lack of citations, especially for complex material/ideas
  • Last minute change of paper topic or research focus