“When you assign projects, you want to see the evidence that students are thinking carefully, critically, and creatively about the topics related to your courses. However, you also want to ensure that students are, in fact, doing their own work: with academic integrity, and according to the principles and practices of sound research and scholarship. Therefore, the task of checking the originality of students’ work, and identifying plagiarism where it occurs, falls upon you (or your TA’s).

In our Spring 2015 Instructor Engagement Insights survey, we asked instructors: “What steps do you take to identify plagiarism in your students’ work?” What solution was the highest ranked among the 682 who responded to this question?

Identifying plagiarism: Instructors’ top tools and strategies

What steps do you take in order to identify plagiarism in students' work? - Cengage Learning
At 47%, “Check/confirm citations myself” was the top response, followed closely by “Internet searches” (at 45%) and “plagiarism-checking software” (at 42%).

Considering these numbers, it’s clear that no one particular strategy is used by an overwhelming majority of instructors. However, we can deduce that many instructors use a combination of these strategies. By doing so, they can cross-check their findings, and perhaps confirm or correct their initial assumptions about the originality of a student’s work.

Of the instructors, 8% noted that they take other steps to identify plagiarism. Here are a few that they mentioned:

  • “I am alert to changes in diction that signal plagiarism.”
  • “Understanding how [my students] write, think and put together thoughts… if they copy, it shows.”
  • “Effective prevention through intelligent design of projects and assignments.”
  • “I require [PowerPoint slides] instead of written papers. This reduces the ability of students to buy papers from the internet.”
  • “Compare student assignments.”
  • “TAs check for citations in lab report.”
  • “Contact a librarian.”
  • “Structure assignments in ways to reduce generic cutting and pasting.”
  • “Students submit proposals, outlines, rough drafts.”
  • “Assignments are hand-written.”

A distinct minority of our respondents (7%) said that they use “nothing.” Granted, a percentage of these respondents also indicated that identifying plagiarism was not applicable to their courses (in which case it makes sense that they wouldn’t use any tools or strategies to identify plagiarism!). Even so, it’s surprising to hear that some instructors don’t take steps to check the originality of students’ work, even if the issue of plagiarism may have a bearing on students’ accurate, ethical completion of the coursework.

Additional tips for identifying and discouraging plagiarism

Given that plagiarism is such a serious issue, you may want to adopt a variety of steps in order to dissuade students from cheating and cutting corners on their work.

For more suggestions regarding how to identify plagiarism and help students avoid it, review our previous post, “Ways to Discourage Plagiarism in Your Course.”

Your students will also benefit from the recommendations in the post “Helping Students Avoid Plagiarism.” You might also include a link to your college library’s plagiarism tutorials in your syllabus or within your course LMS.”