How Do Professors Check For Plagiarism?


The midnight oil is burning, oh man! My paper is due in only a few hours, fire up Google. Search: How do professors check for plagiarism? Anything? Please. I know I’ve been there, and I assume you have been too. Especially during the undergrad years, trying to outwit a professor in college is one of America’s favorite pastimes.

Now it is important to know how professors check for plagiarism. Professors check for plagiarism using both technology and their expertise. Professors check for plagiarism when they grade, thus it is very important to know how they do it. Check out this post to learn more on how professors grade, but keep reading to learn specifically how professors check for plagiarism.

This post was written by a doctoral student, but it is anonymous to keep the discussion frank on behalf of Dave Maslach. This is part of the R3ciprocity project (Check out the YouTube Channel or the writing feedback software). R3ciprocity helps students, faculty, and research folk by providing a real and authentic look into doing research. It provides solutions and hope to researchers around the world. You can watch his video on the topic:

In 2020, almost all universities use a learning-management-system that includes a plug-in which automatically checks for plagiarism. Most use Turnitin, which, like the others, rely on machine learning to ensure that any spotted plagiarism will be algorithmically flagged and noted. (Note: We are also building in a plagiarism checker into r3ciprocity.com). If a plug-in cannot be accessed, a Professor can always copy and paste the suspected piece of plagiarism into Google. Google is actually surprisingly awesome for this.

But, many professors need neither Tutnitin nor Google. Their expertise in the academic subject they teach allows them to recognize and spot copied ideas and words with ease. An original thought is often messy. And any student’s attempt at original thinking usually validates why the teacher teaches.

If you are struggling with self doubt with your writing? This is absolutely normal. You should read this post of dealing with self-doubt in academia.

Unlike an original idea, a plagiarized thought is easy to spot. Especially for an expert in the field, a plagiarized paper sticks out like a sore thumb compared to other original attempts that the professor is likely to read both before and after.

Why do students plagiarize?

Why a student decides to plagiarize can be reduced to a simple cost-benefit analysis. Most students will weigh the cost of getting caught vs. the benefit of not doing the work. If a student’s reasons that the benefit outweighs the cost, then they will decide to do it. Plagiarizing someone else’s work frees up time to pursue things other than academic thinking and production.

But, especially in today’s day and age, the chances of a student getting caught plagiarizing far outweighs the benefit. The cost will not only result in possible honor code violations, but also the chances of you suffering the cost are far more likely than burdening the benefit.

Since most students recognize that plagiarism is a low reward, high risk decision, most plagiarism today are often unintentional. Academic writing is hard. University students are usually assigned troves of academic literature to read. You can read this post to see how big the troves are for a PhD student conducting a literature review. The chances are high of students mistakenly using someone else’s idea. Most professors realize that, and thus are much more forgiving in those cases. Most professors and people at universities recognize that it is a development and learning experience, and sometimes people make honest mistakes. But not all, some decide no excuse validates plagiarism.

Those who might plagiarize and are intentional about might have some recognizable justifications. College life is tough. Academic study takes away from the ability for students to deal with real-life issues. As real-life issues congeal with a build-up of academic assignments, plagiarism becomes more and more of an attractive offer. Work takes time and effort. Copying someone else’s work saves both. Hence why some students do it.

Other students plagiarize because they form a habit. You might be able to squeak by in the past by just doing the lease possible work. Consequently though, past educational experiences might lead to habit.

While a student’s reasons for plagiarizing far exceed the two listed here, no matter the excuse for intended plagiarism, it will always be seen as dicy. Even in some non-intended cases, no matter the given situation, some professors will never excuse plagiarism. It is very important for students to understand and know why professors think what they think about plagiarism.

What Do Professors Think About Plagiarism?

For most professors, plagiarism is a ‘no-no.’ In the mutual agreement between professor and student, honesty is a necessary requirement. And professors expect students to produce original thought.

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Universities and colleges often have policies for plagiarism. For example, if you plagiarize once, the incident will be reviewed , and the first strike is might be a warning and a grade reduction. And if you are found guilty several times, then the university may consider asking the student to leave the university. Upon the second strike, most plagiarism policies will ensure that you lose standing as a student in your given university or college. Only in rare circumstances will a student remain a student if they are caught plagiarizing many times.

The reason why students can no longer be students after they plagiarize has nothing to do with the professor’s opinions. All higher education institutions have their own unique set of code for how to deal with cases of suspected plagiarism. After the first suspected case, the following ones are dealt usually with student-led or administrator only counsels who hear both from both sides and conclude whether or not plagiarism was committed.

This is why all students, despite where you go to school, should read and understand what your respective institution’s policy’s on plagiarism. Many times, upon reading the severity of the consequence, a student’s willingness to plagiarize will most likely be deterred from the harsh penalty of getting caught cheating. Higher education, like any other social institution, seeks to preserve its own interest through encouragement of honest and hard work.

Is Plagiarism Worth It?

No, plagiarism is never worth it. A college or university serves as a place where free and original thought can be both expressed and challenged. By plagiarizing someone else’s idea or words, the student violates a core principle in higher education. Especially in places whose societal role relies solely on the production of quality, original thought, taking and using someone else’s idea can and should never be allowed.

If plagiarism were to be welcomed at colleges and universities, it would certainly challenge and even perhaps destroy the fabric and need that holds together higher education and they society in which it serves.

In the event that you find yourself weighing the cost-benefit analysis of plagiarizing, know that there are other options. Instead of Googling what is out there of your paper’s topic, email the professor instead. While not all are likely to be, some professors are sensitive to their students’ life problems. Teachers are humans too. If you are upfront, honest and timely with your request, there is a high likelihood of it being granted. Whether it is a time extension or further explanation of the task requirements, professors and administrators generally are helpful with timely student requests.

How to Check If You Plagiarized?

Much like the professors themselves, you can check whether or not you committed plagiarism using both technology and your student knowledge. As mentioned earlier, not all plagiarism is intentional. It is important for a student, especially a graduate student, to know how to check for and spot plagiarism.

Much like how professors use Turnitin to check for student plagiarism, many students use Grammarly to check whether or not they committed plagiarism. But Grammarly may not even be necessary. We are also building in a plagiarism checker into r3ciprocity.com. If you are not comfortable using these programs, you can select and copy the selected piece of writing which looks suspect, paste into Google and see what it suggests. If there are any matches, especially word for word, there is a serious cause for revision. And most likely it is indeed a case of plagiarism.

The other option, if you do not want to always rely on technology to solve your problems, is to always give proper, academic credit. This can come in the form of an added reference in your works cited or a simple footnote. Unless you are wholesale plagiarizing, that is paying someone else to write your paper or uploading an already existing one and passing it as your own, then you should simply make sure to always give credit. Especially when that credit is due–always erring on the side of credit will significantly lower the possibility of plagiarizing. This is most easily done with a simple use of a footnote, including both who and where the idea or words come from. So long as you always give credit, when you write, plagiarism is a hard thing to do.

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