Pedagogical Approaches to Detecting Plagiarism

If students turn their written assignments in on the bCourses site for your course, you have access to the Turnitin originality check, which compares student submissions with corpora of existing papers and publications (see “Web-Based Detection Software” below).

If submissions are not through bCourses, plagiarism can still be easy to detect in many instances. Here are some common clues:

  • Distinctive spelling mistakes or footnotes the student has failed to remove.
  • Dramatic changes in the quality of a student’s work from one assignment to the next or in different parts of the same assignment.
  • Sudden changes in style, grammar, sentence sophistication, or spelling.
  • Work that is off topic.
  • Use of old or outdated quotations or facts. This is particularly common in papers bought from paper mills.
  • Footnotes that refer to material the student is unlikely to have heard of, that make extensive use of a language the student probably does not know, or that make reference to “previous chapters,” “other articles,” etc.
  • Papers with sections in different fonts, font sizes, or formats.
  • Papers whose argument or presentation seems piecemeal, which may have been cobbled together from multiple unacknowledged sources.
  • Last-minute requests to write on a different assignment or topic.

If plagiarism is suspected, another strategy is to ask other GSIs teaching the same course, or the faculty member, if any of the material in the paper looks familiar. GSIs will be able to identify material if another student has submitted the same paper to them, and the faculty member may be familiar enough with the secondary literature to recognize a borrowing that you might not.

It is often possible to locate the source of plagiarized material by simply copying and pasting passages from the paper into a search engine. You can do a simple search by enclosing the material in quotation marks (“ ”), or by using the advanced search feature that allows you to locate an exact phrase.

However, many sources from which students might plagiarize do not appear in a routine web search.

Web-Based Detection Software

UC Berkeley has a campus license to use Turnitin to check the originality of students’ papers, and for generating feedback to students about their integration of written sources into their papers. The tool is available in bCourses as an add-on to the Grading tool, and in the Assignments tool SpeedGrader.

GSIs planning to use Turnitin should attend a workshop with Educational Technology Services (ETS) to learn in detail how it works, its best uses, and its limitations. More detailed information and the workshop schedule can be found on the ETS page Turnitin Instructors Getting Started.

GSIs should also look to the faculty member in charge of their course for guidance on using Turnitin and responding to the results it produces.

Still a Pedagogical Matter

The use of web-based detection does not mean that plagiarism is now merely an enforcement or technical issue. Plagiarism detection systems such as Turnitin’s originality check compare students’ papers against an enormous database of student papers and against the published sources to which the system has access; an instructor will still have to analyze whatever matches the report identifies to determine whether any particular match constitutes plagiarism. An instructor will also have to decide how to discuss the matter with students.

Students can learn more on their own about their use of other writers’ materials with Turnitin’s originality check. They can submit drafts of their papers to double-check whether they have inadvertently incorporated ideas of other writers without proper attribution, then correct their work before submitting their final draft. Refer students to Turinitin Students Getting Started for more information.