My favorite plagiarism story from the last month is the Time article “How Plagiarism Software Found a New Shakespeare Play.” The story explains how plagiarism-detection software was used to look for similarities between known Shakespearean plays and a work suspected to by the Bard. They found enough similarities to convince the author of the study that we should add The Reign of Edward III to the Shakespearean canon.
The Shakespearean study used the free software Pl@giarism, one of many checkers you can find online. Nick Carbone, Director of New Media for Bedford/St. Martins, recently posted a list of plagiarism detectors to several discussion lists. Nick, who has done a number of workshops on avoiding plagiarism, found the following programs, which hes allowed me to share with you :
- Turnitin.com, probably the best-known but also the most expensive
- WriteCheck, a citation checker for students
- Essay Rater, another citation checker
- Turnitin Safely, a plagiarism checker, citation manager, and a paraphrase helper
- The Plagiarism Checker, a tool for comparing student work to Google search results
- PlagiarismChecker.com, another tool to compare papers to search engine results
- Duplichecker, another tool to compare to search engine results
- PlagiarismDetect.com, a plagiarism checker for full papers
- Plagiarism Scanner, another plagiarism checker
- Plagiarism PC, yet another plagiarism checker
Im tempted to run The Reign of Edward III through some of these other tools to see if they concur with the original study, but thats really the only way Id use them.
[W]e need to get rid of the “turn in” part of “turnitin.” What happens to student writing should be that it gets read, and matters: what happens in fact, way too much of the time, is that it gets “turned in.” I always think of the image of sod.
As long as student writing serves the sole purpose of being a medium by which students are evaluated (it's “turned in” so we can do that), students arent going to see it as real. We can “encourage” students to “choose topics that matter to them” all we want, but they have to matter to a reader too. And you don't “turn things in” to a reader. You turn them in to “the teacher as examiner.”
In other words, all the plagiarism detectors listed above focus on some finished product that students have “turned in.” They care only about a final copy and read the texts like a spell checker, with little passion for what the author has tried to say. As Hunt suggests, students work is not read, so much as examined. So if none of those tools do what we need, what is the best option?
The best plagiarism detector
- looks at students work in progress. It doesnt wait till the end to scream, “GOTCHA!” It looks at writing throughout the composing process and shows writers that a reader is genuinely interested in their take on the topics.
- makes sure that writers are never working frantically, at the last minute. It guards against situations where students plagiarize in the anxiety of last-minute writing. It values not just that final draft that gets “turned in” but every draft—from jotted notes to sloppy copy to published submissions.
- gives writers information about using sources in the context of the composing process. It teaches the difference between summary and quotation and how to check citations in the context of the work in progress. Ideally, when a writer begins working with outside sources, the best detection system would be able to step in and look at what the writer is doing and give feedback to help resolve any issues before the final draft is “turned in.”
In short, the best plagiarism detector pays attention to what writers are doing early on and throughout the composing process and fosters an authentic exchange between readers and writers.
And thats why you are actually the best plagiarism detector. A writing teacher who engages students as an authentic reader and works with them throughout the process can detect more plagiarism than any software algorithm ever will. And more importantly, a writer teacher can not only detect plagiarism but also can talk to writers about how to fix any issues before that final draft is “turned in.”