How can I detect and address plagiarism?
There are several warning signs that may be clues to plagiarized material in students’ writing. These include the use of inconsistent writing styles within one piece, the use of phrasing or concepts that are more sophisticated than you would expect (based on earlier assignments from that particular student), or unusual repetitions.
These warning signs only serve to raise our awareness of situations where plagiarism may have occurred. It is then helpful to have techniques for detecting plagiarism more clearly. In this phase, meeting with the student to discuss their knowledge of the topics discussed in the paper can help. Technological tools can also help. For example, using a search engine such as Google to look up an unusual turn of phrase from a student’s paper may help identify whether an excerpt was plagiarized from some resource on the internet. Another option is Turnitin.com (pdf), a tool for uploading students’ papers and submitting them to an automatic process that checks for overlap with other known pieces of writing.
Most faculty members, when confronted with cases of cheating and plagiarism, talk to the student(s) involved and determine a penalty that seems appropriate. We ask that after you do this, you write a letter or e-mail to the student describing the infraction and the penalty you have levied, and explaining that a second offense will result in university action. Copy this communication to the Department Head, Dean, and the Dean of Student Affairs; this enables the University to maintain a record of individual student behavior across courses and identify repeat offenders. If a student is cheating or plagiarizing in your course, there is a good chance that s/he is doing it or will do it again in another class. If this is the student’s first offense, it goes no farther, unless the student appeals. If the student appeals, or if it is a second offense, it will go to the Academic Review Board.
The Academic Review Board (ARB) is composed of three faculty members/administrators and two students. The ARB reviews the case and holds a hearing, which you will be asked to attend. The faculty member’s role in the ARB hearing typically takes no more than one hour. The vast majority of faculty members who has gone before the ARB have been satisfied with the process and results.
The university stands behind faculty who report incidents of cheating and plagiarism. In fact, in the past 10 years, in 99% of cases that students appealed, the ARB upheld the action taken by the faculty member involved, often administering an additional penalty for egregious or second offenses (suspension for one year is the most common). Moreover, the ARB takes the opinion of faculty members very seriously when considering appropriate penalties in specific cases.