How to...spot plagiarism

1st December 2006 at 00:00
What is plagiarism?

Ideas may be free but passing them off as your own is plagiarism. Copying is not educational, so acknowledge your sources.

Why is this a problem now?

It's never been easier to copy from the web. Google plus cut and paste equals plagiarism. People who wouldn't dream of stealing a chocolate bar will copy whole chunks of material from a website and pretend it's their own.

So how can teachers stop information theft?

Try any or all of the following:

* Set appropriate and unique tasks

* Require local references and a specific framework

* Never say, "Find out everything you can about..."

* Don't accept generic answers

* Teach both research skills and the art of good writing

* Encourage drafting and insist you see early drafts

* Look out for unexpected changes in style, vocabulary, font and layout

* Teach methods of referencing and insist they are used. Listing title and author is a good place to start at any age.

Is Google a villain or a hero?

Bit of both. Type a sentence from the pupil's work into Google and see if it throws up an original source. Searching works both ways.

Isn't this just for older students?

No. Teach pupils from the beginning that copying is wrong, and copying is stealing. Princess Michael and Dan Brown have been publicly accused of plagiarism. It applies to teachers too. Time to check those worksheets?

Duncan Grey is author of 100 Essential Lists for Teachers (Continuum)

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