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The top 10 ways college students plagiarize

Colleges and universities continue the fight against cheating made easier through technology

The top 10 ways college students plagiarize
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Students who knew their papers would be reviewed by Turnitin software were not less likely to cheat, according to research.

When it comes to plagiarizing, students who use the unethical shortcut seem to be all in: Copying and pasting a research paper word for word is now the most common form of plagiarism.

Those findings, along with the ten most common forms of plagiarism in higher education, were detailed in a national ranking of plagiarism incidents released this month by Turnitin, an online company that makes software designed to detect cheating in homework assignments and research papers.

Myriad more subtle forms of plagiarizing made the list—carefully replacing key words and phrases, for instance—but turning in completely plagiarized work is the most common and most troubling form of cheating, according to respondents to Turnitin’s survey.

And the barefaced plagiarism has persisted in higher education despite campus-wide policies that explicitly tell students what constitutes cheating and the range of consequences for breaking the school’s rules.

“Nearly every school has an academic integrity policy, yet instructors tell us that blatant, intentional plagiarism is still frequently encountered,” said Chris Harrick, vice president of marketing at Turnitin.

The second most common form of plagiarism among the 879 survey respondents was dubbed, “CTL-C,” because it involves copying large portions of text from the web and inserting those excerpts into a research paper.

“Find-replace” is the act of changing phrases in an attempt to avoid the watchful eye of plagiarism detection programs common on college campuses. “Recycling” is another popular approach: Borrowing from previous work, or self-plagiarizing, as described by Turnitin.

The “hybrid” method is defined as a paper that includes cited sources and copied passages without any citation. And the “404 error” is when a student includes citations to sources that don’t exist in print or on the internet.

“Educators take a kinder view” of the recycling and “remix” method—paraphrasing from various sources and combining it without proper citation”—because it could be a “reflection of [a student’s] inexperience with doing research papers or with writing academic papers in general,” according to the Turnitin whitepaper.

“Problematic scores” given to each kind of plagiarism in Turnitin’s top-10 list show that all cheating isn’t equal for many educators. The “CTL-C” approach, for example, was awarded a problematic score of 7.4 out of 10. The “remix” form of cheating received a problematic score of .5.

Campus academic integrity policies should reflect the severity of plagiarism, avoiding a too-common blanket approach, Turnitin suggested.

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2 Responses to The top 10 ways college students plagiarize

  1. M

    May 25, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Dictionary.com defines “plagiarism” as: “an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of **another author** without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.”

    Although I would never have just turn in a paper I had already used for another class (which, in any case, would have been my own original work), I never considered that recycling bits and pieces of my OWN writing into new papers (which I have done a few times) would be plagiarism.

    Professors who are that picky about it should watch their own tendency of recycling their own class materials which after a while doesn’t correspond properly to new additions of the required textbook, etc.–a situation I have encountered more than once and something that gets under my skin.

    People are always looking for shortcuts, and the issue is not all one-sided. I have had more than one professor who clearly didn’t read papers that I had worked very hard on. One professor for an online class I took clearly used a find/replace (with my student’s name in a case study) to make it look as though his extensive comments were personal and newly written just for me; but it was definately just a bunch of b.s. and not that hard to tell.

  2. M

    May 26, 2012 at 7:15 am

    Sorry, I should have done a better job editing: it should read “turned in.”

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