Plagiarism is increasing, mainly because of the WWW. It is
so easy to find a relevant site and download whole pages of
material, and then publish it as your own. With a trained
eye you can easily spot it. Before I start on this I would
like to explain my viewpoint on plagiarism:
occurs at many levels, and is often unavoidable.
In most cases it involves unintentional copying
of material, typically, these days, from the WWW. This
often shows that a good deal of research has occurred,
and that material which has been copied has been placed
mistakenly into a final document. I have found that
many students, under pressure of deadlines, will not
have enough time to fully edit, and review their work.
Thus once identified, the student should be given the
opportunity to properly reference their material, unless
it can be proven that the student intentionally
plagiarized the material (which I believe happens in
very few circumstances). The direct copying of programs,
designs, and so on, and identifying it as one's own
work is obviously more serious matter than simply copying
background material. Again the student should be given
the opportunity to properly reference the sources
of the material, if exact matches are found.
It is key to remember that direct copying of material
has occurred ever since the start of writing, itself,
and it is not anything new. The thing that has
changed is that it is now extremely simple for text
to be found, in a fraction of a second. The strange
thing is that many academics view the direct copying
of diagrams as acceptable, but not the direct copy of
text. It's all strange to me, and I would never pass
judgment on anyone without strongly considering their
viewpoint. In fact the only way that we could be fair
on anyone, is that if we were to open-up every single
essay that was ever submitted, and check every single
line that was written. I bet that would open-up a few
Most academics base their work on others, so it is
natural that work that we have read will appear in some
form or other. In fact it should be encouraged, especially
if it is well written It's the skill of refining it
and properly referencing it, that can take a while to
develop. So ... my option is ... give the material back,
and let the author trace the reference, and add it.
Simple as that! The next time, I'll bet, it won't happen.
To me, that's called LEARNING, and it's the foundation
that academia is built on.
So to any academics out there ... be fair on your students,
and give them advice on how they could make their work
better. If possible, ask them to revise their work,
and resubmit. It's a difficult lesson to learn, but
once it has been learnt it will be learnt for life"
- Bill, 26 May 2002.
Here are a few that can be used to spot that you've taken
material from another source:
Essay reads like a user manual. This is very
typical in software development projects, where whole
chunks of the user manual are pasted into the document.
Worst offenders: Visual Basic, Visual C++, and anything
to do with Java.
TIP: Read the material that you have written,
and if it doesn't sound like you, re-write it (or get
rid of it, completely).
Diagrams are beautifully produced. This
is a particularity easy one to spot as intricate diagrams
are inserted, alongside in-line Word diagrams. As a
tip, a diagram taken from a WWW site should always be
referenced, or should be redrawn, if possible.
Worst offenders: OSI model, Ethernet networks and
Cisco diagrams (especially pictures of routers and switches).
TIP: Re-do your diagrams, and interpret you
own design. If you have to use the diagram, put a reference
to the original source beside it.
Text is full of Americanisms. This might
just be okay if the person is from the USA, as they
tend to use these phrases, but they are unacceptable
for a non-US person to write in a report (especially
in a formal one).
Worst offenders: grunt work and to shave
time (Yuk!). Does anyone know what grunt work
TIP: Carefully review your terms. If possible
get rid of business metaphors, and Americanisms (unless,
of course, you are American).
Change of style. A key in assessing a report
is to judge its consistency. Plagiarism can be easily
spotted if the style changes from a vibrant, well-written
text, to a boring, simple style, and then back again.
After you've read a few reports, you can spot this one,
Worst offenders: Changes of punctuation (commas
and semicolons appear, as if by magic, and then disappear
again), changes from English to American spelling (organise
to organize) and changes of style (especially
from passive to active verbs - the program was written
in Visual Basic to Visual Basic was used to write
TIP: As before, read the material out-loud,
or get someone else to read it for you. In fact the
best person to read your report is someone who does
not have a technical background. They'll soon spot changes
Material covered has nothing to do with the
subject, but covered extremely well. This is one
of the best ways to spot plagiarism, as often a writer
will typical find a nice site, and then copy whole batches
of material. Unfortunately it tends to be unrelated
to the actual content of the report, as the material
was written for another purpose.
Worst offenders: OSI model, Java theory (objects
and things), and networking theory.
TIP: If it's not relevant, get rid of it. A
reader cannot spot the bits that have been taken out,
but they can certainly spot the bits that have been
added, and that are not relevant. Readers can often
end up confused, if the report has no general focus.
If possible, plan your report out and try to define
the general areas which you need to cover in the theory
sections. Then, as plainly as you can, write your own
interpretation of the theory. Add references to any
material which you have taken from.
No narrative, at all, in the text. It is
extremely difficult to read a report if it doesn't actually
tell a story. Thus material that has been taken from
other sources can sometimes to spotted if there is no
narrative in the text, and it just seems to move from
place to place, without any links.
TIP: Define your aims at the start of the report,
and then in each chapter define the aims of that chapter,
and why the material has been included, and how it fits
Essay reads like a product advertisement.
This is a very typical one, these days, but it is easy
to spot as there a lots of detail in the report, especially
relating to the minimum and recommended specification.
When you've read many reports, you'll know that there's
nothing worse than reading lots of superficial detail
(32MB of his, and in-line pipeline cache, of that).
Often you'll typically find that there is a complete
lack of criticism of the system being described.
Worst offenders: Linux, Intel Pentium, Novell NetWare,
and Microsoft Windows.
TIP: Get rid of superficial information. If
you have to include it, put it in the Appendix.
If possible try to put the other side of the argument.
Text looks like a WWW page. This is an easy
one to spot as there are lots of table boxes that you
would find on a WWW page, such as:
The font is typically Arial, and the border is typically
the standard HTML table border.
Worst offenders: Linux, Intel Pentium, Novell
NetWare, and Microsoft Windows, again. In fact there
a lots of offenders here.
TIP: Reformat your tables in Word. A good tip
is to convert the table to text (with Tab spaces), and
then reformat the table, by selecting Text-to-Table.
Also, put a reference to the table, if you have taken
it from the WWW. Remember, marker will often give more
marks for report with proper references, as one without
them, as it shows the depth of research, and show how
your work fits with others. It also gives students the
opportunity to quickly find related material, if they
have to use your report.
Text reads like a WWW page. This one typically
goes along with No.8 (text looks like a WWW page),
but a writer will typically try and hide the WWW page
by reforming it to be more consistent.
Worst offenders: Linux, Intel Pentium, Novell NetWare,
and Microsoft Windows, again. In fact there's a lots
of offenders here.
TIP: Reformat the page with your own style sheet.
Beware, in Word, of format styles such as
HTML Preformatting, and so on. If possible convert
the styles back into something like Normal,
and so on.
Hypertext links still embedded. This is
a very typical one, where the author has forgotten to
take the hypertext links out, and they are not properly
referenced. Hypertext links work on a WWW page as the
user can simply click on a link, and go there. In a
report it is not really possible to do this, and no-one
would ever write the document like that. Here's the
This difference can be found at www.dummysite.com/myprog.
as opposed to:
This difference can be found with myprog [www.dummysite.com/
Worst offenders: Typically these come from personal
pages, as many of the larger companies will not embed
too many links in their pages, as they prefer to use
a more structured approach (with menu items, and links
outside the main text).
TIP: Find all your hyperlinks (typically with
a search of www.), and review them. I often change the
style for Hypertext links so that they are not viewed
with underlines (and are not blue).
Other worrying signs:
Essay goes from
zero to 100 pages, in the matter of a day.
No drafts, just
the final version.
Lack of references
in the References section.
Here are a few tips to avoid it:
Rewrite in your own words. If you find a
good WWW site, do the following: read the material;
look away; and rewrite it. Your own words are always
better than some else's, as it's your own style.
Gid rid of superficial information. Many
WWW sites, especially ones which are selling things
will give detailed specifications on their products.
These might be fine if you're look to compare one product
with another, but is totally boring in an essay.
Put detailed information in the Appendix.
You must watch that detailed does not get in the way
to the main material, so put detailed information in
the Appendix (especially code listings).
Add proper references to material that you find.
The amazing thing is, that proper use of references
is likely to generate higher marks, than no references,
so put as many references into your report as you can.
It shows that you've done a good deal of research on
your subject area.
And finally ....
READ YOUR REPORT OUT LOUD.
IF IT DOESN'T SOUND LIKE YOU, RE-WRITE IT. PLEASE