A snake in the plagiarist's Eden

Turnitin: plagiarism prevention
No doubt about it, the Web is paradise for plagiarists. Term paper on Virginia Woolf? Speech about Nelson Mandela? Article on choosing a handbag? Search, click, cut and paste and you're done. Some sites even brazenly sell ghost-written papers and templates, often with a token warning about plagiarism.

Even with help from Google, teachers and lecturers can't catch all the offences, let alone prove them. So Colin Sutherland of Waikato Institute of Technology trains academic staff to use a tool that spots similarities in documents. According to Turnitin, 29% of students use significant plagiarism, and 1% copy entire papers.

Turnitin Plagiarism Prevention instantly identifies papers containing unoriginal material. The reports are extremely easy to read, using smart design and bright colours to make the identical phrases, sentences and paragraphs stand out.

No plagiarist, Colin Sutherland asked my permission to use a chapter from my book Web Word Wizardry to demonstrate Turnitin to lecturers. He's welcome! Sure enough, 30% of an article on click2site.com is identical to that chapter, with no acknowledgement.

Turnitin say that their

plagiarism prevention is often so successful that institutions using our system on a large scale see measurable rates of plagiarism drop to almost zero.

As for plagiarism on the Web, chasing powerful offenders into the law courts is not an everyday activity for Alice and me. We can sue but hope we won't have to. Meantime I said to Colin (I said, I said):

I suppose I should be horrified or at least surprised to see my work circulating without acknowledgement. But I'm used to it... even in government communications. People quote my own words back as a given. Someone intending to use my work for one of our largest companies defended himself last week by saying that what I teach is standard knowledge. That'd be right, too! You write, it goes out into the world, people say Yes, yes! and think they always knew it. It gets recycled and becomes standard knowledge. What's a girl to do? Writing more, new, better courses and books is my only defence.

Waikato Institute of Technology

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine


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