Detecting Plagiarism

Plagiarizers often leave clues behind. Keep the following in mind as you read through student papers:

  • Be sensitive to changes in writing style. An abrupt shift from poorly written to masterfully crafted prose might signal the start of a passage that the student cut and pasted from somewhere else. A paper that contains excellent prose but lurches from paragraph to paragraph might be a compilation of passages taken from elsewhere.
  • Note any sophisticated or jargon-laden language that reflects knowledge or expertise beyond what you expect from the student.
  • Keep an eye out for references to works that are either very old or unavailable in your campus library, and for sudden changes in reference style (from MLA to Chicago, for example).
  • Make note of papers that do not directly address the assignment. Its author might originally have written it for a different class.
  • Watch for unusual changes in format (font, point size, margins), which sometimes result when a student cuts and pastes a passage into a paper.
  • Note phrases that refer to something in the paper that is not there (but might have been in the original from which the student took it).

If you suspect a student has plagiarized a particular passage, search a string of words on the Internet using a few of the powerful search engines available, like or Although the Internet provides plagiarizers with much of their material, instructors can use it just as easily to catch them.