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Plagiarism software won’t stop cheating

Published: Monday, November 7, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 00:11

Plagiarism has always been a problem for colleges, and it shows no sign of going away. About 62 percent of undergraduates admit to having cheated on writing assignments, according to data from Clemson University's International Center for Academic Integrity.

Universities have turned to plagiarism-detection programs, such as SafeAssign at USF, to check student papers against online databases. Now, however, students can use the same technology to check their own work before submitting papers.

The company that makes Turnitin, a program similar to SafeAssign that is used by 2,500 colleges, now offers a version for students called WriteCheck to scan their own work for plagiarism, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Technology can benefit both teachers and cheaters.

As professors become better at detecting plagiarism, students become better at evading detection. Many are likely to take advantage of this program, though not necessarily for the right reasons. Rather than learn to cite sources properly, students may just rearrange words enough to avoid detection.

Use of such technology, on either side of the classroom, will not necessarily stop plagiarism from occurring. While some students may knowingly try to pass off another's work as their own, many students simply don't know how to conduct or cite research.

"How much plagiarism goes away if students actually know how to read and write from sources? My guess is a lot," Rebecca Moore Howard, a professor at Syracuse University and a plagiarism expert, said to the Chronicle.

Howard is the leader of the Citation Project, which studied 174 student papers from 16 institutions and found some embarrassing results. More than half of the papers in the study misused sources, and 77 percent of all citations came from the first three pages of a source, regardless of its length.

This all points to student laziness. Many students don't engage with sources, but simply skim the first few pages to glean interesting quotes to bulk up their papers, or more likely, to satisfy requirements for the number of sources used.

While teachers could do more to instill proper research methods in students, apathy will always be a problem, with students only doing research to fulfill an assignment.

Still, programs such as WriteCheck will not help the situation. Some students may use it simply out of fear of accidental plagiarism or because they still don't know how to cite research, but providing this technology to students will not discourage cheating.

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