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plagiarism online

How to prevent accidental plagiarism in an online world


Students write a lot, and the issue of plagiarism (or, at least, wrong paraphrasing) remains topical. As educators, what can you do to help students avoid the problem?

Everything starts with suspicion.

You take a student’s essay, start reading it, and it doesn’t feel right. The writing structure, word constructions, and deductions are unlike this mentee of yours! You go to PlagiarismCheck, Copyscape, or any other resource to check that essay for plagiarism and…ta da!

You were right. The essay has obvious signs of plagiarism.

Don’t hurry up to blame a student. They might plagiarize accidentally. A responsible educator, you can help students write original academic papers and teach them to distinguish whether they opine on the topic or simply paraphrase statements, taken from third party sources. Here’s how:

1. Teach Paraphrasing

A paraphrase is among the most popular types of accidental plagiarism, but it’s not evil when used right. Draw a line between plagiarism and paraphrasing for your students to avoid the issue.

When asking a student to write essays “with your own words,” they have brain freeze and start changing the word order of original resources so they look and sound different. Explain to them why it’s wrong and teach a proper paraphrasing.

For example:

  • A student should give credit to sources: direct reference to the author and provide citations and quotation marks for specifying the borrowed words.
  • It’s okay to rewrite in their own words, but students should use their writing styles as well as add new material to essays.
  • Shared language is fine, too, when using commonly accepted vocabulary, tech-related terms, or bias-free language.

Teach your students not to copy but understand the sense of information from a resource and then formulate it in their own words without looking to the text.

And yes, they can use synonyms, split compound sentences into simple ones, change the structure of passages and the word order when appropriate.

(Next page: Preventing plagiarism in an online world tips 2 & 3)

2. Teach Referencing 

References matter in academic writing. Explain to your students that it’s fine to use citations or research results of third parties if referred properly.

Referencing makes paraphrasing legitimate. How to do it right?

  • Tell students to use double quotation marks for short direct quotes.
  • The same goes for up to three lines of poetry.
  • Longer quotes don’t require quotation marks but mentions in the reference list.
  • The author’s name is a must to include before or after the citation.

Students should understand that they can’t paraphrase direct quotes; otherwise, they become nothing but a poor plagiarist.

Reverse of the coin is, your students start using quotes instead of paraphrasing. Everywhere! Explain that direct citations work for a literary analysis because it’s the only way to refer to the original; however, when referring to scientific research, study, or survey, the trick is not to overload an essay with direct quotes.

A paraphrase is more to the point here.

3. Share Your Tools

Let’s face it: Most students don’t like academic writing, and they don’t stop at anything to escape your assignments. They copy work, ask peers or custom services to write essays for them, or at least procrastinate to the last and try writing papers with the help of specific tools.

As a teacher, you understand that. So you know and use different tools and online resources to check your students’ work for plagiarism and reveal the original sources of their writing.

The question is, why not share these instruments with students for them to check their work before submission? It might help them avoid accidental plagiarism in copies.

Tell your students about Turnitin, NoPlag, or whatever plagiarism checker you use. Reveal features and the UTP of those tools, explain how to use them, as well as why they can prevent unobvious consequences of plagiarism, and make it easier for your students to write their next paper.

What tools do you use to check essays and other academic papers for plagiarism? Do your students know about them?

Or, maybe you have personal strategies to reveal plagiarism in students’ copies and help them write original papers? Let us know in the comment section below!

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