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Discovery Discovery May 2002
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On the Web Looking Through the Glass



Web Savvy can Cure the Plagiarism Plague by Jan Zauha

When the term "plagiarism" entered the English language in the 17th century it was derived from the very physical crime of "plagiary" or kidnapping (see the Oxford English Dictionary ). Plagiarism has since evolved into an activity more intellectual than physical, and has now, with the advent of the Web, moved into the virtual. Armed with knowledge of key sites and some searching tricks, educators can use the Web itself to combat the latest permutations of this perennial problem.

How big is the problem of plagiarism and the Web? Gone are the days of the tiny 1-inch ad for term papers in the back of Rolling Stone. Plagiarism has hit the Web as big business, often disguised as "help." A search for the phrase "term papers" on Google pulls up "about 146,000" instant results. Sites that rise to the top have interesting titles like "Term Papers Heaven," "Genius Papers," "Superior Termpapers" (sic), and, of course, "School Sucks." Many of these sites have been in apparently lucrative existence for several years. Margaret Fain, Library Instruction Coordinator at Coastal Carolina University, maintains an extensive list of Internet Paper Mills, the subject range of which is astounding. Care to buy a paper on Hamlet? Go to the Essays on Hamlet site and prepare to pay $9.95 a page. Not surprisingly, you can buy an essay on Machiavelli at Niccolo-Machiavelli.com. The list goes on and on.

It is apparent that making mention of plagiarism and its penalties is no longer sufficient in a credit-card-powered, cut-and-paste world. Robert Harris, author of The Plagiarism Handbook (Pyrczak, 2001), provides a free Web guide, Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers, designed to increase teachers' awareness of the problem, identify ways to educate students about it, design assignments that prevent it, and, all else failing, understand ways to detect plagiarism, including useful Web resources. Additionally, Fain's list (above) is part of a larger discussion of plagiarism and teaching, Cheating 101: Paper Mills and You. Media coverage of recent high profile plagiarism cases may also be helpful in bringing home the message. Examples of cases that cut a bit closer to the bone may be even more effective; for these, see attorney Ronald B. Standler's site Plagiarism in Colleges in USA. Although not updated since 2000, this site provides useful definitions of types of plagiarism and cites relevant legal cases involving university students.

What do you do if you suspect that a student has plagiarized from a Web resource? As many of the sites above suggest, use the Web itself to help track down the original source before you resort to costly services such as the Glatt Plagiarism Program. Do-it-yourself detection can be tricky, however, since search engines usually do not index down to the level of the individual papers offered by term paper mills or to the articles within full-text library databases. Even so, skillful phrase searching on standard search engines can be very helpful. Consult articles such as Michael Bugeja's "Busting the New Breed of Plagiarist" for tips, or consult a librarian who spends much of her life online.

For help locating additional information about plagiarism and its detection or prevention, call or stop in at the Renne Library reference desk. If you find Web sites that you think might be of interest to the MSU community, please send me an e-mail message at jzauha@montana.edu.

Jan Zauha is the reference team leader at the MSU Libraries.

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