Internet Plagiarism: An Agenda for Staff Inservice and Student Awareness
by Margaret LincolnLibrary Media Specialist
Lakeview High School, Battle Creek, Michigan
MultiMedia Schools • January/February 2002
Our teachers assembled in the library media center for a back-to-school staff meeting. Having been confronted by an increasing number of instances of academic dishonesty, our high school principal was determined to take a proactive stance. A group of staff members had met over the summer to draft a pamphlet on cheating that would be distributed to students upon their return to school (see Figure 1). As library media specialist and the unofficial expert on Internet research, I had been asked to prepare a presentation and a handout for teachers on the topic of plagiarism.

Nearly half the hands in the room shot up when I began my remarks by asking, "How many of you have ever suspected Internet plagiarism in your students' work?" A similar number responded affirmatively to the question, "Were your suspicions confirmed? Were you able to confront the student about the plagiarism?"

In the past, teachers often approached me for assistance in tracking down plagiarized passages of a term paper. This presentation was meant as a way for me to share my knowledge and experience, so that they could do more of this sleuth work on their own and then take measures to deter plagiarism in their students' work.

In the period following this staff presentation, teachers have remarked that they feel better able to deal with the problem of Internet plagiarism. Social studies and language arts teachers have not been the only source of favorable comments. Guidance counselors and teachers of mathematics and the fine arts have also appreciated being informed of the widespread reach of the issue. As a result of having done this inservice for our staff and having increased student awareness of the matter of cheating and plagiarism, we have taken a proactive stance at Lakeview High School in response to an unfortunate occurrence in education today.

MultiMedia Schools and I hope that the summary of the key points of my presentation to our staff will help you and other educators address the problem of Internet plagiarism. Please feel free to reproduce the outline presented here, and to modify it for your own particular circumstances. I've found it best to have access to an Internet connection and projection device during the presentation.

Cheating - An Insider's Guide The Pamphlet: Cheating—An Insider's Guide

We are also posting this article and outline on the MultiMedia Schools Web site at From that site, you can download an Adobe PDF file of our pamphlet, "Cheating—An Insider's Guide," which was prepared at Lakeview High under the direction of social studies teacher Scott Durham. Use and adapt it as well!

CLICK HERE to open/download The PDF version of this pamphlet.

Communications to the author may be sent to Margaret Lincoln, Lakeview High School Library Media Specialist, 300 S. 28 St., Battle Creek, MI. 49015; phone: 616/565-3730; e-mail:
Internet Plagiarism Presentation Outline

I. EXTENT OF THE PROBLEM (Presenter gives overview.)

1. The growth of the World Wide Web is phenomenal, giving us immediate access to information on any topic. Janet Kornblum, writing in the July 11, 2000 issue of USA Today, cites the study undertaken by Cyveillance that estimated the size of the Web to have reached 2.1 billion pages, heading to the 4 billion mark [].

2. Why students cheat

  • They cheat or plagiarize to maintain high GPAs.

  • They are unlikely to get caught.

  • They feel pressure from parents and peers to get into a good college.

  • It's no longer socially unacceptable; everyone does it.

  • Cutting and pasting material is quick, easy, and very tempting.

  • They simply do not understand what plagiarism is, believing that everything on the Internet is in the public domain.

  • Some faculty members prefer to ignore the problem.
3. Statistics from have been reproduced with permission of and
  • 58.3 percent of high school students let someone else copy their work in 1969, and 97.5 percent did so in 1989 The State of Americans: This Generation and the Next.

  • 30 percent of a large sampling of University of California—Berkeley students were recently caught plagiarizing directly from the Internet—results of a test, conducted from April through May 2000.

  • According to surveys, the top two problems facing the country today are: 1) education, and 2) decline in ethics. (Both were ranked over crime, poverty, drugs, taxes, guns, environment, and racism, to name a few.)—Gallup Organization, October 6-9, 2000.

II. RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS (Presenter leads group discussion.)

1. Vocabulary, writing style, and grammar are unusually advanced and adult.

2. Student has inserted a paragraph or sentence of his/her own creation that is remarkably less sophisticated than the rest of the paper.

3. Gray letters appear in the text—an indication that the page was downloaded from the Web. Color letters on a screen show up gray in a printout.

4. A student prints out an essay directly from his Web browser, perhaps even leaving a Web address at the top or bottom of a page.

5. The layout of the paper seems strange. Page numbers, headings, and spacing do not correctly transfer in a hasty cut-and-paste job.

6. A student leaves in references to graphs, charts, or accompanying material that is missing from the body of the paper.

7. Inactive Web sites are listed in the bibliography.

8. Bibliographic citations are all older than 5 years.

9. The student makes reference to historical persons or events while speaking in the present tense.

10. A student is unable to summarize the main points of the paper or answer questions about parts of his or her writing.

III. PINPOINT THE SOURCE (Presenter demonstrates online strategies.)

1. Plagiarism of a Web site, personal home page, material posted by an organization or term paper mill.

  • Select a suspected plagiarized phrase in the text of student's paper.

  • Look for unique wording, advanced vocabulary. A phrase of 5-10 words will work effectively.

  • Go to a search engine and input selected phrase in quotes in the search box. You may also put a "+" before any word you want to include and a "-" before any word you want to exclude.

  • Examine results. Use your Internet browser's "find" tool (under edit menu) to locate exact plagiarized words.

  • Try another search engine if necessary. Prefer a single search engine rather than using a meta search site. Recommendations:
  • Become familiar with the Internet term paper sites where students can obtain research papers for free or for a fee. See a list of over 100 sites posted at

  • Example:
  • Example:
    • Go to
    • Select English/To Kill A Mockingbird—1st Essay
    • Highlight phrase "These deluding opinions, very apparent in the adult community."
    • Do a search at for this phrase and you will be directed to the screw school site.
2. Plagiarism of a journal article from an online database
  • Use General Reference Center Gold from the Gale Group.

  • access this database from our library Web site or from

  • Perform a Relevance search, placing quotes around a suspected plagiarized phrase.

  • Make sure you indicate that you want to "Search for words .. in entire article content."

  • Example:
    • Do a search on "illustrating the danger plagiarism presents for administrators."
    • Infotrac retrieves "Confronting Online Plagiarism" in Matrix: The Magazine for Leaders in Higher Education, Oct 2000 v1 i3 p19.
    • Try searching for this phrase at
    • No results found.

3. Plagiarism detection sites are available. Most charge a fee. Some sites allow you to download their software for a trial period. Popular programs include:

IV. PREVENTION (Teachers brainstorm ways to deter problem.)

1. Talk openly with students about plagiarism. Define it and give examples.

2. Obtain a sample of the student's in-class writing at the start of a semester in order to have a basis for comparison if plagiarism is later suspected.

3. Discuss copyright and the Internet.

4. Teach bibliographic citation.

5. Structure a research assignment so that various deadlines are due at different times. Confer with students about their progress.

6. Require students to turn in a thesis statement/abstract, annotated bibliography, outline, rough draft, and photocopies of cited references.

7. Consider having students use a note-taking method whereby black text signifies ideas of others while green text represents fresh thinking or the new ideas of the student.

8. Have students keep a journal or reflect on their progress in completing a major assignment. Let them consider the effectiveness of their final product and the efficiency of the research process.

9. Discourage projects that ask students to simply gather facts about a topic. Prefer projects that require explanations, problem solving, choices, decision-making, and personal reflection.

10. Emphasize essential questions—questions worth asking that touch upon basic human issues or lie at the heart of a discipline. Encourage students to ask their own questions and formulate their own answers.

Presentation outline by Margaret Lincoln, Lakeview High School Library Media Specialist, 300 S. 28 St., Battle Creek, MI. 49015; phone: 616/565-3730; e-mail:

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