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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

February 25, 2005

Ways to deter plagiarism

by Linda Charles

Deterring plagiarism is as important as detecting it, says Rebecca Jackson, associate professor and head of the social sciences and humanities department at the ISU Library.

"Students often have unclear ideas about what plagiarism is and what it isn't," she said.

It's up to faculty members to make sure their students know what plagiarism is, as well as how to cite their sources, Jackson said.

Jackson and Dru Frykberg, library associate at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, have developed a Web site
) that offers ideas on detecting and deterring plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty. The site provides information on plagiarism detection software sites, and helping students learn about plagiarism, and offers tips and discussion scenarios.

Following are some of the tips offered on the site:

Deterring plagiarism

  • Pick unique topics or very current events. Be specific: provide a list of topics and have students choose from the list.
  • Assign shorter papers. Short papers force students to be more concise and often rule out paper mills (sites that prepare papers for a fee), which offer only papers of more than six pages.
  • Emphasize a local focus. It will be more difficult for a student to find a pre-written paper on the Loess Hills than on gun control.

Detecting plagiarism

  • Is the formatting odd? Are there line breaks or page breaks at odd places?
  • Are all the citations old? Online paper mills often include old papers with even older citations.
  • Are a large number of the citations to materials that the ISU library does not own? Most undergraduate students do not use interlibrary loan for any of their cited works. (They may have used a hometown library, however.)
  • Is the writing style and level consistent with the student's previous work?
  • Are past events referred to in the present tense or as if they are recent?
  • Did the student ask for a last-minute change of topic? This could be an indication of intent to submit a plagiarized paper.
  • Are sentences suspiciously long? The average sentence length of a first-year college student is about 15 words.

If you suspect plagiarism

  • Ask the student to verbally summarize his or her paper for you.
  • Search unique phrases from the paper using Internet search engines and article databases. Note that Web search engines vary and do not index databases the ISU Library pays for, so this is not a conclusive test.
  • Have the student describe his/her research process.
  • Visit the URLs cited as sources.
  • Verify that the ISU library owns most of the items cited in the paper.
  • Follow ISU procedures for confronting the student and reporting the suspected incident.

"It may seem like a lot of trouble to go through the reporting process, but many faculty and students agree that those who cheat once often repeat the offense if they know there are no consequences," Jackson said. "The integrity of an ISU degree depends on the integrity of our students' work."


"Students often have unclear ideas about what plagiarism is and what it isn't."

Rebecca Jackson,
ISU Library