Faculty Focus


Turnitin Study Examines ‘Copy and Paste’ Plagiarism

When students need to write a paper, where do they go? A study released last month on plagiarism found that social and user-generated websites are the most popular resources, followed by academic and homework-related sites. Cheat sites and paper mills comprised less than 15 percent of the total resources used and showed the most significant decline over the period examined.

Conducted by the plagiarism detection company Turnitin, the study examined which Internet sites students rely on for unoriginal content in their written work by classifying 110 million content matches in 40 million student papers that were submitted to Turnitin over a 10-month period (June 2010 to March 2011).

It’s important to note that Turnitin detects that the content matches existing material in the company’s index of more than 14 billion pages of website content. A student’s paper could be flagged as having matching content, but also include the proper citations and therefore shouldn’t be considered plagiarism. It’s up to instructors to determine whether plagiarism occurred.

“Students are being raised in a digital culture where sharing, re-using and copying is routine,” says Chris Harrick, vice president of marketing at Turnitin. “Educators face a challenge in educating students that originality matters when it comes to critical thinking and writing.”

The study’s findings include:

  • Plagiarism is going social. One-third of all content matched in the study is from social networks, content sharing or question-and-answer sites where users contribute and share content.
  • Legitimate educational sites are more popular than cheat sites. One-quarter of all matched material is from legitimate educational web sites, almost double the number that comes from paper mills or cheat sites.
  • 15 percent of content matches come directly from sites that promote and benefit from academic dishonesty. Paper mills and cheat sites are the third most popular category for matched content.
  • Wikipedia is the most popular site for matched content. Wikipedia remains the most popular single source for student-matched content on the Web, comprising seven percent of matches in the months examined. The other most popular sites, in order, are answers.yahoo.com, www.answers.com, www.slideshare.net, www.oppapers.com, www.scribd.com, www.coursehero.com, www.medlibrary.org.

The full study, titled “Plagiarism: Myths and Realities,” can be downloaded at http://pages.turnitin.com/PlagiarismandtheWebSEC.html. Registration is required.