Oakland, California-based Turnitin can rightly be considered the foremost expert on plagiarism, since almost every school in the United States uses its services to detect plagiarism in students’ papers. The company’s Plagiarism Spectrum defines ten distinct types of plagiarism, and uses its own algorithm to detect it and assign it a flagrancy score based on how egregious that particular instance is. Now the company has used the data it has collected, along with the results of a survey filled out by nearly 900 teachers, to determine which of the ten types of plagiarism do the teachers find most troubling.
The white paper, titled The Plagiarism Spectrum, Instructor Insights into the 10 Types of Plagiarism, found that faculty find blatant plagiarism, which is a word-for-word copying from an unattributed source, to be their biggest concern. This encompasses the so-called “Clone” plagiarism, which is a submission of an entire piece written by someone else as one’s own work, and the “CTRL-C” plagiarism which is a copy/paste of a passage into a paper without a quote block or attribution.
The paper looked at what types the teachers considered most problematic and compared those ratings with how frequently that type of plagiarism is found by Turnitin. The company determined that there isn’t always a correlation between how often a type of cheating is detected and how troubling the teachers found it.
For example, while “Clone” was found both most troubling and most frequent, and “CTRL-C” and “Mashup” – a hodge-podge cobbled together from multiple sources, none attributed – rounded out the top three, though in different order, “Re-tweet,” which is properly cited but insufficiently paraphrased, is considered least problematic even though it appears in the middle of the pack for frequency. “Remix,” – “An act of paraphrasing from other sources and making the content fit together seamlessly,” – pops up in student papers even more frequently than “Re-tweet,” yet is considered by teachers to be no more of a concern than “Re-tweet” is. The trend even carries on in the other direction. The teachers consider “404 Error,” or linking to material that is non-existent or doesn’t support the conclusion the paper’s author is drawing, to be fairly problematic, yet it’s committed very infrequently.
The paper’s conclusion is that since the means to commit plagiarism available to students are growing rapidly, it is imperative that teachers are able to draw a bright line that clearly distinguishes what constitutes appropriate citations and references to prior research, and what will be considered cheating.