Plagiarism is the act of passing someone else’s work off as your own. There are two kinds of plagiarism in student work: one is plagiarism done directly by a student, where they fail to reference or credit a quotation or theory and are effectively using someone else’s work without credit. The second kind of plagiarism is where an editor has done so much work on a student text that they’re almost a second author, and the student is then at risk of passing the editor’s work off as their own.
This article is written for editors who are working with student texts, whether that’s essays, dissertations, theses or articles for publication.
Let’s have a look at the levels of risk of plagiarism and an example of good practice when working with student materials when the editor is at risk of plagiarism from the level of work they’re doing on the text.
Often when working on student essays, dissertations and theses, I will come across a small example of a risk of plagiarism. This could include
- A statement such as “researchers have found that” before an assertion, without a reference to who has found this information
- A reference not being included after a quotation, where most of the quotations are referenced correctly
- What is clearly a direct quotation which has not been placed in inverted commas, even if it’s got a reference after it, but this is an anomaly in an otherwise well-referenced document
- What is clearly a direct quotation which has not been placed in inverted commas AND it hasn’t got a reference after it, but this is an anomaly in an otherwise well-referenced document
I count these as minor infringements and I will just mark these up with a comment asking the student to provide the reference, add inverted commas or rewrite the sentences in their own words.
I should mention here that I offer to re-check up to 10% of the total word count after rewrites; this feels fair to my student clients and I’ve never had anyone ask me to re-check as much as that: if it happens, it’s usually about 1%.
Red flags in referencing
Unfortunately, I do come across student texts (and this is not limited to students: have encountered web text and even books lifted from other sources without reference) where the following occurs:
- What is clearly a direct quotation which has not been placed in inverted commas, even if it’s got a reference after it, happening multiple times
- What is clearly a direct quotation which has not been placed in inverted commas AND it hasn’t got a reference after it, and this is happening multiple times, even pages and pages worth of direct quotations from other sources
- A section in a different colour or font where no attempt has been made to hide this has come from elsewhere
- A section where the client has either added a comment or put it in a particular colour and asked me to rewrite what is clearly a direct quote from elsewhere (this is thankfully rare)
How do I tell when something’s a direct quote that the student hasn’t either referenced or written themselves?
- The standard of English changes, sometimes subtly, sometimes very obviously
- The type of English changes (US to UK, s to z spellings, and vice versa)
- Referencing within that section is markedly different to that within the student’s own work
- It’s in a different colour or font
How do I check if text is not written by the student?
Google is my friend here? I take a sentence, pop it in Google and see where it came from. My suspicion that it’s someone else’s text are usually correct.
Sending feedback to the student and their supervisor
I try to be kind here. The student may be under a lot of pressure, or may not have understood how to do referencing. I will guide them to ask their supervisor or any support they have in the department or their university library.
It’s at this point that my articles on the two kinds of plagiarism coincide. if you’re following along with this series in real time, I’ve already written about what to feed back to the student and their supervisor and how to do it, so as to avoid making you wait for the punchline by doing it the other way round.
So to find out my good practice in contacting students and their supervisors over the risk of plagiarism, please see this article.