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Assessing Learning in Australian Universities

Ideas, strategies and resources for quality in student assessment


www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/assessinglearning

Plagiarism detection software: How effective


is it?
The first thing to note about plagiarism detection software is that much of it is ephemeral. The
available software tends to come and go: new software and websites surface and then disappear. It is
difficult to predict how many stable products will emerge.

On the whole, plagiarism detection software can make a useful contribution to minimising plagiarism.
The visible use of such software is a strong deterrent to students who are considering plagiarising
material. It should be recognised, however, that the software provides no magical answers. Some is
expensive; most is time-consuming. No software seems to discriminate between quotations which are
properly cited and those which are unacknowledged: what the software detects and notifies is
duplication. So reports issued by plagiarism software alert the user to what may appear to be
plagiarized material that is in fact appropriately referenced. Manual checking and human judgement
are still needed.

Some plagiarism detection schemes require students to submit their work electronically directly to the
software company. The company then sends a report on submitted student work to the university. It
is important to note that assignment formatting may be lost during the detection process. As a
consequence, students must also submit either an electronic copy or hard copy of their work to the
university as well – raising the question of how it can be ensured the two versions are identical. If
students submit electronic copy, lecturers have to print out the assignment – time-consuming
operations in cases where lecturers are assessing large numbers of students.

Some software programs concentrate on comparing the material submitted within a defined group of
students; others compare the material submitted with either an in-house data base (compiled
cumulatively by the software company), or the web, or both. A number of software plagiarism
detection companies offer as part of their service the archiving of student essays, which in turn gives
lecturers a specialized in-house data base and, in some cases, the possibility of a secure web
environment which can be accessed by students for purposes related to group assessment and peer
review.

It is worth remembering, of course, that ‘traditional’ plagiarism — text copied from books rather than
downloaded from the Web — may well persist, but cannot be electronically detected.

Excerpt from James, R., McInnis, C. and Devlin, M. (2002) Assessing Learning in Australian
Universities. This section was prepared by Marcia Devlin.
Assessing Learning in Australian Universities
Ideas, strategies and resources for quality in student assessment
www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/assessinglearning

Plagiarism Detection Software

NAME FEATURES/ PROS/CONS COSTS


TECHNIQUES

Copycatch A UK system which concentrates on PROS: The JISC (Joint Information Approx $700 AUD to purchase
comparison within a group of Systems Committee – HEFCE- software.
http://www.copycatch.free students. The software compares funded UK organization) gave this
serve.co.uk/vocalyse.htm text from work collected by email or software five stars for detection,
on disk using a similarity threshold clarity, value, user-friendliness,
that will detect essays which are very speed and reliability.
similar or dissimilar to other class CONS: Detects only collusion
essays by communality of words and among students, and cannot detect
phrases. material downloaded from the Web

Glatt Plagiarism Uses the ‘fingerprint’ method. It PROS: Useful for detecting Approx $580 AUD to purchase
Screening Program exploits the uniqueness of each plagiarism where the original source software.
individual’s linguistic patterns – material cannot be located.
(GPSP) ‘cloze’ technique. It eliminates every CONS: Students actually have to sit Additional financial commitment is
fifth word of a student’s paper and down to a test to fulfil the required for a subscription to the
http://www.plagiarism.co replaces the words with a blank requirements. Plagiarism Screening Service to
m/INDEX.HTM which the student is asked to fill in. provide the scoring for submitted
The number of correct responses is tests.
one of the factors considered in the
production of a final probability score.

Plagiarism Detection Software 2


Assessing Learning in Australian Universities
Ideas, strategies and resources for quality in student assessment
www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/assessinglearning

NAME FEATURES/ PROS/CONS COSTS


TECHNIQUES

Turnitin.com is the The technology used is called PROS: Covers a huge range of A free one-month trial is available.
user portal for ‘document source analysis’. It uses a sources. Offers a digital portfolio Costs are for subscription rather than
set of algorithms to make a digital service. in which students’ work is purchase and vary according to
Plagiarism.org. fingerprint of any text document, and archived. extent of commitment. The web
then compares it against Internet CONS: The user has to check the page provides quotations depending
http://www.turnitin.com/ sources and against an in-house report carefully because the software on numbers of classes, numbers of
database. Results are compiled into detects correctly-cited material as students, and so on.
an ‘originality report’ which colour- well as plagiarised material. As in
codes and underlines text passages similar programs, formatting is lost in
showing similarities to other sources, the checking procedure, so essays
and gives the URLs of the sources. for marking have to be submitted
separately from essays for checking.

EVE2 - Essay Performs searches to find Internet PROS: Tests against wide area of Download free for 15 days; purchase
Verification Engine sites with similarities to the submitted internet. for approx $40 AUD. Each user must
text. Produces report underlining text CONS: Each piece of work has to be purchase a separate copy and
http://www.canexus.com/ passages possibly plagiarised. individually loaded and checked by licence.
eve/index.shtml the lecturer.

Plagiserve A system which checks the originality PROS: Tests against extensive in- Free.
of reports by comparing students’ house database and internet
http://www.plagiserve.co work with its own database and the searches
m/ internet. It provides an originality CONS:
report that colour codes possibly Formatting is lost during the checking
plagiarised passages and provides process, so material has to be
direct links to the original source. handed in separately. Has been
claimed to be associated with cheat
sites.

Plagiarism Detection Software 3


Assessing Learning in Australian Universities
Ideas, strategies and resources for quality in student assessment
www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/assessinglearning

NAME FEATURES/ PROS/CONS COSTS


TECHNIQUES

WordCHECK DP Software which profiles documents PROS: Similar system to Copycatch. Profiler Basic $185
by identifying key word use, allowing ($115 academic price)
http://www.wordchecksyst users to search manually for CONS: Uses only internal database. Profiler Pro $570
ems.com/wordcheck- matching documents based upon Manual checking of each piece of ($345 academic price)
dp.html word use and frequency patterns. work is very time-consuming. Users can add “profile capacity” as
Uses an internal database. Produces they go:
report with key-word profiles and 2,000 profiles - $380
word frequency lists. 5,000 profiles - $760
10,000 profiles - $1,540
(All dollars approximate AUD.)

WordCHECK RA An upmarket package which is aimed PROS: As for the DP version. RA Individual Desktop $380
at academic research rather than ($185 academic price)
http://www.wordchecksyst student assignments. Works on the CONS: As for the DP version. RA Department Desktop $1,925
ems.com/wordcheck- same principles as the DP version. ($1,347 academic price)
ra.html plus profile expansion
(All dollars approximate AUD.)

Moss MOSS is an acronym for Measure of PROS: Designed with a special Free but restricted to instructors and
Software Similarity – an internal focus on computer programming staff of computer programming
http://www.cs.berkeley.ed system at Berkeley developed code rather than text. courses. A request must be sent to
u/~aikenn/moss/html specifically for computer CONS: Limited in scope. use.
programming fields.

Plagiarism Detection Software 4


Assessing Learning in Australian Universities
Ideas, strategies and resources for quality in student assessment
www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/assessinglearning

NAME FEATURES/ PROS/CONS COSTS


TECHNIQUES

SIM Another computer code plagiarism PROS: As for Moss Available free through the website of
detector. SIM tests lexical similarity the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam,
http://www.cs.vu.nl/~dick/ in a number of languages including CONS: As for Moss where the software was developed.
sim.html Java, Pascal, Lisp, and Miranda. It
and detects potentially duplicated code
http://www.cs.vu.nl/pub/di fragments in software projects.
ck/similarity_tester/

JPlag System that finds similarities among PROS: The only software that can Free, but an account must be applied
multiple sets of source code files. deal with programming-type work as for on the website.
http://wwwipd.ira.uka.de:2 Designed for detecting plagiarism in well as ordinary text.
222/ computer programming but can CONS: Limited and less effective in
support plain text as well (although its use with ordinary text.
with less satisfactory results).

Google Primarily a search engine and not a PROS: Quick and free. Google Free
plagiarism detector, Google is extracts from pdf files, which many
http://www/google.com nevertheless able to detect phrases search engines cannot do.
and can rapidly identify source CONS: Unsystematic, and involves
material from the Internet. manual entry of strings. Labour-
intensive.

Plagiarism Detection Software 5


Assessing Learning in Australian Universities
Ideas, strategies and resources for quality in student assessment
www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/assessinglearning

Comparison Of Plagiarism Software Features


Word Word
Copy Glatt Turnitin. Plagi
EVE2 CHECK CHECK Moss Sim JPlag Google
catch (GPSP) com serve
DP RA

Checks against
Web?
X X Y Y Y X X X X X Y

Checks against its


own data base?
X X Y X Y Y Y Y Y Y X

Cross-checks with
other students’ Y X Y X Y Y Y X Y Y X
work?

Purchase? Y Y X Y X Y Y X X X X

Subscription? X Y Y X Y Y Y Y X Y X

Free? X X X X Y X X Y Y Y Y

Checks ordinary
text?
Y Y Y Y Y Y Y X X Y Y

Checks computer
programming?
X X X X X X X Y Y Y X

Plagiarism Detection Software 6


Assessing Learning in Australian Universities
Ideas, strategies and resources for quality in student assessment
www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/assessinglearning

Word Word
Copy Glatt Turnitin. Plagi
EVE2 CHECK CHECK Moss Sim JPlag Google
catch (GPSP) com serve
DP RA

Students sit test? X Y X X X X X X X X X

Designed for use


by students?
X X Y X X X X X X X Y

Designed for use


by teachers?
Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y

Instant response? X X X Y X Y Y X Y X Y

Plagiarism Detection Software 7