Checking for Plagiarism

How can you check to find text a student might have plagiarized? This guide, created and maintained by Lehigh's librarians, reviews library and other sources to consult so that you can potentially match student submissions with previously published works.  This guide is offered as one strategy among many in our campus efforts to promote academic integrity.

You may want students to submit the electronic file of their written work, since the ability to copy and paste phrases from student work into a search may relieve the need to do lots of typing when you are checking for plagiarism.  Stating in your class why you require an electronic file when students submit their work might help deter plagiarism.   To discourage plagiarism from the start, you may want to look at our model assignment ideas in Plagiarism-Proofing your Courses (**No duct tape required). 

This guide does not discuss at length cues that can help alert you to possible instances of plagiarism. See Information Resources about Plagiarism for a discussion of such cues.

Procedures for Identifying Plagiarized Previously Published Works

Identify distinctive words, phrases, or sentence constructions that seem suspect. These can include vocabulary or complex sentence structure, or voice or sentences that are out of sync with the paper as a whole. 

Try out searches in the resources identified below.


Library Databases

Checking Footnotes

Google and Google Scholar

Software (including "Turnitin")

More Plagiarism Checking Suggestions

Information Resources about Plagiarism

Library Databases

The library has many databases that contain full text of documents. Some include full text for all items retrieved, others only in part. Here are two examples using Research Library and PsycArticles to search to check for plagiarism.  A search of Google or Google Scholar will not necessarily retrieve these items.

As the examples illustrate, a general procedure is to identify suspicious keywords or phrases in the student's work, unique enough to locate readily the plagiarized article within a full text database. Look for help documentation that will supply you with examples of how to do a keyword or phrase search in relevant databases. Once you link to the article, use the “find” capability to locate the suspect language.

For a comprehensive A to Z list of all of our research databases, see the Database Finder.  For a list of our research databases that are significantly full text, see the Database Finder list of full-text databases. The Database Finder has other types of resources such as encyclopedias, working papers, research reports, annual reviews, and briefings. You might also check e-journal publisher websites as well as electronic books. Consult with a Lehigh librarian if you need help identifying possibly relevant databases for your subject area.

See More Plagiarism Checking Suggestions for a discussion of bibliographic databases that do not contain full text but that can lead you (in many cases, very easily) to the full text of articles from which students may have plagiarized.

Checking Footnotes

Another technique is to check whether the student's footnotes and bibliography contain real citations. You can use a quick search of an approprate bibliographic database to find out if a citation is real.  Here is an example using PsychINFO. Aside from being problematic in themselves, fabricated citations may presumptively indicate that other aspects of the student's work are also problematic.

Google and Google Scholar

Search suspect phrases from the student’s work in a popular search engine such as Google.  Google’s documentation spells out a way to do this:  “If you're looking for an exact match, try a phrase search.  When you enclose your search query in quotation marks, you'll only get results for the exact terms you entered in the order you entered them."  Also always try Google Scholar, linked from the main Google page. Google Scholar purports to cover the "world of scholarly research."

In addition to the ubiquitous Google, there are many powerful specialized search engines on the open web.  See the Best Search Tools Chart for a summary of their features.  Both Google and Yahoo claim to search PDF’s as well as other file types. 

Software (including "Turnitin")

Turnitin: Lehigh has licensed Turnitin.

Open Source: The Plagiarism Resource Site includes links to open source software, forums, and essays. 

More Plagiarism Checking Suggestions

In addition to the resources mentioned above, here are some other resources to check for plagiarism. Lehigh's librarians can assist with their use.

Research databases on the Database Finder provide abstracting and indexing that can help lead you to sources that the student may have plagiarized. One way to identify subject specific databases is to pull down the subject menu in the upper left to narrow the database list to (just for example) Education or Humanities databases. While (purely) bibliographic databases do not include contain text, Lehigh Links (SFX) readily help you locate full text of articles from which students may have plagiarized.  Conceivably even abstracts themselves could be plagiarized.

Web of Science, which includes Social Science Citation Index, Science Citation Index, and Arts and Humanities Citation Index, might help locate misappropriated full text.  Examine items that cite your student's references to see if those sources were plagiarized.

ASA, Lehigh's Library Catalog can help identify both print and electronic books held by the library. Also see our library webpage about electronic books .

Book review sources can help locate candidate books that the plagiarist may have consulted. Also, as this webpage mentions, "online bookstores sometimes offer extensive book reviews and are crawled by several of the most common search engines." Scroll down to see examples of "online bookstores."  The Libraries' several 1000's titles collection of e-books, primarily from netLibrary, are full-text searchable.  Also, provides a capability to search for terms within books from which students may have plagiarized.

Information Resources about Plagiarism

Academic Integrity Resources  (Lehigh University)

Center for Academic Integrity (Duke University)

Deterring and Detecting Plagiarism (Iowa State University)

Detection Tools and Methods (University of Maryland)

Cyberplagiarism: Detection and Prevention (Penn State)

For questions or comments relating to this webpage, contact a Lehigh librarian.