Detecting Plagiarism in Admissions Essays

Tackling plagiarism in admissions

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education some colleges in the US are stepping up their efforts to detect plagiarism among applicants:

About 25 universities and 20 application services are testing a plagiarism-detection service offered by iParadigms, the same company that provides Turnitin.com, a popular tool for catching plagiarism in academic writing, said Jeff Lorton, business manager at Turnitin for Admissions.

Turnitin for Admissions runs essays through a database of Internet content, journals, books, and previously submitted papers. It then provides a report detailing the number and nature of matches to see if any admissions essays appear to be copied from others.


You wouldn’t think this would be a huge problem but it seems that when Turnitin for Admissions conducted a study in which it analyzed about 450,000 personal statements it found that “36 percent contained a “significant” amount of matching text (more than 10 percent).” That seems pretty high.

It certainly seems high compared to the 1 in 20 quoted in a UK study by UCAS as noted in an earlier post. The real question remains though, what do you do when you find a bit of plagiarism in a personal statement? It could perhaps be seen as one way to deal with excess student demand over number of available places.

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“Plagiarism up 700%” at University of Nottingham

Slight misinterpretation of non-comparable data

According to a shocking report in Impact, which doesn’t let facts get in the way of a sensational story, plagiarism is up 700% at the University of Nottingham:

The University of Nottingham has insisted that cheating is not skyrocketing among its students, following the emergence of figures which show a significant rise in recorded plagiarism at the institution in the last five years. According to records released under the Freedom of Information Act, 280 students were caught submitting copied work in coursework last year compared to 38 in 2004: a rise of over 700%. Another 11 were found to have cheated in exams in the 2008/09 session.

The University also reported 123 second offenders caught in the last five years. Only four of the culprits were expelled, while most were allowed to continue studying after having their marks docked.

But the real issue is that the means of detecting and recording plagiarism have significantly changed and, most importantly, new software has been introduced to detect and deter plagiarism.

Citing an investment in plagiarism detection software and a change in the system for gathering plagiarism data, a spokesman for the University argued that “There is no clear evidence that plagiarism and cheating have actually increased to this extent.”

In an official statement, the University spokesman said: “In 2006 the university invested in plagiarism detection software to assist our academics. This accounts in part for a noticeable rise in cases detected and proven.

“It is impossible to attempt to extrapolate increases or draw any conclusions from the limited and non-comparable data currently available in relation to plagiarism. Direct comparison is unreliable since the information held by schools within the University from before 2006 is incomplete.”

All absolutely correct. Several of the comments which follow the article also acknowledge the University position and offer a helpful critique of the piece which, far from being a serious piece of investigative reporting, is in fact simply an account of the results of an FOI request. A bit like the recent report in the Sun.