Thursday, May 25, 2006


Alex Halavais has some advice on How to Cheat Good, and there is some further discussion on Bruce Schneier's blog Cheating on Tests.

One of the indicators of poorly executed plagiarism is a discrepancy of style.
  • formatting - for example, text inserted in a different font, size and colour
  • spelling - for example sudden instances of British spelling in an otherwise American text - or vice versa.
  • grammar - correct and complete sentences in an otherwise illiterate text
  • fog - sudden clarity and precision in an otherwise muddy stream of prose
  • logic - contradictory material pasted together with no acknowledgement
In my (thankfully limited) experience of marking student assignments, I have found that the students who commit one type of stylistic error are also prone to the others. And exceptionally weak logic is often enough to generate a very poor mark, even without definite proof of plagiarism.

I did catch two identical submissions last year. Two scripts contained a particularly striking piece of idiocy, which I recognized on reading it for a second time. I had to wade back through the pile of already-marked scripts to find the first one, because they hadn't been quite stupid enough to submit the identical scripts consecutively.

Many of the worst cases of plagiarism are executed so poorly that they reveal the incompetence, ignorance and stupidity of the writer. So perhaps teachers should just fail such students for incompetence and ignorance, instead of trying to convict them of cheating.

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