Plagiarism means the copying of another person's material and using such copied material as if it were one's own work, without citing a quotation or stating a source. (SAOB, book 20 [in translation]).
Time and resources
Checking for plagiarism requires time and resources; this is something that the majority of teachers do not have in abundance. Teachers are frequently obliged to prioritise other matters, making it harder to discover plagiarism.
Plagiarism - easy or hard to find?
In certain cases plagiarism can be easy to discover. This primarily involves a student copying sources verbatim that are known to the teachers. Frequently the text itself can be sufficient in order to expose the cheat. This may, for example, contain references to other authors' names or unreasonable errors as a result of the submitted text consisting of cut-and-pasted parts from various sources. In other cases, plagiarism can be very difficult to discover. The student may have put some effort into revising the text to thwart detection of plagiarism. Plagiarism markers (words, expressions, irrelevant information, etc.) that insinuate plagiarism have been removed, source material selection may have been such that the source is not available to the teacher, the text may be a translation from another language, and so forth.
Finding the source is the greatest challenge; the original text is nearly always required in order to establish (prove) that a piece of text has been plagiarised. The sources that are plagiarised can be categorised into three areas: Internet, published material and student material. The common denominator in all three categories is that they contain an immense and ever-increasing amount of source references. This implies that there are no clues as to where one should start looking for an original source, so it is close to impossible for teachers to find it unaided.
The Internet contains billions of pages with various content; everything from material published by universities and colleges to government agency material, press articles, books, reference works and much more. There are also specific cheat sites online (Papermills) with ready-produced material (see below).
If a student has plagiarised a source from the Internet, one may think that it ought to be an easy task to find the source using a regular search engine. It is, however, not as simple as that. To start with, a quantity of the material available on the Internet is only accessible through password-protected systems; hence, it cannot be located with the aid of an ordinary search engine. Instead, an access request to the relevant system must be made, which may or may not be free. Secondly there is a plethora of search engines, each of which with its own coverage. In order to find the source, it may be necessary to use the same search pattern as the student, that is to say to use the same search engine and the same search modus. Finally, there is a huge amount of material on the Internet that cannot be found though using regular search engines.
Published material consists of hundreds of millions of books, reference works, scientific articles, and so forth. Some material is accessible electronically via specific databases, whilst other material can only be found in the printed format. The sheer bulk of material available means that if one only harbours a suspicion of plagiarism, but has no specific idea about what the source may be, it is just about impossible to trace the source of the plagiarism based on available published material.
Plagiarism is, of course, also prevalent between students themselves. Examples of this are that a student may plagiarise material from someone who has previously studied the same courses, at the same or at another school, or that through means of close collaboration, two students may copy each others' work prior to a submission. As a rule, such student material is generally not published. Consequently it cannot be searched for on the Internet or in published material.
Cheat sites (Papermills)
During recent years thousands of cheat sites, so-called papermills, have sprung up across the Internet. These sites provide ready-written PM's, homework assignments, essays etc within every conceivable subject area. The material is often divided by subject area and sorted by grade. A large amount of the material can be obtained divided-up into a manner that reflects the natural work process. In this way, it is possible for anyone plagiarising the material to present it to the teacher in batches, thus "simulating" the workflow process.
Students sometimes plagiarise by translating texts written in another language. In such cases, it becomes even harder to locate the source as searches have to be conducted based on assessments as to how the translated source text can have been formulated.