Combating the New Plagiarism: A Progress Report

J. Barrie Thompson

At the University of Sunderland in the UK we offer a range of taught Masters programmes in computing. In the majority of these programmes we include a compulsory research skills module entitled “Research, Ethical, Professional and Legal Issues” (REPLI). The aim of the module is “to provide the students with an ability to undertake postgraduate level research and an appreciation of relevant ethical, professional and legal issues”. Essentially the ethical, professional and legal issues provide a research domain but the overall purpose is to ensure that the students gain research skills that will support them in the rest of their programme, in their future careers, and that they will undertake their research activities in an ethical and professional manner. Most importantly we wish to ensure that they are aware of issues associated with cheating (including plagiarism) and the means that are to available to prevent/detect such cheating.

At ETHICOMP 2002 I presented a paper [1] entitled “University Research, Plagiarism and the Internet: Problems and Possible Solutions” This paper highlighted that in today’s digital age almost unimaginable quantities of information is instantly on hand via the Internet and on-line databases. Also, that such resources are not seen as only the domain of researchers but of all students within an institution. A major development in learning approaches is a greater and greater expectation that undergraduates, as they progress through the stages of their degree programmes, will be able to undertake tasks at higher intellectual levels relying more and more on academic resources, and that postgraduate students on Master’s level programmes will be able to critically evaluate current research and advanced scholarship [2]. However, the range and volume of “instantly” available information resources has a major downside in that it has exacerbated the age-old academic problem of plagiarism which in these circumstances is often referred to as the New Plagiarism [3].

The 2002 paper provided details of various approaches that can be considered in combating plagiarism and of the particular approach that had been developed at Sunderland. The Sunderland approach centres on a systematic strategy that consists of:

  • In lectures and in tutorials we emphasise the importance not only of citing sources but citing sources of appropriate academic value.
  • We make use of special “How to cheat” and “How to get caught” lecture sessions
  • The assignments we set are formally specified, the assessment criteria is explicitly defined, and where a formal feedback form is used in the marking, then a copy of that is also included with the assignment. All this should ensure that there are no misunderstandings regarding what is being assessed.
  • We provide the lists of topics from which the students have to select.
  • We require specific components within each paper including appropriate, fully referenced, academic sources, which we would expect to be reasonably recent.
  • The research paper proposal (in the form of an extended abstract and initial references) ensures that students start their work early, and so that staff can provide initial feedback very quickly the proposals are marked with the student present in one of the tutorial sessions.
  • We publicise the use of World Wide Web tools that can be used in the detection of plagiarism (such as Turnitin [4])
  • We make use of peer group reviewing processes to deter and detect plagiarism. This stage involves the use of software tools such as Turnitin [4].
  • Finally each student makes a short presentation on their paper and this is followed by questions that have been identified when the paper was marked.

Since writing the 2002 paper we have gained much more experience in running the module. Also, the University has agreed to use the software and associated services that are provided by the UK Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and which are intended to address the problem of plagiarism. The JISC service is known as the JISC Plagiarism Detection Service (PDS) [5] and is provided the company iParadigms, LLC who provide the Turnitin software tool referred to above.

The final paper for ETHICOMP 2005 will centre on our further experiences with the REPLI module and our use of JISC PDS. Individual sections of the paper will detail:

  • The philosophy behind the module, overall learning and teaching approach, and our approach to assessment.
  • How our experience with Turnitin fed into the University’s decision to adopt JISC PDS.
  • Evaluations by staff and students of the approaches used within the module, particularly the use of JISC PDS.
  • A detailed evaluation of the JISC PDS itself highlighting its strengths and weaknesses.

Finally the paper will present an overall evaluation of our approach and details of how we plan to progress matters in the future.


[1] J. Barrie Thompson and Simon C. Stobart, (2002) University Research, Plagiarism and the Internet: Problems and Possible Solutions, Sixth International ETHICOMP Conference. The Transformation of Organisations in the Information Age: Social and Ethical Implications, ETHICOMP 2002, 13-15 November, Lisbon, Portugal

[2] The framework for higher education qualifications in England Wales and Northern Ireland, Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, United Kingdom, available from

[3] McKenzie J. (1998) The New Plagiarism: Seven Antidotes to Prevent Highway Robbery in an Electronic Age, The Educational Technology Journal, Vol. 7, No. 8, May.

[4] Turnitin details at:

[5] Details of JISC PDS is available from: The actual JISC PDS facility is accessed from: