Is Google still working for discovering plagiarism?

Question for those who teach and grade writing: is Google still working for you for discovering plagiarism?

I used to be able to just copy in text in quotation marks and easily discover if something was plagiarized. But this semester, I’m repeatedly copying in too-fluent English from students who I’m pretty sure can’t write like this, and not getting any results from Google. Has something changed to make this harder to figure out? Are my students getting better at writing or cheating? Or is something else going on?

Perhaps their teacher last year did really well at teaching them how to use Word’s grammar functions, which I mostly ignore - but maybe that’s become like Google Translate, and moved from being a bad joke to something genuinely useful. Sort of the opposite of Siri.

1 Like

When I was a wee lad in my early 20s. We used turnitin at my uni.

2 Likes

Yeah, there are other services out there more specifically tailored for plagiarism detection - usually those are useful for students who are, ahem, “better” at plagiarizing than my students typically are. Google’s always been good enough for me so far, but it doesn’t seem to be working as well these days. Or maybe I’m just being overly suspicious.

Why not send a few of them to turnitin to see what comes up?

1 Like

We were using grammarly in my college courses a few years ago

1 Like

If there are no errors, it’s plagiarism.

Seriously though, Google still seems to work for me. I’m confident no students have got one past me

3 Likes

This year I’ve got a bunch more international students who are apparently writing with perfect grammar, so that’s confusing me a little bit. (And I’m still figuring out what to do with them in the basic composition course - their level is significantly higher than the local students I’ve got in more advanced courses.)

I’m also wondering if Google translate is improving the other way, with students writing Chinese, throwing it in Google, and then handing in the translation. I suspect that still produces obvious garbage, but I’m not sure.

Exams next week should be interesting, when I see more about how they write without computer assistance.

2 Likes

My international students don’t write with perfect grammar, not even non-standard stuff that I’d accept, so I would be suspicious in your position.

1 Like

Maybe google translate plus grammarlly

3 Likes

They probably pay a professional editor? Anyways, if you use Word it does a pretty good job at correcting grammar.

1 Like

I feel like google translate has improved a lot. Not sure what to make of this…

1 Like

I wonder if that’s it. The stuff I’m typically searching for isn’t whole paragraphs or essays that seem plagiarized: rather it’s phrases or sentences of uncharacteristic fluency in the middle of the lowish grammar that I’d expect from these students.

1 Like

Maybe you can try searching for sufficiently long fragments of those sentences/phrases. The problem with using Google is that it only picks up exactly copied search terms, so one minor word change (which is still plagiarism) can be enough to stop this method working.

I think that the dedicated plagiarism checking services are better able to detect cases like this by looking at the overall similarity even when the odd word has been changed. Some of them might also have a larger corpus (or at least one more targeted to academic work) compared to what Google indexes, e.g., through reciprocal deals with publishers. I don’t know of any free services, though.

I recently edited what’s probably the worst case of plagiarism I’ve ever seen – a twenty-odd thousand word manuscript about biomaterials where the authors had essentially copied entire sections and paragraphs from previous work, without much consideration for whether they made sense in the context. Fortunately, I don’t need to do much in those situations besides pointing it out to the authors (specifically, I’m not supposed to make any effort to reduce the similarity myself), but it’s quite hard to take much interest in improving a paper when the authors clearly didn’t. They’re intending to submit it to a decent journal though, so hopefully it gets picked up at that point. :man_shrugging:

Stuff like that is surprisingly rare for the papers I see though, despite the fact that a lot of them come from China, where you might expect more of it. I’ve seen enough potential plagiarism to complain about for perhaps a dozen or so papers over the years (of maybe 1,200–1,500 papers). I did tell a fair few students off about it when I worked in academia though (mostly from Eastern Europe, Russia, or China).

2 Likes

This could also be part of it. If I was editing something, I’d obviously be obliged to correct errors (whether plagiarised or not), but I’d put less effort into improving the text if I knew it was plagiarised. It could just be that the students are paying someone else to check their work before they submit it (I guess unethical for coursework where you’re trying to assess their language ability, but still happens of course).

1 Like

Yeah, usually I try with phrases, perhaps 6-8 words. Traditionally very few of my students have known enough to change the one or two words that breaks the search, I think because they don’t get the concept of plagiarism and assume it’s just an odd pet peeve of this one weird teacher. These are just low-level paragraphs with sudden sentences of perfect grammar - often, quite amusingly, in a totally different font from the rest of it. (Those ones usually come up in Google!)

I started this thread because I’m confused about how my “hit rate” with Google has gone down a lot. It used to be that almost everything I thought was plagiarized got me a match in Google. For some reason lately it’s been a lot less often. I dunno, maybe they’ve got a native speaker classmate or friend hiding somewhere, and they’re fixing the grammar up - which I’d be pretty much fine with. But I’ve written a couple of times in the forum about how Google doesn’t seem to be working as well for me as it used to.

1 Like

In my recent experience Google translate is still mostly awkward, but Mandarin-to-english (or from/to German) works surprisingly well with the free Deepl Translator. At least in my IT context, and not only for short and simple sentences.

since I found that tool I gave up translating emails myself whenever lazy German colleagues write in German to me, and I need to delegate to my Taiwan team. I started expecting some copy editing would be necessary, but instead I simply read it and virtually all if the time think to myself “wow, no obvious mistakes”.

PS: I’m not involved with this company, I’m just mentioning it all the time because I’m extremely impressed.

1 Like

Over the years, google has evidently tweaked its algorithms to direct our search results to commercial sites. Lots of other potential hits are now left in the dust, nowhere to be found . . .

Guy

3 Likes

The journals may be walling off their content. My guess is that with short phrases the automated translation has gotten really good

1 Like

I think the article content is generally still indexed actually, even if the articles themselves are paywalled. No idea how that works, but I’ve never had an issue with searching sentences from unavailable articles.

2 Likes

If so, and if this is where the plagiarized material originated, this indicates that the offending students know how to use academic databases. I guess that’s some sort of progress! :slightly_smiling_face:

Guy

3 Likes