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Checking for Plagiarism

How can you check to find text a student might have plagiarized? This guide, created and maintained by Lehigh's librarians, reviews library and other sources to consult if you suspect plagiarism.  This guide is offered as one strategy among many in our campus efforts to promote academic integrity.

You may want students to submit the electronic file of their written work. This can have two benefits.  First, the ability to copy and paste phrases from student work into a search may relieve the need to do lots of typing when you are checking for plagiarism. Second, it can signal to your students that they should not engage in plagiarism.  (As another way to discourage plagiarism, you may want to look at our model assignment ideas in Plagiarism-Proofing your Courses (No duct tape required!). )

Procedures for Identifying Plagiarized Works

Try consulting the resources identified below.

Library Databases

If you suspect plagiarism, you can use library databases to help identify the plagiarized work. Click on the "search bar" at the top of this page,click on "Database Finder", and select the appropriate category from the drag down menu.

One category is  “Full Text Databases”.  These databases contain full text of all or at least some items covered. A search of Google or Google Scholar will not necessarily retrieve these items. When full text is not supplied, look for one of the Lehigh Links (SFX), which take you to the full text if available.

To search for possibly plagiarized terms in full text databases, first identify suspicious keywords or phrases in the student's work that are unique enough to locate the item. When using a relevant database, look for help documentation that supplies examples of how to do a keyword or phrase search. After bringing up articles, use the “find” capability to locate the suspect language.

Research databases on the Database Finder provide abstracting and indexing that can help lead you to sources that the student may have plagiarized. Select your subject area from the afore-mentioned drag-down menu. While (purely) bibliographic databases do not include contain text, Lehigh Links (SFX) readily help you locate the full text of articles from which students may have plagiarized.  Conceivably even abstracts themselves could be plagiarized.

The Database Finder has other types of resources such as encyclopedias, working papers, research reports, annual reviews, and briefings. You might also check e-journal publisher websites as well as electronic books.  ASA, Lehigh's Library Catalog can help identify both print and electronic books held by the library. The Libraries' collection of nearly 100,000 e-books are full-text searchable. 

Don’t hesitate to consult a Lehigh librarian if you need help identifying possibly relevant databases for your subject area.

Checking Footnotes

Another technique is to check whether the student's footnotes and bibliography contain real citations. You can use a quick search of an appropriate bibliographic database to find out if a citation is real. 

Fabricated citations may indicate that other problems are present in the student’s work.

Google and Google Scholar

Search suspect phrases from the student’s work in a popular search engine such as Google.  The advanced search feature of Google has a place in which one can search "exact wording or phrase".  Also try Google Scholar, linked from the main Google page. Google Scholar also provides exact phrase searching in the Advanced Scholar Search.

In addition to Google, there are many powerful specialized search engines on the open web.  See the Best Search Tools Chart for a summary of their features. 

Software (including "Turnitin")

Lehigh has licensed Turnitin

More Plagiarism Checking Suggestions

 A librarian can help you locate book review sources. These, in turn, can help you locate candidate books that the plagiarist may have consulted.

Information Resources about Plagiarism


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Representing Naval Engineering, this is one of 24 medallions for academic disciplines in the Reading Room of Lehigh's Linderman Library. Photograph by Steven Lichak.

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