Volume 95, Issue 29

Wednesday, October 24, 2001
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Editorial Board 2001-2002

Caught in the web

Editorial Cartoon

Caught in the web

The days of recklessly searching the Internet for that paper you couldn't quite get around to, or sneakily using one of your papers twice, may be over.

Western and several other Canadian universities have subscribed to www.turnitin.com, an electronic database designed to hinder plagiarism.

The database operates by cross-checking word-for-word, millions of papers, attempting to prevent students from handing in papers twice or copying them from the Internet.

The art of buying papers over the Internet has become commonplace, especially with online information on virtually any topic available at the click of a button.

The query that initially jumps to every students' mind is obvious: will this system be cautiously vigilant or insanely firm?

Many academic papers, especially on the graduate level, contain a lot of overlap.

The fear arises that students – graduates and undergraduates alike – will begin to lose some of their rights, placing them on an unequal playing field with their professors.

Though these fears may be shouldered by many students, this seemingly Orwellian database that polices the use of academic work already written may not be as bad as it seems.

The goal of this system is not to come down on students with an iron fist or frighten them into creating wholly original works in breadth, depth and scope.

Rather, turnitin.com is designed to seek out students who copy previously-written papers verbatim or students cutting corners by handing in papers they've already written for another course.

Turnitin.com may police the original content of papers, but remember, there are flesh and blood human beings who have the final say as to what constitutes plagiarism.

Plagiarism must be proven and when it indeed is, there are formal procedures for punishment. Therefore, the software is merely a fine-tooth comb to aid professors and administrators in weeding out the cheaters.

The software represents an efficient method of catching cheaters and placing fear in the minds of students percolating on the verge. It makes students more accountable for their work and eliminates an extra workload for university professors, making marking faster.

It is all too common for students to complain it takes "forever" for their papers to be returned. As an added bonus, this software could make that kind of whining a thing of the past.

In the end, the issue of a plagiarism database shouldn't really be a concern for students – if you don't cheat the system, you have nothing to worry.

So, stop worrying, or better yet, stop cheating.

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Copyright The Gazette 2001