Help the English teacher: Is this paper plagiarized?

Okay, dopers, here is your chance to save the day and create truth and justice in the world!
I have a student paper in my hand, titled “Flawed Justice:Why and How The American Jury System Must Be Reformed.”
It was turned in to my College Freshman English class by a person who is not a native English speaker, yet the language here is very sophisticated. This same student has turned in other papers that received good grades, so their English is good, but I don’t think it is THIS good.
So, I suspect that this paper is downloaded from one of the many online paper mills.
I have tried Googling it–I don’t see it.
I have tried finding it on SchoolSucks–probably not there either.
I have tried yahooing it–no dice.
So, in desperation–where can I quickly and comprehensively check lists, or can you find this paper on a site you know of?
I will put the first paragraph in full below so that you have some more text to search on.

So–plagiarized, or not?

I won’t speak to the question of whether the paper comes from an identifiable source online.

I would however like to make the observation that people who have trouble speaking English, and who learned English as a second language in another country’s education system often have a very well developed grasp of written English, including grammar and style.

As an example, I have the story related to me by my very good friend Mark after his military service in Korea. He often went to Japan on leave, and was sought out by students, who wanted to converse with him to improve their English. They often had to resort to writing notes (in crisp, precise English handwriting), because their pronunciation was so far off, and their comprehension of a native English speaker so poor that Mark and the students couldn’t understand each other.
And we’re talking about college students who had been studying English every year of their schooling since elementary school.

It is also possible that your student composed his paper in his native language and used some translation software or service to convert it to English. If this is the case, a human translator may also have acted as an editor and cleaned up his work a little.

I would be inclined to put him to the test, but to go into it with an open mind. Pop-Quiz him about the content of his paper. In writing.


Instruct him to bring his reference source material to class. If it is legit, he will know his feference material well enough to find it, or most of it.

If he can’t, he’s fakin’ it.

This is an English assignment?

Does the student ever state his opinion? Right off he uses a quote from Ellen Goodman and suggests 12 individuals in a jury tend to be idiosyncratic - unpredictable.

“in the public mind, there is an emerging suspicion that a verdict represents nothing more than the idiosyncratic views of 12 individuals.”

Clearly this does not bode well for the Bill of Rights!

“Mirroring an attitude shared across the nation, a recent poll reported that same 55 percent of those surveyed had “only some or very little” confidence in the ability of juries to decide criminal cases”

OMG! We must act at once! Tell us what to do, AG Ashcroft! Clearly the 4th and 5th ammendments need some changing.

If we are to restore the public’s confidence in jury decisions and in the justice system as a whole, the United States must begin by reforming the processes by which jurors are selected to render justice in the courtroom.

Thank you, G-dubya. God bless 'Murika.

Not to state the obvious, but did you look up the sources he actually cites in the paper? A lot of freshman students tend to do what I call “Mad-Libs paraphrasing” – that is, they substitute synonyms for a number of words in their sources, while keeping the basic sentence structure intact.

BTW, while this is plagiarism, the students often don’t realize that it is, so I’d suggest treating it as a pedagogical problem rather than a discplinary one. ESL students also have a hard time with American notions about plagiarism, especially if they come from a culture where they are expected to weave quotations from authorities into their own writing, often without documention. (Just as an English speaker might expect his audience to recognize a familiar line from Shakespeare without attribution, there is a large body of literary references that educated people in these cultures are simply assumed to know.)

Asking the student how he went about writing the paper can be illuminating in these cases; if he doesn’t believe that he did anything wrong, he will probably be completely candid about his writing process, and if he does, there’s a good chance he’ll come clean when confronted directly.

Is there a law school where you teach? Perhaps someone on the faculty might recognize this paper.

But as an English teacher, you should be able to compare the style of writing with other papers he’s done. If this is inconclusive, hold off for now, but pay close attention to the consistency of style in his future papers.

Corbomite, this is not the place for debating the ideas presented in the paper, and certainly not the place for debating or ranting about party politics. We have forums set aside for debating and ranting. Use them.

moderator GQ

I’m curious: what was the assignment?

What is the student’s first language?

Ditto Fretful Porpentine on the subject of many ESL students not being prepared for American standards of plagiarism, particularly but not restricted to students from Korea, China, and Japan.

What is the student’s age? The sentence and logical structure feel older/more sophisticated than an 18 year old’s to me, even an intelligent and talented one’s. I taught Freshman Comp at Cornell briefly and I would have been suspicious of this coming even from one of my top students.

A student who has not been in the US since the early 90s would likely not have much first-hand experience of reactions to the OJ or Menendez trials. Do you know, roughly, how long this student has been in the US?

Is the student a US citizen? If not, “If we are to restore the public’s confidence … the United States must begin by reforming the processes…” feels like an unlikely position statement.

Good luck; please keep us posted on what you do about this. I think many teachers have to deal with more and more of this these days.

Ask the student to email you the Word document. Check the file’s properties to see when the file was created. Check the time elapsed between file creation and last modified. A student who plagiarized an entire paper would have a small window here. This is not foolproof, obviously.

The easiest way to find out is asking for the sources as well as how/where the student found them. There is no way this was written by a college student.
On the other hand, tons of students plagiarize papers every year. Is it really fair to put the non-native English speakers under more scrutiny simply because their cheating is more obvious?
I think you should call the student into your office and offer a deal. If they admit to plagiarism, then they can re-do the assignment. If not, then say you’ll keep looking into the origin of the paper.
At any rate, the student should get the idea that cheating needs to be done with a little more finesse.

With respect, NFlanders, the institution where Lukey’s Boat is likely to have very serious and clear-cut policies regarding what to do if plagiarism is confirmed. Offering deals is usually frowned upon and could cost Lukey’s Boat a job if anyone finds out about it. The OP didn’t ask about what to do if the paper is indeed plagiarism, but asked for opinions or facts about whether it is plagiarism.

To expand on Wolfrick’s post, I taught college and had many students who’s native language is not English.

IME, they know english very well. It’s just they have trouble being understood while speaking. Writing, however, was very good.

Ones that had been in country for awhile I would ask if they thought in their native tongue and ‘translated’ in their heads. Most would say they started thinking in English within a few months.

So, it is very possible to have a hard-to-understand student who writes very well.

All that aside though, from reading the first paragraph, it is probably plagarized. :wink: Not 100% convinced though…foreign students are usually quite sharp (why else would they be here?)

I don’t think this is very likely, but it’s possible that he plagiarized something from an actual, honest-to-Ford dead-tree book. One way you can at least take a stab at checking that is to go to your school’s library, run a search on “juries”, “jury selection”, or something like that, and take a look at the first one or two results - those are the ones that would most likely be plagiarized, if this work was in fact plagiarized.

It does seem sophisticated for a freshman english class, but I know college students who could knock out a paper of this quality. You said he got good grades on his other papers, is this one really that much better? Is the writing style the same?
It is also possible he got outside help.

I would take a closer look at his sources, but without absolute proof I don’t think you should say anything.

Do you teach at a prestigious school that is known to attract good english students / writers?

Call him on it. Seriously - you can do your own legwork all you want, but in all likelyhood, you’ll be wasting time. Sit him down, look straight at his eyes, and ask him. If he says no, ask him how he found his sources, or what his thought process was when developing a particular thought. You have to be really oblivious not to pick up on answers which are made up on the spot.



I have also found that to be true. But I have not yet found a student in this class who writes in this advanced English style and maintains nearly flawless consistency for over 5 pages. Hence my suspicion.

This has happened to me before, where a Korean student had his roomate heavily edit his work. I told him that it was a little too heavily edited.


I would be inclined to put him to the test, but to go into it with an open mind. Pop-Quiz him about the content of his paper. In writing.


Yeah, I have something like that in mind.


I did do a quick search of my college library’s catalog, and I found one of the cited books (Abramson’s book titled, We, The Jury, The Jury System and the Ideal of Democracy)–but it is over 300 pages long, and likely very complex for most freshmen readers. Other books cited were not part of my college library, which makes me suspicious also. One work cited was a newspaper article that maybe came from online, and the last was an encyclopedia.
Normally, students are required to hand in a draft prior to the final work, but for this paper a draft was not required–hence my problem of knowing if this was original work or not.



BTW, while this is plagiarism, the students often don’t realize that it is, so I’d suggest treating it as a pedagogical problem rather than a discplinary one.


This is the approach I feel is best, also. According to college guidelines, I can respond in various ways to plagiarism (automatic failure from the course, disciplinary action, failing grade for the paper, and so on). But though I won’t give credit for this paper, I will not fail the student.


It is inconsistent in style. I would like to hold off, but this is a final paper, and the quarter ends today! The student won’t be getting this paper back today, though–he won’t get it back until I have had a chance to thoroughly check it.



I’m curious: what was the assignment?
What is the student’s first language?


It is an argument/persuasion paper, with required research to back up the thesis. The student is a Chinese speaker.

Hmm–I am not sure of his age, but I would say early 20s. I suspect that someone of his background and age, who could write English this well on a topic like this would be going to Stanford, Princeton, Yale, et al.

Good point–but I don’t know how long this student has been here.

No, he is not–I can tell from the student ID number. And it also seems an unlikely position statement to me, because of the cultural subtext there.

I will do so! I am glad I don’t teach High School where I would have to deal with hormones and whoring. :wink:


I agree–but I have caught native English speakers for the same reason: the paper was too good. So I am not really biased towards non-native speakers. For a non-native to plagiarise like this seems strange, since I can’t see how he would think a teacher would not notice a discrepancy.

Thank you all for your replies; your checks are in the mail! :wink:

You might check out this web site:

It will compare a submitted paper to a long list of full text sources and return a report with suspiciously similar areas highlighted and a link to the possible source material.

An academic institution can also purchase a subscription and require students to submit papers online, through the web site, where they are automatically checked for plagiarism.

I believe you can test the site with a free trial.

I have no affiliation with the site, I found out about it when one of my professors required me to use it to submit papers for an online class I was taking.


If you’re willing to delve a bit deeper into a Word document you’d be amazed at what you can find in them. Stuff that the author probably doesn’t realize is there, and may not be happy about you seeing. Word’s file format keeps a lot of rubbish in it that you probably think is long gone.

What I find surprising is the emotional nature of such a subject to someone who is likely from a minority, and yet the precise, clear and detatched way this is written.

It hardly appears to be the work of a person under 25, however the main evidence presented in this quote, and where the most sophisticated language lies, is almost exclusively garnered from other works and this is stitched together by, well not much at all really.

I would say that this is more quote than self penned, as such it is not very original, merely a collection of good material written and attributed to others.

Perhaps you could post the authors conclusions as there should be little room for quotes there.

I’ll let all you teachers and professors in on a dirty little secret that got me through high school – sometimes, when I had a paper due the next day and I hadn’t done a lick of research, I’d take another written work, usually an encyclopedia entry or magazine article, and copy it. AND THEN…I’d change a few words, switch around the sentences and possibly the paragraphs, so it looks nothing like the original work, even when compared side to side.

Got A’s and B’s, mostly. No teacher ever demanded to see my notes.

BTW, I’m not suggesting this is what he did, I have no idea. As for the “big words” that seem out of character for an ESL student, he might have used a thesaurus.