Detect and instruct

January 26, 2012

It would be surprising if many academics believed that there was a "silver bullet" that would eliminate plagiarism through a detection system alone ("Don't count on a 'silver bullet'", 19 January). Experience and good practice would indicate that there always has to be a combined approach: education on the one hand, to teach students how to reference and use other people's work appropriately, and detection on the other.

The students cited in the California State University study exemplify this: "When challenged, one said he had deliberately plagiarised because he ran out of time, while the others said they did not know how to use other people's work fairly." Hopefully, effective education should eliminate (or at least minimise) the latter group: in that context, it is disturbing that those scrutinised by the plagiarism study were final-year students.

Detection systems such as Turnitin have a valuable role, particularly early on, in aiding the education process by flagging up poor academic practice when there is still time to rectify it. Some deliberate plagiarists will always be with us, but at least with detection systems there is a reasonable chance of identifying them.

Jon Scott, Academic director, College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology, University of Leicester

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