Academic Integrity,  Assessment and Evaluation,  Generative AI

Identifying Plagiarism

Preventing academic misconduct is always better than policing it.

But, sometimes you notice a problem and wonder if the work you are marking was really created by or fully authored by the student who submitted it.

It is your responsibility, according to the academic misconduct regulations to follow up judiciously with your concerns.

Educator judgment

It is important to keep an educator’s mindset. As the instructor, you are the most likely to be able to identify academic misconduct.

This is because you are most closely connected to:

  • the student and the course,
  • the purpose of the assessment, and
  • the instructions given to students about acceptable and unacceptable processes.

It is the rules you set and the instructions you give that are the foundation for what constitutes academic misconduct in your course.

Possible Plagiarism Flags

Seeing atypical errors and inconsistencies may be sign of plagiarism.

Issue Plagiarism? Other explanation?
Sudden shift in tone, style, verb tense Could indicate copy and paste from materials not produced by the student Poor writing skills, missing skills for formatting or referencing practices, lack of attention to final details before submitting
Formatting inconsistencies like font type, size, color or margins
Referencing problems, for example

  • access dates for internet sources that predate enrolment in the course
  • sources that are irrelevant or conspicuously missing
  • fabricated references
Unexpected vocabulary or jargon, including technically correct language not used in the course Could indicate use of an assignment from another course, an assignment produced by another author or service (contract cheating* or GenAI*) Reliance on materials or advice from beyond what is provided in the course
Surprising quality of student work, or dramatic improvements when compared to prior work Could indicate assistance beyond what is permitted See below


Comparing student work to their prior work

  • Check that your sense of surprise about the quality of student work is based on good information.
  • First impressions, assumptions, and biases sometimes set up lower expectations than are valid or fair.

Improvements may be about student effort, better understanding of assessment criteria, removal of time pressures, or your impact as an educator.

To assess “improvement” be sure to compare writing or assessments that the student completed under similar conditions and expectations.

Differences Examples
Criteria the student is working towards:
  • how a student writes an email or discussion post may be different from how they write an assignment because of the criteria they are trying to meet or effort they are investing for graded work
Time constraints and opportunity to edit:
  • how a student does under time pressure (e.g., in-class essay) may be different from how they write when provided with more time or permitted assistance (e.g., spell check, grammar check, writing centre tutoring)
Effort over time:
  • how a student does things early in your course may be different later in your course because they learned what to do to meet your criteria or expectations


Read this post for advice on how to talk to students about your concerns.