My wife teaches sixth grade reading in a public middle school and today the students return from summer vacation. So it seemed like an auspicious time to write about how she regularly employees the techniques of design detection in her job.
During the course of any given school year she assigns several writing projects. She is always pleased to receive papers showing excellent writing skills and large vocabularies – up to a limit. We have all heard that if something seems too good to be true it probably isn’t true. Sadly, on several occasions each year my wife will receive writing projects that force her to conclude one of two things: (1) this sixth grader writes like an adult with a post-secondary education; or (2) this kid has committed plagiarism.
My wife does not simply go with her intuition on these matters. She sets out to confirm it, and this is where Google becomes the plagiarizer’s worst enemy. She types a line of text from the suspect paper into Google and pushes “send.” And sure enough, every single one of her intuitive conclusions has been confirmed, because out pops an identical string of text from an article on the internet.
Now, when confronted with the bad news the kid might argue that the sentence from his paper matches the sentence from the internet as a result of a pure random chance.
In honor of the start of school, today’s assignment for the class is to show rigorously why an appeal to chance for even a relatively short duplicate sentence is unavailing for the kid.
The best answer gets a prize (and it is not just a gold star)!