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Cheating & Plagiarism | Research

Wikipedia Tops List of Plagiarized Sources

Where are students finding the materials they plagiarize in their papers? According to a new study, WIkipedia tops the list for both secondary and college students. But as a category, encyclopedia sites are among the least popular sources, coming in behind four other types of information outlets, including both academic sites and paper mills.

The study, Plagiarism and the Web: A Comparison of Internet Sources for Secondary and Higher Education Students, analyzed more than 33.5 million papers--about 9 million from secondary students and 24 million for post-secondary students--submitted to the Turnitin service from iParadigms over a one-year period (June 2010 to June 2011). In those papers, iParadigms' researchers found 128 million "content matches" from a wide variety of Web sources.

Top Individual Sources Plagiarized by Students
Among papers from secondary students, Wikipedia was used in 7.99 percent of the cases of matched text, just beating out Yahoo Answers, which came in at 7.55 percent. The remainder of the top five individual sources for plagiarism among secondary students included (3.37 percent), eNotes (2.9 percent), and Slideshare (2.38 percent).

Among papers submitted by students in higher education, Wikipedia was by far the most plagiarized individual site, at 10.74 percent. Yahoo Answers was a distant second at 3.9 percent. Slideshare came in a close third at 3.87 percent, at 3.57 percent, and at 3.11 percent.

Top Categories for Plagiarism
But surprisingly, encyclopedia sites were not at the top of the list of broader categories for plagiarized material. According to the report, the bulk of "matched content" in papers came from social and content sharing sites--31 percent in secondary education, 26 percent in higher education. Sites in this category included Facebook, Yahoo Answers,, SlideShare, and others.

"By a margin of 5 percent, secondary students rely more on social and content sharing sites," according to the report. "The most obvious conclusion to draw is that younger students do not have as sound an understanding of what constitutes a proper source for written work. Instead, they are sourcing material from familiar sites."

Homework and academic sites came in second, at 23 percent among secondary students and 22 percent among students in higher education. Researchers described this category of sites as "academic, educational, and homework help sites that offer legitimate educational content. Sites such as,,, and are included in this category."

Cheat sites and paper mills made up the third most popular category for plagiarists, according to the report. These were more popular among students in higher education, at 20 percent, than secondary students, at 14 percent.

Traditional online publications (magazine and news sites) came in fourth at 12 percent among secondary students and 17 percent among higher education students.

And encyclopedias (including Wikipedia, Britannica, and rounded out the top five at 11 percent in secondary education and 12 percent in post-secondary education.

Other sources included shopping and review sites, accounting for 9 percent of content matches among papers from secondary students and 3 percent from college students.

A Call to Action
The report offered three suggestions to help curtail plagiarism, including:

  1. Designing writing assignments that focus on personal experience or current events and that are submitted in stages;
  2. Instructing students in proper citation; and
  3. Using plagiarism detection in a formative manner to allow students to see where their references are improperly cited and to make those corrections before the final paper is submitted.

The complete 2011 Plagiarism and the Web report is freely available as a PDF via

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .

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