There are many reasons why you might want to run content through a plagiarism checker. Maybe you’re a student wanting to make sure you cited everything correctly. Perhaps you’re an author wanting to find others that plagiarized your work. Possibly you’re wanting to verify content from someone else as original before distributing it.

Regardless of the reason, if you’re wanting a plagiarism checker, there’s no shortage of services out there that are ready to take your site (and possibly your money) to check your work.

But not all plagiarism detection services are created equal. Some are just low-quality checkers that don’t really do anything of value. Others, however, may actively attempt to scam you and, in at least one case, will post your essays on essay mills after you check them.

So what should you do? How do you ensure that the service you’re using is trustworthy and providing accurate results? The answer is that it is very complicated. Setting up a plagiarism checker is easy, setting up a useful one is very difficult. It can be a challenge to separate those who did the work from those that didn’t.

The other problem is that the field is constantly shifting and new products are being introduced all the time, both good and bad.

That said, there are warning signs you can and should look for when choosing a plagiarism checker. Here are 5 to consider:

Disclosure: I am a paid consultant and blogger for Turnitin, a service provider in this space. That said, I’m deliberately avoiding making recommendations of a specific service.

1: They Offer Services Aimed to Defeat Plagiarism Detection

While this may seem obvious, a legitimate plagiarism detection service isn’t likely to also offer the tools that would seek to defeat it. Tools such as “paraphrasing tools”, “article rewriting” and so forth are designed to try and fool plagiarism detection tools.

Though such tools usually produce low-quality writing and are generally not wise to use, no matter how determined you are to plagiarize, their presence indicates that they really don’t have plagiarism detection at their core interest. Similarly, avoid plagiarism detection services attached to or advertise for essay mills as that is a clear conflict of interest (and another sign of unscrupulous behavior)

Likewise, look out for sites that offer plagiarism detection services as part of a much larger suite of seemingly disconnected products. For example, many SEO sites will offer a basic (though usually ineffective) plagiarism checker as part of their suite of tools.

Generally, you’re better off finding a company either that does nothing but plagiarism detection or has it as part of a smaller and more congruent package, such as mixed with grammar checking and/or grading.

2: They’ve Spammed You

How did you learn about the service? Was it through a recommendation from a trusted source, a search result or was it from a spam link?

Plagiarism detection spam is becoming rife both on the broader web and on social media. However, any service that resorts to outright spamming is not worth you time or attention.

While this is true across all fields, plagiarism detection seems to be a field where spamming is especially common, especially when approaching students on social media.

The best bet though is to not use any services that participate in spam, not only to discourage the practice but because, if they are unscrupulous enough to use spam, they almost certainly have other issues.

3: The Text Box Test

If you pull up a plagiarism checker’s website and the first thing you’re presented with is at text box that encourages you to paste or upload your work, be wary.

To be clear, this isn’t universal and there are legitimate companies that do this, in general, a site that’s trying to get you to check your work BEFORE they’ve explained what they do is likely hiding something.

Often times it’s just a trick to drive you to a signup page or give you a very cursory check with promotions for the premium service. Other times, it’s a way to grab your content before you’ve had a chance to read the terms of service. Even if you do get a plagiarism check from this, it’s likely one you can’t trust (See point 5).

Don’t go around pasting your work randomly into text boxes on the internet and don’t trust sites that ask you to do that. Take a second to learn about the tool you’re using before jumping right in.

4: Lack of Information

Speaking of information, make sure that the site has all of the information you would expect a legitimate plagiarism checker to have.

Who is running the site? What are the terms of service? How are they performing the searches? Where are they searching? A good plagiarism detection service will answer all of these questions and more.

If a service seems to be hiding information, they’re likely hiding something else as well. This is equally true when dealing with just about any other service online. However, plagiarism checkers have the ability to take your money, your information and your work.

If you’re not comfortable that you know who’s behind the plagiarism detection service, move on to the next. There are plenty more to choose from.

5: It’s Free

This one is painful, but real plagiarism detection costs money. It is demanding on servers, often requires the use of external resources, such as the Google API, and it is difficult to create and maintain.

As with most things on the Web, if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product, not the customer. However, unlike Facebook, Twitter, etc. plagiarism checkers don’t usually reach a volume where advertising is a viable model.

Some professional checkers will offer a free version but they are usually limited and often in ways that are invisible to the end-user. The paid version, in general, will find more matching content with higher fidelity.

This isn’t to say that more expensive is necessarily better. There are several lower-cost plagiarism detection services that are excellent for many, if not most, uses. However, if the service is free it almost certainly limited or comes with some serious strings attached.

Bottom Line

Finding a quality plagiarism detection service can be difficult and part of the problem is that it can be impossible to know what is or is not a good one. After all, it’s only AFTER you learn that there was plagiarism in a previously-cleared piece do you know you were scammed.

As a result, one of the best pieces of advice I can give is to use multiple services, at least until you know which ones you can truly trust and for what purposes.

The truth is that, even among fully legitimate and high-quality services, there are differences in algorithms and databases that can cause blind spots. Different checkers simply look for different things in different places. If you want to be 100% sure that your work is copy/paste plagiarismfree, it’s the best approach.

That said, even with that approach, it’s best to avoid sketchy plagiarism detection services. The reason is that there is much more at stake than just a false result. As we’ve seen before, plagiarism detection companies are in a position to misuse your content, including using your work to enable plagiarism elsewhere.

In the end, your best bet is to simply be careful and be smart about where you go for plagiarism checks. Always remember that there are many shady companies that want to simply take your work and/or your money without providing a real service.

It’s sad that this has come such a significant problem, but it’s one that all would-be plagiarism checkers must battle.

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