As more and more schools and private companies begin using automated plagiarism detection tools, it’s becoming increasingly common for students, authors and journalists to run plagiarism detection software on their work. In fact, many schools are actually encouraging this behavior and giving students access to the same tools they use.
The goal of this is to verify that the work is at least largely free of issues and that the author didn’t make any mistakes when penning their latest piece. In short, no author wants to be surprised after they’ve submitted their work, and it’s too late.
But, while this is becoming increasingly common, there seems to be a lot of confusion about when it is best to do it. Some feel that it should be done after a first draft, and others feel that it should be the last check run on a work before it’s submitted.
However, there’s no perfect answer here. When you should check your work for plagiarism likely depends heavily on the specifics of what you’re worried about.
So to answer the question, we first need to first understand why a student or author may want to run their own analysis and find when the best opportunity is for doing so.
The Ideal Answer
The idea answer to the question is simple: Never.
An author should always be reasonably confident that their work is free of any plagiarism issues before publishing. Yes, mistakes can and do happen, but clean room writing techniques and proper researching methods can help prevent problems before they wind up in a paper, regardless of human error.
If you truly feel the need to run a plagiarism check to ensure that your work is problem-free, then it’s likely a sign you need to change your writing style and process, not that you need a plagiarism detection tool.
So, if you find yourself needing an answer to this question, I would first ask myself, “What risky behaviors am I doing that may necessitate this?” and “How can I change the way I write so that it isn’t necessary?” Those questions will serve you much better in the long run and help make you a better writer and communicator.
So When Should You Run a Plagiarism Check?
All of that being said, the answer to the question is complicated. However, it comes down to a separate question, “When do you feel any plagiarism may have ended up in the work?”
If you’re worried about poor note-taking and the idea that, during your research, you may have introduced quotes that were not properly cited, then after you have a complete draft is likely the best time. Are you worried that those you worked with or that edited your work may have introduced something? Then after that stage.
The reason for this is fairly simple: The more a paper is edited and rewritten, the more difficult plagiarism becomes to detect, especially when using the types of tools most students and writers have easy access to.
The goal of a self-plagiarism check should be to make any issues obvious and simple to correct. That is easiest when the plagiarism is relatively fresh.
This may push some to perform multiple checks, but that comes with both a time and money cost. Every second spent on finding plagiarism in one’s paper is time not spent honing and improving the work.
So, if you feel the need for multiple checks, it’s likely better to just do one at the end. Your time and focus should be on the work itself, not plagiarism checking it.
One exception to that rule is if you are a student and the school grants you access to the same (or similar) tool that they use. In that case, you likely only have limited opportunity to check the work, and the best time will almost always be right before submission.
The goal here is to see the same report, or a similar one, to what your instructor will see. This can help you spot and correct any red flags that they might when they look at their version of the report.
However, it’s important to make sure that you do this with enough time to resolve any issues. Submitting a paper for a plagiarism check at the last minute puts you in a situation where you may have to choose between having a plagiarized paper or a late one.
So, if you’re going to rely on these checks, it’s important to submit papers early and give yourself enough time to actually respond to what the analysis says.
To repeat, checking your work for plagiarism should never be necessary. Proper research and writing techniques should make it nearly impossible for any seemingly plagiarized text to enter your work.
However, given what is at stake and the confusion that surrounds plagiarism, it’s wholly understandable that students and authors want to take extra precautions.
So, if you’re going to do a plagiarism check of your work, it makes sense to do it at the time when it will be easiest to spot any issues and to correct them. That, ideally, is right after any potential problematic text was introduced. Failing that, a check right before submission can also be helpful, but only if there is enough time left to address any issues.
When it’s all said and done, there’s no single ideal time for doing such a check. However, it’s always a good time to address why the check feels necessary.