Technology for Educators

December 6, 2010

Google: AROUND

Filed under: Productivity — Sue Frantz @ 8:15 am

With the end of the term upon us, are you looking for a better way to detect plagiarism?

We’ve probably all put a suspect passage into Google. If the quote is exact, the source is easy to find. But what if the student has changed a few words? Those are a little tougher. But here’s a little known tool that can help a lot. In Google, you can use the operator AROUND (must be in all capital letters) to find terms are phrases that are ‘around’ each other.

Here’s an example.

Original passage: “When you have PTSD, it can seem like you’ll never get over what happened or feel normal again. But help is available – and you are not alone.”

Plagiarized passage: When someone has PTSD, it can seem like they’ll never get over the trauma.

If I drop the suspect passage into Google, this is what I get. The original source is not here. In fact I went 5 screens deep without encountering the original source.


But now let’s do a search using AROUND. To use it, I take a guess at what I think the original words likely were. I chose ‘PTSD,’ ‘it may seem like,’ and ‘never get over.’ Those are pretty sketchy terms to use in a normal Google search. But here, they become much more powerful.

PTSD AROUND(5) it may seem like AROUND(5) never get over. This tells Google to search for web pages that contain the word PTSD, then look within 5 words of it for the word seem. Also look for the word like and look within 3 words of it for never. Oh, and look for the word get, too. The first and third results give us the source. (Who knows which is the original? Plagiarism on the internet is rampant. That probably doesn’t help our students understand it’s wrong.) The second result does meet the criteria we gave Google; it just doesn’t contain the passage we’re looking for.

I hope all of your students properly cite their sources, but if they don’t, this search tool should provide some help.

Wondering what else Google can do? Check out the Google Guide.

[The tip on how to use AROUND comes from Amit Agarwal, Digital Inspiration blog. Thanks!!]


  1. Grading, are we?

    Comment by Tim — December 6, 2010 @ 8:32 am | Reply

  2. I’ve had 2 students this week look me in the eye and claim that they thought that as long as they cited their source that pasting an entire website as their Biology Paper was ok! 😦

    Comment by Jerusha Kilgore — December 7, 2010 @ 7:31 pm | Reply

    • Wow. Did you ask them, “Where did you learn that?” I send my students to the Indiana University plagiarism tutorial: It hasn’t completely eliminated plagiarism, but it makes it a whole lot easier to give them zeroes on assignments when they do.

      Comment by Sue Frantz — December 7, 2010 @ 8:45 pm | Reply

      • No, I didn’t. I was just too flabbergasted to do much of anything except make the Sign of the Sacred Guppy! I mean, I understand that’s not technically plagiarism because they’re citing a source, but still! They didn’t write it! One or two sentences, maybe; but not 3 or 4 *paragraphs*! (The first student, pasted the entire web site *including their citations!*)

        Comment by Jerusha Kilgore — December 7, 2010 @ 8:53 pm

      • I so think I’m going to *assign* that tutorial next semester. Thanks for the link!

        Comment by Jerusha Kilgore — December 7, 2010 @ 8:55 pm

    • The tutorial is required for my students. Five points out of a possible 400 in the course. Easy to grade. Students take the quiz at the end of the tutorial. Once they get all 10 questions correct, they’re sent to a certificate page. They print it out and hand it in. Easy to grade, too! 🙂

      Comment by Sue Frantz — December 7, 2010 @ 9:02 pm | Reply

      • I’d probably make it 10 based on your percentages. They’ve got 800 points in the semester. 600 points of exams, 100 points of final, 60 points of paper(s), and 30 points of Other Stuff ™.

        Comment by Jerusha Kilgore — December 7, 2010 @ 9:25 pm

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