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So long as you’re writing for an online audience, or paying others to do it for you, you need to check for plagiarism. And if you teach courses online, plagiarism checks are essential for all written assignments.

First, we’ll look at the why and what of plagiarism. Then, we’ll cover the best ways to check for plagiarism online using both free and paid solutions.

What types of plagiarism are there?

A study by Plagiarism Today outlined ten types of plagiarism on a spectrum in order of severity–with one being the most egregious, and 10 being the least:

A list of types of plagiarism on a spectrum
The Spectrum of Plagiarism by Plagiarism Today

Why you should check for plagiarism

Your reasons for checking for plagiarism will differ according to your situation—whether you’re publishing someone else’s writing, or marking a student’s assignment.

If you’re paying a freelancer to write content for your blog, you should be prepared to check everything they submit for plagiarism. If they plagiarize and you publish their work, and you post it on your site, it’s you who suffers the consequences.

Educators are like the gatekeepers of certification and have a responsibility to ensure that a student knows what they need to in order to pass. If you’re accepting written assignments and essays from students, checking for plagiarism is your duty as a teacher.

Bottom line, if word gets around that you’re easily duped by plagiarized assignments, it hurts your credibility as both a teacher and an expert in your field.

Plagiarism and SEO

Plagiarism can hurt your ranking on Google and can even get you penalized. Since Google doesn’t want to rank two versions of the same article, its algorithm checks for duplicate content. If one of your articles is too similar to another, you may be excluded from search results.

“Similar” doesn’t mean word-for-word, either. The algorithm is sophisticated enough that it can even recognize articles that rephrase other sources: Think “Jill and Jack went to fetch a pail of water up the hill.”

Not only can you negatively impact your own SEO efforts with a plagiarism penalty, someone can plagiarize your work and you can be penalized as a result. In the worst-case scenario, your entire website can be stolen.SEMRush

Google’s ranking algorithm is complex, but if you’re looking to take a deeper dive, this article on duplicate content does a good job of breaking down its intricacies.

The legal repercussions of plagiarism

When you publish plagiarized material on your blog or as part of your online course, you put yourself in danger of being sued, or even facing criminal charges.

Realistically, when it comes to written material, very few cases of plagiarism make it to criminal courts. Even if you were to end up in court, prosecutors are only able to prosecute cases involving over $1,000 in retail value.

But the original copyright holder may choose to sue you. Or, they may simply threaten to sue you—unless you remove the offending material. In either case, whether you pay out of pocket doesn’t matter: The damage is done. Your reputation has suffered—and word travels fast online.

How to check for plagiarism online

Since plagiarism is a high stakes issue in academia and publishing, a wealth of plagiarism-checking tools have emerged online: Some free, some paid.

The best free plagiarism checking tools 

Free options for checking plagiarism are less robust than paid services, but they can work in a pinch to determine whether plagiarism is present—before you use a paid tool to find out definitively.

Checking for plagiarism with Google Search

This is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and it still works well—despite being completely free.

You can check a writer’s writing for plagiarism by copying and pasting snippets of their text into Google, and seeing if you come up with any results. Use quotation marks to look for specific passages, or omit quotation marks to find passages that have been lightly adapted from other text online.

If you use this method, choose longer and more distinctive snippets. For instance, “Scuba diving is popular” is unlikely to be directly plagiarized, and will bring up lots of irrelevant results.

“The dangers of the bends were first promulgated in a series of articles written by Professor Rodney Bubbles” is much more likely to land a hit.

As an example of what plagiarism looks like, we copied a sentence that we wrote for our own article on eLearning Storyboards into Google. If this text was submitted to you, all of the bolded text and directly matched phrases should set off alarm bells that they plagiarized our work (and we noticed a few already have!).

Example of a plagiarism check in google

Most of the time a quick google search will sufficebut if it’s a major paper, you may want to use a tool specifically for plagiarism checks.

Checking for plagiarism with a free trial is a paid service, but they offer a free trial that will check up to 1,000 words for plagiarism. This is enough to serve the same function as a Google search—alerting you if anything is amiss so you can look more closely with the help of a paid service.

Starting at $20 per month, will let you check up to 72,000 words, and use tools such as advanced reporting.

The best paid plagiarism checking tools

If you’re willing to pay for a plagiarism check tool right off the bat—or if one of our free suggestions isn’t cutting it, and you’d like to take a deeper look—there are a few paid tools that stand out from the rest.

Grammarly Plagiarism Checker

Part of Grammarly’s suite of writing tools, the Grammarly Plagiarism Checker promises to test your document against 16 billion web pages, plus the ProQuest academic database. It can be used to check documents of up to 150,000 words.

To use this tool, you’ll need a paid Grammarly account. Subscriptions start at $11.66 per month.

Chegg Plagiarism Checker

The Chegg writing suite is similar to Grammarly but geared more towards students. Like Grammarly, Chegg features a plagiarism checking tool as part of their paid packages. It also includes citation tools and human proofreading services.

If, outside of running your blog or online course, you are also a student, Chegg is the obvious choice. Otherwise, Grammarly is more suited to professional day-to-day use.

Chegg’s paid packages start at $9.99 per month.

SEMRush Writing Assistant

SEMRush is the right choice if you publish a blog. Besides the plagiarism detector, you get access to a suite of SEO tools you can use while you’re editing content. The plagiarism detector itself is specially designed for SEO writing.

Plus, the SEMRush Writing Assistant is compatible as a plugin with Google Docs and WordPress, so you can check for content quality and plagiarism as you edit.

Here’s an example of a check we did before publishing this article:Example of SEMRush Originality Check

As you can see, the text was rated 100% original. (Phew, that would have been awkward if we plagiarized a blog post on plagiarism).

On top of checking for plagiarism, the tool also gives you a score for things like readability, SEO, and tone of voice.

Just one drawback: You’re not going to invest in SEMRush just to check plagiarism–SEMRush is considerably more expensive than either Grammarly or Chegg for that purpose.

You’ll be paying at least $99.95 per month to use their whole suite of tools.

The last word

Plagiarism is serious business—and, as long as you hire contractors to write content for you, or accept written assignments from students as part of your online course, you should be ready to check for it.

Luckily, the online tools we’ve outlined today make it easy to check for plagiarism.

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