My professor, a co-author and I have been working on a paper for more than a year. I was doing the math and simulations, my co-author was responsible for the writing, and my professor was editing the paper. Now editing of the paper is done. Unfortunately, the co-author is no longer available. My professor called me today and told me he has observed that my co-author copied some sentences from the reference papers. So he asked me to check all of the sentences and highlight and rewrite them again if I found that they were copied. He believes that, these days the reviewers are more concerned about the use of similar sentences in the paper.

So, What should I do? Check all sentences with other papers? This is not possible without using a machine. the paper contains more than 8000 words. Do you know what software I can use to do this?

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    Copying a sentence (or more) from another paper is not plagiarism provided the material copied is enclosed in quotes (or indented if a large block) and properly cited. Is that the case? Or are the copied sentences presented as though the three of you had written them? – Bob Brown Dec 31 '14 at 21:39
  • The copied sentences are not enclosed in quotes. Some of them are cited but some not. Actually the content and our method is new. But some explanations and sentences are copy paste. @BobBrown – Electricman Dec 31 '14 at 21:44
  • I guess you want something like the reverse of diff for two very different files. I have no idea how well this works, but WCopyfind seems to do just that: plagiarism.bloomfieldmedia.com/z-wordpress/software/wcopyfind Here's what they say in the instructions: WCopyfind compares text or word processor documents with one another to determine if they share words in phrases. WCopyfind reads .DOCX, .TXT, and .HTML files natively and it does a pretty good job of reading .PDF files, as long as they contain text content rather than pure image content. – Yuichiro Fujiwara Jan 1 '15 at 7:33
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    @Wrzlprmft the titular question is clearly a shopping list, but the final "paragraph" asks a reasonable question of what should I do. – StrongBad Jan 1 '15 at 21:12
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    @Electricman I would guess it wouldn't work very well. It's for undergrads' essays and such. It may be good if you want to check if your student copy-pasted a wikipedia article, blog post and the like, but I'm not sure if its data include enough academic papers. In your case, you sort of know where your co-author copied text from, and it's not from where undergrads typically copy-and-paste. You may miss plagiarized text if you only compare your manuscript against Turnitin's data, which is a big problem. – Yuichiro Fujiwara Jan 3 '15 at 10:54

I am both confused and concerned about the description of your work process:

I was doing the math and simulations, my co-author was taking the care of writing and my professor was editing the paper.

It seems clear you are making a contribution worthy of authorship, but as for your "co-author" and professor, it is not clear if their contributions are worthy of authorship. the fact that the co-author is unavailable make the situation difficult. High end plagiarism detection software is still not particularly good and I would be hesitant about using any work written by someone who is known to have plagiarised in the past, especially in the absence of drafts to confirm the absence of plagiarism.

The issue with using software like TurnItIn is not its abilitity to detect and parse copied material, but the limitations on its underlying database. Plagiarism detection software generally does not have access to non-open access publications. If your co-author copied from non-open access publications, then the software will likely miss it. A publishers, like elsivier Edith a large amount of pay walled material may add their own publications to their database making it easy for them to catch the plagiarism.

My suggestion would be to rewrite all the material by the co-author. You could either work from his version and maintain his authorship, or if his only contribution was the writing as you say, then rewrite those sections from scratch and drop him from the list of authors.

  • It takes a lot of time and energy to rewrite the paper. @strongbad – Electricman Jan 1 '15 at 19:37
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    @Electricman It all really depends on how much you care about quality. If you want to be sure and you can't trust your co-author (and I agree with StrongBad here, don't share authorship with others who have plagiarized in the past), then you need to re-write it. The time and energy is the cost of choosing your co-author poorly. Bad decisions have consequences. – earthling Jan 2 '15 at 1:16
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    @Electricman: It may take a long time to rewrite the paper, but it will be more damaging to you if the paper is retracted for plagiarism! – aeismail Jan 2 '15 at 1:28
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    I don't understand your adversion against rewriting it. What is more important? Your future career or making this assignment as easy as possible? Rewriting is the only sure way you have, anything else might still bear a risk, as small as it is, but if anything goes wrong, your reputation is terminally ruined. And 8'000 words is a small thing. My current manuscript (book) is now on 90'000 and not done yet. – Patric Hartmann Jan 3 '15 at 22:18
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    @Electricman: Believe me, it's the best choice. The damage plagiarism, even just accidental, can do to your career justifies the additional workload. – Patric Hartmann Jan 5 '15 at 12:47

Your institution may use a standard service which you would have access to - you could contact your academic admin service and ask them. "Turnitin" seems quite widely used.

  • unfortunately they do not have it. Also, I am graduated few month ago. @jool – Electricman Jan 1 '15 at 19:38
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    @Electricman You can still use TurnItIn's product for students. – earthling Jan 2 '15 at 1:00
  • I wish you could recommended something free @earthling – Electricman Jan 2 '15 at 11:53
  • @Electricman The free stuff is garbage. "You get what you pay for" is so very true in the world of plagiarism checking. – earthling Jan 2 '15 at 12:31
  • That is really true, but not only for the world of plagiarism checking. I should find someone who has turnitin, maybe some universities have it already for their students @earthling – Electricman Jan 2 '15 at 12:36

While TurnItIn is designed for undergraduate assignments, iThenticate is designed for this exact scenario: detecting plagiarism in academic publications. I've used it successfully in the past, and while it is not cheap you can purchase a license to check a single document at a time.

  • I have written the paper again as this question was posted before your answer. Thank you for your helpful answer. If next time it comes up I will use that. @corvus – Electricman May 8 '15 at 8:16

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