Why do people use them?Basically the tools are free, quick to use and easy to locate through
simple Internet searches. Because of this, people who are time poor or
who struggle with summarising the ideas of others may be tempted to use
the tools to complete their work. Individuals who have to write in other
languages may think the machine writes or translates better than they
do. Others, including academics and researchers may think it is a quick
way of rewriting already published materials.
Why is learning to paraphrase an important skill?
Paraphrasing shows how well someone understands other person’s ideas.Paraphrasing is an important skill for everyone to develop.
Paraphrasing shows how well someone understands other person’s ideas. It
is also used to clarify meaning in conversations inside and outside of
workplaces. Using online paraphrasing tools prevents people from
learning and developing this important skill which may ultimately impact
of their future careers.
About the studyThis study took text from an existing publication and processed it
through two online paraphrasing tools to examine the output. The output
was further tested by seeing if a text matching machine could detect
that the work was actually copied. The paraphrasing output was poor in
terms of word choice and grammar while the text matching machine had
difficulty in matching the output with the original work. There were
some clues that can assist in detecting their use.
What sort of text do the online tools produce?The online tools rely appear to rely on a couple of basic rules. They
use synonyms – words or phrases that may be similar to the original
word but may have slight differences in meaning depending on what is
being written about. One of the tools in the test changed the phrase
‘employee performance reviews’ to ‘representative execution surveys’ –
not an approach that would be encouraged when managing employees. They
also leave basic works such as ‘to’, ‘the’, ‘and’, ‘that’ and ‘in’
(known as conjunctions), and appear to avoid changing words near
punctuation or internet addresses (for example brackets, commas, colons
Why are online paraphrasing tools a threat to academic integrity?
These tools are a significant threat to academic integrity.These tools are a significant threat to academic integrity as they
encourage students (and others) to copy work and rely on a computer
generated output rather than writing themselves. This prevents students
learning how to paraphrase other people’s thoughts and ideas and
acknowledge the original source material.
How can we detect their use?This study demonstrates how text matching software such as Turnitin®
has difficulty in detecting the use of online paraphrasing tools.
However, there are patterns and clues in the outputs of the tools that
can assist in identifying work that is not original. Errors including
word selection, phrasing and grammar can indicate that a machine may
have changed the text.
What can we do to discourage their use?
Text matching software such as Turnitin® has difficulty in detecting the use of online paraphrasing tools.Firstly we need to acknowledge their existence. This means having
conversations with students and others about paraphrasing sites and
demonstrating the poor output they generate and importance of developing
individual paraphrasing skills. Secondly we need to support students in
developing their paraphrasing skills through lectures, tutorials and
support sessions. This will help build confidence in each person’s own
abilities. Additionally, being consistent in speaking with students
where there are concerns about the originality or acknowledgement
practices used in submitted work.
In summaryParaphrasing tools just like many internet facilities promise to make
things easier. The reality is that the outputs have a large number of
errors and do not help students learn. Being open with students about
the problems that exist with online paraphrasing tools may encourage
them to learn how to learn and develop their own paraphrasing skills.
Liked the blog? Now read the research:
Free Internet based paraphrasing tools: further threats to academic integrity - BioMed Central blog