I did both my undergraduate and graduate work at schools with honor codes, and somewhere around year six (of eleven total), I realized that the ultimate purpose of an honor code was to allow professors not to worry about plagiarism and just happily tell themselves that no one is cheating. In one school, we weren’t even supposed to proctor the exam, as that suggested distrust of the students. But anyhow, so that’s the mindset I’m coming out of.

But, although I’m no longer in an honor code school, I sort of still have that mindset. I’ve gotten over parts of it, but I still rarely worry about plagiarism. I don’t look for changes in writing style, I don’t google sentences, I basically assume that if it happens, it will hit me over the head.

I tend to think that the design of my class is my defense against major plagiarism. In the essays, I really expect students to generate their arguments from the specific sources we read in class and use them extensively. And my world history class largely depends on a bunch of primary sources that I pick and choose into a packet from an assortment of texts. Sometimes I use a reader, but the ones I most consistently order aren’t that popular (if they were, they would be much cheaper). So it’s not like students can google for an essay on The Broken Spears because we only read a small piece of it and they would get dinged anyhow for not using Source XYZ that we also read about the Spanish and Native Americans. Googling for an essay based on Kevin Reilly’s Worlds of History reader turns up some stuff, but not nearly as much.

But I don’t force students to be answering one of my questions, which I know leaves an opening for cheating. The Chronicle article on essay mills doesn’t say anything about students also uploading sources to be used (that I saw, anyhow), though if they could do that, I would be screwed.

That I have never had a plagiarist could speak to the success of this method, or to the degree of my self-delusion.


I was randomly googling something else and learned that google doesn’t index a lot of essays-for-sale sites, or something. Didn’t really bother scouring the legalese, but that was definitely the issue.