When I opened and went to the properties of my suspect paper, here is what I found:
Hmmmm. This was odd, as I remember always seeing in my own documents and those of colleagues at least something in the Author field, and usually something in the Company field. I opened up every one of the other 37 documents from my class—okay, I was becoming a tad obsessed—and found that each document had at least a name in the Author field, and about half the time something in the Company field. I also learned that I could delete and replace the name that was in the Author field, or delete it and leave the field blank.
The Statistics tab at the top of window invited me to dig deeper, so I returned to the paper of the student I had helped, and looked at her document’s statistics.
If I read things correctly, over the course of three days she had written a document of six paragraphs in four pages, devoting about four-and-a-third total hours to the thing, saving it twelve times. Now, what about my suspect document?
In this case the student had created a new document in the morning, left the document opened for five hours, and then authored a five-page paper in no time flat, saving it for a first and only time, and then exiting. This document appeared out of nowhere, and had zero for a Turnitin score: an immaculate conception.
Checking again the properties of other students’papers, I could see that they were saving their document multiple times, and working on it for multiple hours. How does one create and author a four-page paper in zero minutes of total editing time?
Then it hit me: maybe for Microsoft Word pasting something into a blank document does not count as editing, and if one does paste something in, save the document, and then exit, one could have what I had here: a four-page document that was never edited. Testing my hypothesis, I opened up a document containing 20 pages of formatted text, selected and then copied the whole contents, created a new document, pasted everything into the new document, saved it (providing a document name), and then exited. After a few seconds I opened up the new document, went to the Properties dialog box, and selected the Statistics. Here’s what I got:
The statistics were like those of the suspect document: a single saving of the document, multiple pages of text, but no editing time at all. The conclusion seems inescapable: the student had an entire document from some source, copied its contents, pasted them into a fresh, new document, and then saved it.
Why would someone chose this circuitous route to submitting a paper? It seems that a student who wrote a document from beginning to end would not worry about any detritus in it (e.g., the kind of things that would appear if one had been tracking changes, or inserting comments). After all, all the work in the document was the student’s own. But a student who co-wrote a paper with someone else might have used track changes, and those changes might be visible if someone with know-how made them visible in the original, submitted document. Or, a student who purchased a paper on the Internet, and then received that document via some delivery mechanism, might want to move the contents from the original, delivered document, to a fresh Word document, since track changes do not carry over when pasted into the new document; everything appears untouched to the reader of the new Word document.
It is certain that something was wrong here, but the evidence of wrong-doing is in truth a privation: what is wrong with the suspect paper is the fact that nothing is wrong with it, and that it took no time to write it. How does one prove a commission of academic dishonesty from a zero?
The day will come when there are other suspect documents, so I wrote a one-click macro for Microsoft Word that tells me for how many minutes a document has been edited, and how many times it has been saved:
Should a paper be an immaculate conception, like my suspect document, I’m developing other techniques of investigation. But of course I’m not going to show my playbook here.
This battle may have been lost, but the war ain’t over.