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An academic Arabic corpus for plagiarism detection: design, construction and experimentation


Advancement in information technology has resulted in massive textual material that is open to appropriation. Due to researchers’ misconduct, a plethora of plagiarism detection (PD) systems have been developed. However, most PD systems on the market do not support the Arabic language. In this paper, we discuss the design and construction of an Arabic PD reference corpus that is dedicated to academic language. It consists of (2312) dissertations that were defended by postgraduate students at the University of Jordan (JU) between the years 2001–2016. This Academic Jordan University Plagiarism Detection corpus; henceforth, JUPlag, follows the Dewey decimal classification (DDC) in the way it is structured. The goal of the corpus is twofold: Firstly, it is a database for the detection of plagiarism in student assignments, reports, and dissertations. Secondly, the n-gram structure of the corpus provides a knowledgebase for linguistic analysis, language teaching, and the learning of plagiarism-free writing. The PD system is guided by JU Library’s metadata for retrieval and discovery of plagiarism. To test JUPlag, we injected an unseen dissertation with multiple instances of plagiarism-simulated paragraphs and sentences. Experimentation with the system using different verbatim n-gram segments is indeed promising. Preliminary results encourage that permission be sought to enrich this corpus with all the theses in the Thesis Repository of the Union of Arab Universities. The JUPlag corpus is intended to function as an indispensable source for testing and evaluating plagiarism detection techniques. Since the University of Jordan is seeking to become a center for plagiarism detection for Arabic content and being a non-profit organization, it will charge a nominal fee for the use of JUPlag to finance the maintenance and development of the corpus.


Plagiarism is simply defined as appropriating others’ words, thoughts, or intellectual property without providing proper citation or giving credit to them as the original source. The Oxford DictionaryFootnote 1 defines plagiarism as “The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own”. With the exceptionally large volume of articles, reports and books available on the Internet, plagiarism in academic writing is a major concern that has become the matter of the moment.

Plagiarism can be either intentional or unintentional (DeVoss & Rosati, 2002). It is intentional when copying or modifying someone else’s words without providing proper citation to the original source. It is unintentional when one copies from others without knowing the rules and regulations for academic writing. However, ignorance should not be an excuse. For instance, the latest scandal of alleged plagiarism involved a respectable lecturer at an Ivy League university who once was the executive editor of a major newspaper. It cast doubt on the integrity and reputation of an otherwise highly respectable academic and public figure. This academic had properly credited alleged instances of plagiarism to their sources, sometimes repeatedly, but occasionally failed to do so. This ‘unintentional plagiarism’ is a form of academic dishonesty.

Advancement in technology both facilitates plagiarism and prevents it. At the click of a mouse, paper mill websites help students and researchers to copy or buy research papers. Yet, plagiarism detection systems deter the appropriation of others’ intellectual property. Plenty of websites are nowadays offering tools for plagiarism detection. Some sites are commercial but few are free. Turnitin and PlagScan, for instances, are very popular commercial tools that are used world-wide for the detection of text plagiarism. They are capable of detecting different forms of plagiarism that range from simple copy-paste plagiarism to word switching, sentence and paragraph paraphrasing, etc. However, these tools do not prevent plagiarism but catch it after it has occurred (Beute, Van Aswegen, & Winberg, 2008).

Misconduct in Arabic research is not an exception. Unfortunately, however, most of the plagiarism detection tools act on ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) data and very few support Unicode data for plagiarism comparisons. Plagiarism detection for scholarly research written in the Arabic language is not well supported. The scarcity of Arabic literature and resources on the Internet as well as the shortage of commitment to research in Arabic NLP (Natural Language Processing) are the main reasons behind the absence of efficient plagiarism tools that support a language spoken and written by around 423 million people.

The main contribution of this ongoing project is twofold. At its preliminary stage, it will construct a plagiarism corpus made of defended dissertations in the thesis repository at the library of the University of Jordan. The second is to develop a plagiarism detection system dedicated to the Arabic language that is capable of detecting verbatim plagiarism and some intelligent plagiarism including word order changes, paraphrasing and synonym replacement. Hereafter, we refer to the corpus as JUPlag and to the plagiarism detection system as PD system.

The remaining of the paper is organized as follows. Section 2 provides a background and discusses related literature. Section 3 introduces the research methodology. Section 4 discusses the experiments and findings. Finally, section 5 presents the conclusion of this paper and future work.

Background and literature review


The lack of fundamental research skills could be the common reason why university students/researchers plagiarize (Devlin & Gray, 2007). However, academic writing is not an easy task. It requires clarity, conciseness, focus, structure, and evidence. It requires a lot of reading, appropriate usage of words and grammar, and learning how to express ideas and thoughts. Several studies pointed to other reasons for plagiarism: lack of author confidence, shortage of time, fear of failure, pressure of parents and scholarship committees to maintain high grades, lack of punishment by the institution, ease of appropriation, and absence of good plagiarism detection systems (Devlin & Gray, 2007; Eret & Ok, 2014; Franklin-Stokes & Newstead, 1995).

From a legal point of view, the act of plagiarism is not considered a crime (Frye, 2016). However, plagiarism during university years is highly condemned by the academic community and it may leave a significant impact on one’s career beyond academia. “Consequences range from loss of reputation to economic fines and ruined careers. Students are expelled from their schools, and faculty fired... Doctoral degrees can be revoked and plagiarizing publications are retracted and cursed” (Satija & Martínez-Ávila, 2019, p. 90). A case in point is the disgrace of politicians (cf. Ruipérez & García-Cabrero, 2016).

Plagiarism is of seven types: paraphrasing a text without proper citation, mosaic plagiarism where text from different sources is combined into one, copy and paste without due citation, incorrect citation, arrogating someone else’s entire work, self-plagiarism where one submits his/her published work as though it were new, and citing a non-existing work (Vij, Soni, & Makhdumi, 2009).

Plagiarism prevention methods have a long-term positive effect, but, unfortunately, their implementation is usually time-consuming (Lukashenko, Graudina, & Grundspenkis, 2007). Relying on such methods to maintain academic integrity, however, won’t be enough to stop researchers from plagiarizing. In the words of Bolkan (2006), “Many educators blame the internet for what they perceive as the rise of plagiarism. Although the Internet certainly enables more efficient plagiarism, blaming it for widespread copying is akin to blaming a bank robbery on the presence of cash in the building … Efforts must be directed at prevention as well as detection and punishment. (p. 4)”.

Plagiarism detection software (PDS) can be content-based (extrinsic) or stylometry-based (intrinsic) (Rahman, 2015). Extrinsic plagiarism detection (EPD) discovers instances of appropriation by comparing a suspicious document with reference documents (a database or a corpus). Intrinsic plagiarism detection (IPD), on the other hand, discovers instances of appropriation in the suspicious document without using any reference corpus. Figure 1 depicts the common types of text plagiarism and the classification of plagiarism detection software tools.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Types of text plagiarism detection software tools

A plagiarism detection system has to ideally handle most types of plagiarism, including text modification by word-shifting, translation, and summarization that bypass string-matching tools. At this preliminary stage, our present work handles string-matching-based plagiarism detection and it is planned that it will be enhanced with such NLP techniques as stemming and part-of-speech tagging, and by the use of such lexical resources as the work of (Baras, Sawalha, and Yagi: A more extensive wordnet for Arabic, submitted), Arabic-WordNet,Footnote 2 dictionaries, and thesauri.

Related work

Plagiarism is an old topic and it has been well studied in the literature. In this section, we only focus on the recent work on Arabic text plagiarism detection. However, for further reading on the topic of plagiarism, we refer the reader to Maurer, Kappe, and Zaka (2006). In addition, the following is a sample of scholarly work that exemplifies plagiarism types with reference to Fig. 1. For intrinsic plagiarism, we refer the reader to the work of AlSallal, Iqbal, Palade, Amin, and Chang (2019), Polydouri, Siolas, and Stafylopatis (2017), Tschuggnall and Specht (2012), Zu Eissen and Stein (2006); for string-based extrinsic plagiarism detection, refer to Baba, Nakatoh, and Minami (2017), Leonardo and Hansun (2017), Nakatoh, Baba, Yamada, and Ikeda (2011), Wise (1996); for vector-space-based plagiarism detection, see Kong, Zhao, Lu, Qi, and Zhao (2016), Meuschke, Siebeck, Schubotz, and Gipp (2017), Paul and Jamal (2015); for syntax-based plagiarism detection refer to Si, Leong, and Lau (1997), Vani and Gupta (2017); and for citation-based detection see Gipp and Beel (2010), Gipp and Meuschke (2011); and Meuschke, Gipp, Breitinger, and Berkeley (2012).

The first shared task that addressed plagiarism detection in Arabic texts is “AraPlagDet” (Arabic Plagiarism Detection) introduced in the PAN@Fire2015 competition and it has become since then an annual event that involved extrinsic and intrinsic plagiarism detection (Bensalem et al., 2015). Researchers in Arabic NLP adopted shared tasks to raise awareness of plagiarism problems and to develop solutions to them.

The majority of works on Arabic plagiarism detection involves preprocessing, segmenting documents into chunks of sentences of variable sizes (n-grams), tokenization, removing diacritics and non-alphanumeric characters, normalizing some letters (for example “أ،إ،آ” get normalized into “ا”), stemming, lemmatization, part-of-speech tagging, and synonym replacement.

Zaher, Shehab, Elhoseny, and Osman (2017) developed a web-based plagiarism detection system for Arabic documents, called APDS. The system operated in three phases: preparation, preprocessing, and similarity detection. After preprocessing, the query document was presented as n-gram chunks for similarity detection. The proposed system was tested on a dataset of 10 Arabic documents and evaluated in terms of precision and recall. The authors claimed an average precision of 82% and an average recall of (92.5%). However, the paper does not tell what kind of plagiarism was detected, how the documents were presented or how the precision and recall measures were obtained.

Mahmoud and Zrigui (2017) proposed a system for detecting semantic plagiarism in Arabic documents that benefited from machine learning technology. In the preprocessing phase, the suspicious and source documents were split into sentences then into words without removing stopwords. In the feature extraction phase, the TF*IDF (Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency) measure was calculated for weighting words in terms of importance. Then the word2vec algorithm was used for learning word embeddings, and the skip-gram model was employed for predicting the context of words given a current word vector. For similarity calculation, they used cosine and the Euclidean distance measures. The degrees of similarity between sentences were compared to a predefined threshold. Experiments were conducted on an open source Arabic corpus and they claimed a precision rate of (85%) and a recall rate of (84%).

Mahmoud, Zrigui, and Zrigui (2017) used a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) approach for detecting paraphrasing plagiarism in Arabic documents. This method is said to detect paraphrasing plagiarism through the measurement of semantic relatedness between the suspicious and the original documents. Their approach has three phases: preprocessing, feature extraction, and paraphrase detection. After preprocessing, the feature extraction phase employed a skip-gram model for word-to-vector representation, where each document is represented by a vector in a multidimensional space. The paraphrase detection phase applied the cosine similarity measure on the vectors of both the suspicious and the original documents to reduce dimensionality. Finally, a mathematical function called Softmax was used for paraphrase detection according to some predefined threshold. Experiments showed a precision rate of (88%).

However, Mahmoud et al. (2017) and Mahmoud and Zrigui (2017) conducted their experimentation on an open source Arabic corpus, named OSAC (Saad & Ashour, 2010). The corpus was organized in ten different categories collected from multiple websites. The sources of the articles were news channels and social and commercial websites, which clearly makes it inappropriate for academic plagiarism detection. Specialized content is what the PD corpus ought to consist of, because academics do not normally plagiarize the news or social media.

Abdelrahman, Khalid, and Osman (2017) presented a framework for content-based PD in Arabic documents. Their framework has two phases: preprocessing and document representation. They used a tree-structure model with the document at the root of the tree, the paragraphs at the second level, and the sentences at the third level of the tree. A Longest Common Substring (LCS) matching algorithm was used for comparing hashed text chunks (i.e. words in their case). No experiments were made to evaluate the system or show its effectiveness and therefore there was no plagiarism detection corpus.

Ghanem, Arafeh, Rosso, and Sánchez-Vega (2018) presented a system for detecting extrinsic plagiarism in Arabic texts. Their system, Hybrid Plagiarism (HYPLAG), followed a hybrid detection approach. They adopted corpus-based and knowledge-based approaches for the detection of both the verbatim and rephrasing types of plagiarism. The system was compared to other systems that participated in the Arabic Plagiarism Detection PAN-Forum for Information Retrieval Evaluation (AraPlagDet PAN@FIRE) competition and was tested on a corpus called External Arabic Plagiarism Detection (ExAraPlagDet-2015). The authors reported that HYPLAG outperformed others with a success rate of (89%). They chunked the query (suspicious) document and the source documents into n-term sentences. Then the synonyms of the query document were extracted from the Arabic-WordNet. The original sentences were ranked with respect to the suspicious sentences and the ones with the highest scores were extracted as potentially plagiarized sentences. Finally, the candidate sentences and suspicious sentences were compared for similarity using the vector space model and the TF*IDF weighting measure. A similarity value that exceeded a predefined maximum threshold indicated plagiarism, while a similarity value between minimum and maximum thresholds required a call for the next phase of feature-based semantic similarity measurement based on the synonyms extracted from the Arabic-WordNet.

Khorsi, Cherroun, and Schwab (2018) used a Two-Level Plagiarism Detection System (2 L-APD), which is said to detect different plagiarism cases, including verbatim and paraphrasing. Their system consisted of two consecutive modules: fingerprinting and word embedding detection. The first module is responsible for preprocessing and segmenting the suspicious document into sentences. When sentences exceeded some threshold value, they were passed on to the second module to test for paraphrasing and synonym replacement. The fingerprinting was applied by chunking the text documents into n-grams and then selecting the least frequent ones. Finally, they used a function called Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie (BKDR) for hashing the selected n-grams. The first module applied Jaccard measuring similarity, whilst the second module used the cosine similarity measure. Important words were picked on the basis of their IDF value and their part of speech tags. To test their approach, Khorsi et al. (2018) used the ExAraDet-2015 corpus. Experimental results showed an overall precision rate of (85%) and a recall rate of (87%).

Although the works of Ghanem et al. (2018) and Khorsi et al. (2018) seem promising, they both have been tested on ExAraDet-2015 corpus, which is an Arabic corpus made of short sentences constructed for the PAN@FIRE plagiarism detection competition. We suspect this corpus might not be suitable for academic plagiarism detection as it is not a well-organized academic corpus, neither it is discourse-structure annotated.

Clearly, there is need for a corpus dedicated to plagiarism detection that is authentic, big, versatile, and richly annotated. The JUPlag corpus is intended to meet this need and to function as a test bed for the evaluation of plagiarism detection techniques.

Corpus design methodology

The JUPlag corpus was guided by the following design objectives:

  1. 1)

    To compile academic texts for the purpose of training and testing the Arabic plagiarism detection system that is to be developed.

  2. 2)

    To devise a mechanism for organizing the texts and indexing them.

  3. 3)

    To annotate the texts using a stemmer and a part-of-speech tagger.

  4. 4)

    To construct an Arabic thesaurus database that can be used for detecting synonym replacements.

Source data collection

Data collection is a fundamental success factor in plagiarism detection. PD systems need to access multitudes of sources of data to detect potential plagiarism. This includes accessing local databases as well as online data available on the internet. Due to the scarcity of scholarly Arabic literature that is in digitized form, it has been deemed necessary to build a resource that would contain a collection of academic texts, a resource that may be used for the detection of plagiarism in dissertations before a defense is scheduled. Postgraduate students usually sign an affidavit stating that they observed the code of ethics in the compilation of their theses, that they accepted all legal repercussions of plagiarism including the revocation of their degrees, and that they agreed that the Deans Council revocation decision would be final.

With the necessary legal provisions, the Library of the University of Jordan graciously gave us permission to access their copyrighted repository of dissertations. The University requires that postgraduate students transfer their copyrights to it and get them to sign an authorization form that permits the University of Jordan “to supply copies of [their] Thesis/Dissertation to libraries or establishments or individuals on request, according to the University of Jordan regulations”. We have obtained permission of the University administration and of the Director of the University Library to access the dissertation repository for the specific purpose of the development of the JUPlag corpus and for experimentation with the repository.

We had access to (2312) dissertations that were defended by University of Jordan postgraduate students between the years 2001–2016. Table 1 shows the number of collected dissertations per year. Notice the significant increase in the number of collected dissertations in 2006 and beyond; this is due to the School of Graduate Studies’ drive to boost the number of master’s, doctoral and high specialization programs. As JU sought to become a pioneer in postgraduate programs, it widened its program offerings resulting in 2012 in (105) master’s programs, (34) doctoral programs, and (16) high specialization programs in Medicine. As of today, the Graduate School offers (123) master’s programs, (38) doctoral programs, (16) high specialization programs in Medicine, and (1) high specialization program in Dentistry.

Table 1 Per year distribution of the collected dissertations

Challenges identified

In the process of constructing the JUPlag corpus, the following problems were encountered:

  1. 1)

    Differences in dissertation format and structure

Although the school of graduate studies at JU has guidelines and a standardized template for dissertations, there are some variations among schools and disciplines. This might include the number of chapters, pages, dissertation layout, and fonts. For the past 10 years, a graduate student has been required by law to hand in an electronic copy of his/her dissertation upon its endorsement by the school of graduate studies. Prior to that, hard copies were submitted to the library whose staff had to retype the dissertations, a cumbersome and costly exercise.

Due to copyright law restrictions, we had to obtain permission to process the content of the repository for the purpose of constructing the JUPlag corpus.

  1. 2)

    Scarcity of Arabic online literature

The success of plagiarism detection is dependent mainly on access to online resources and on offline databases. Unfortunately, there is a limited volume of machine-readable Arabic scholarly articles online. Hence, testing our system will be restricted to JUPlag corpus. At a later stage, we will seek permission to include in this corpus all the dissertations in the repository of the Union of Arab Universities.

  1. 3)

    Paucity of efficient Arabic tools

Arabic suffers from the scarcity of free NLP tools. Tokenization, root extraction, part of speech tagging, and sentence boundary identification are essential for many NLP tasks. Root extraction reduces word tokens to word types. A Part-of-Speech Tagger (POST) is essential for machine translation, dependency parsing, and language pattern extraction. Online dictionaries, thesauri, and semantic networks are indispensable for meaning-centered tasks. Although many of these essential tools do exist, they are not available for free. Many of those that are free of charge are not reliable. Hence, researchers in the field of Arabic NLP often decide to build their own tools.

Construction of the Arabic academic plagiarism detection corpus

To the best of our knowledge, the only available extrinsic plagiarism corpus devoted to Arabic text plagiarism detection is ExAraDet-2015.Footnote 3 The corpus was used in the PAN@Fire2015 competition to judge and to rank the competing solutions. The corpus is made of 1171 short documents, of which (48.68%) are source documents and (51.32%) are suspicious. The following is a detailed description of our design and construction of JUPlag, the Arabic academic plagiarism detection corpus.

Corpus architecture

The architecture of JUPlag follows the Library of JU in the way it classifies its content. JU Library holdings are classified in accordance with the DDC system and it uses some standard metadata. The following is a brief description of the two classification techniques that we adopted while building the plagiarism corpus.

The Dewey decimal classification system

The DDCFootnote 4 system is the world’s most widely used technique to organize library collections. It has been named after its founder, Melvil Dewey, an American Librarian who developed it in 1876. The DDC system represents an adaptive knowledgebase which is revised continuously to cope up with knowledge development. It has been developed and maintained by the Library of Congress. The DDC system has 10 main subject categories. Each category is represented by a three-figure value in the range from 000 to 999 (Chan, Comaroni, Mitchell, & Satija, 1996).

The JU Library had adopted DDC in the classification of its holdings, whether they are books, magazines, periodicals, or dissertations, etc. As Fister (2009) notes, “Dewey can sort large collections into more specific groups than BISAC can. (p. 24)”.

A Dewey numerical scheme has three levels. Altogether, they make the classification number of a library item. Table 2 shows the first level categories. For instance, a dissertation about Arabic dictionaries “المعاجم العربية” would carry the Dewey number 413. The number can be interpreted as follows. Level-1 (400) is used for the language “اللغات” category, level-2 (10), a multiple of tens level, is used for the Arabic language “اللغة العربية” category, and the third level (3), a sequential number, is used for the Arabic Dictionary “المعاجم العربية” category.

Table 2 Dewey decimal classification system

JU library’s metadata

In addition to using DDC for classifying its items, the JU Library also adopts a set of standard metadata for their classification. The metadata include: barcode, author’s first name, author’s surname, title, date of publication, subject, and the call number that specifies the shelf location of the item. Metadata are used to locate and retrieve information quickly.

An interesting characteristic of JUPlag is that its content is organized according to DDC system. This organizational structure is advantageous in that it categorizes theses/dissertations according to subject matter which makes it possible to perform plagiarism detection within a subcorpus rather than the entire corpus, a procedure that saves precious processing power and time. Search in one DDC category of theses/dissertations is also what linguistic analysis would do when they want to study the discourse characteristics of a genre or its embedded linguistic patterns.

In a similar manner, DDC has been successfully used by Jenkins, Jackson, Burden, and Wallis (1998) to automatically classify web resources and by Golub, Lykke, and Tudhope (2014) to enhance Information Retrieval (IR) and indexing systems.

Data processing outline of the JUPlag corpus

In this section, we describe the processing stages of the corpus construction. Figure 2 depicts the overall data processing stages. Table 3 shows the distribution of the corpus dissertations in accordance with the Dewey categories.

Fig. 2
figure 2

Processing outline of the JUPLag Corpus

Table 3 Distribution of the corpus dissertations in accordance with Dewey’s categories


The tokenization process takes a dissertation D and splits it into separate words (unigrams). We designed and implemented a tokenizer that extracts words at multiple delimiters, including white spaces, tabs and punctuation marks (Hammo, Yagi, Ismail, & AbuShariah, 2016). The output of the tokenizer is of two types: tokens that correspond to units whose characters are recognizable such as punctuation marks, numeric data, dates, etc., and tokens that need further morphological analysis. Tokens of one or two-character length, non-Arabic characters, or numerical values are ignored and excluded from the database. Stop-words were also removed from the corpus. Developers of NLP applications usually remove stop-words from search engine indices as this will reduce the size of indices dramatically (Salton & Buckley, 1988; Yang, 1995) and that will improve recall and precision.

Segmenting dissertations into n-grams

For a given dissertation D, we split the sentences of D into n-gram segments. An n-gram segment is a substring of n consecutive words. The popular forms of n-grams include bi-gram (2 words), tri-gram (3 words), and four-gram (4 words). The maximum value we considered in preparing the corpus is n = 7 (seven-gram). The n-grams will be used later in a string matching algorithm to detect similarity between the source sentences and the suspicious ones.

Before the splitting process, punctuation, special characters, and diacritics get removed and letterforms normalized; i.e., all shapes of alif and hamza get converted to one form each. To explain how the n-gram segments were formed, consider the Arabic sentence “ذهب احمد الى السوق واشترى خبزا وعسلا” and its English translation, “Ahmad went to the market and bought bread and honey”. A sliding window of size n splits this text as demonstrated in Table 4.

Table 4 N-gram segments generated from a sentence


Stemming is the process of mapping derivative words onto the base form, the stem, that they share. Stemming uses morphological heuristics to remove affixes from words before indexing them. Arabic stemming is more complex than it is in English. Arabic is a morphologically introflexive, fusional language (Velupillai, 2012), whilst English is morphologically hybrid. Sapir and Swiggers (2008) label English as a mixed-relational fusional language. The majority of words in the Arabic language, on the other hand, are primarily constructed from three-consonant roots and a set of morphological patterns. With prefixes, infixes, and/or suffixes interdigitated with the root radicals, multitudes of words are derived. Then these coined words, if generated with verb patterns, get inflicted for number, gender, mood, voice, and tense; if generated with noun patterns, they get inflicted for number, definiteness, and case. An Arabic stemmer should identify the base word and remove all inflectional and derivational affixes. It should recognize, for example, that the strings, كاتب kAtib ‘writer’, كتاب kitAb ‘book’, مكتبة maktabatun ‘library’, as belonging to one root, كتب KTB ‘to write’. For this task, we used Khoja and Garside’s (1999) Arabic stemmer.

Part of speech tagging (POST)

A part-of-speech tagger (POST) is a software application that reads text in a particular language and assigns to each word its word category; i.e., it marks it as noun, verb, adjective, etc. Part of speech tagging is an essential process in understanding how sentences are formed from small constituents. It is mainly used in syntactic and semantic analysis of sentences. For this task, we used MADAMIRA,Footnote 5 a comprehensive tool for Morphological Analysis and Disambiguation of Arabic. Adding POS annotations to the corpus is mainly to prepare the corpus for the next stage of this ongoing project. Similar to the work of Elhadi and Al-Tobi (2008), we intend to use the part-of-speech tags to represent the structure of text segments for further comparisons and analysis. Plagiarized text tends to have the same POS tag features as the original source.

The final academic corpus

The final academic corpus (database) constitutes the core of the Arabic plagiarism detection system, with its n-gram segmentation and metadata annotation, and morphological annotation of each word in the collection. The corpus is accessed through our plagiarism detection system as we will explain in Section 4. Preprocessing, as explained in Fig. 2, includes removal of diacritics, punctuation and special characters. Letterform unification (i.e. “أ،إ،آ” are normalized to “ا”), n-gram segmentation (n = 1–7), part-of-speech tagging, stemming, and tokenization are also performed at this stage. Table 5 shows the final distribution of the collected texts (i.e., 2312 dissertations) as per the Dewey categories. The corpus statistics will be outlined subsequently.

Table 5 Detailed classification of the corpus texts based on Dewey’s categories

Experiments and discussion

Experimenting with the JUPlag corpus: analysis and statistics

As stated earlier, the goal of constructing the JUPlag corpus is twofold. First, it is intended to be used to detect plagiarism in students’ assignments, reports, and new dissertations prior to submission for defense. Secondly, its unique design structure provides a knowledgebase for linguistic analysis, language teaching, and the learning of plagiarism-free writing. In this respect, the user can query a subset of the corpus to retrieve language patterns that are favored in the particular discipline to which this subcorpus is dedicated. For example, frequency word lists can be generated for a particular discipline; thus, technical lexicography can be facilitated. The corpus can also be used to demonstrate plagiarism-avoidance strategies in research methodology courses and to teach linguistic patterns in writing and linguistic analysis courses.

To experiment with this corpus, a linguistic concordancer described in Hammo et al. (2016) is used to inquire about words and n-gram sentences in the database. Metadata such as subject topic, author name, and publication date are used to facilitate search and filter retrieved data.

Word statistics

The JUPlag academic corpus has around 60 million words and (825,363) word types. Table 6 shows the top 20 words in the corpus, their English translation and their frequencies.

Table 6 Top 20 frequent words in the corpus and their English translation

It is interesting to observe that the most frequent words in this predominantly social science corpus are general academic words and none of them is discipline-specific. Probably, the only words that betray the nature of the texts in this corpus are the words for ‘God’, ‘Mohammad’, and ‘Jordan’ since the theses/dissertations were produced in a Muslim country, Jordan.

It is also interesting to have an insight into the content of the corpus from a statistical perspective. In this context, “information theory states that messages maximize their capacity to convey information when the content follows Zipf’s law”. For a text corpus, Zipf’s law specifies that, given a large sample of words, if w1 is the most common word in the corpus, w2 is the next most common, then the frequency of the ith most common word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. So word number i has a frequency proportional to 1/i.

To visualize how words are distributed across the corpus, we used a log-log scatter chart which plots the collection’s frequency of a word as a function of its rank for the top 1000 words in the JUPlag corpus as shown in Fig. 3. The linear trendline shown along the curve in the chart is a best-fit straight line that is used with simple linear datasets to determine if the data follows Zipf’s law. It is most reliable when the calculated R-squared (R2) value of the best-fit line is equal or close to 1. For the unigram sample, the R2 value was (0.9842), which indicates that the unigram distribution is around the Zipf’s law distribution.

Fig. 3
figure 3

Zipf’s distribution of the top 1000 words in the JUPLag corpus

Sentence statistics

According to Coxhead (2000), Zipf’s law has been used often by language educators to identify the most common words/sentences for purposes of teaching foreign languages. Figure 4 shows the log-log scatter chart plot of the top 100 n-gram segments; it depicts how distribution of the top 100 n-gram chunks in JUPlag observes Zipf’s law. Figure 4 also shows that the R2 values for all trendlines corresponding to the n-gram segments are very close to 1, which again indicates excellent fit of the n-gram segments to Zipf’s law distribution.

Fig. 4
figure 4

Zipf’s distribution of the top 100 Arabic n-gram segments in JUPLag corpus

Now let’s take a look at the top 10 n-gram segments sampled from the JUPlag corpus as shown in Table 7.

Table 7 Top 10 frequent n-gram segments in the JUPlag corpus

From Table 7, it is interesting to observe that the most frequent n-gram segments in this predominantly social science corpus are statistical expressions. Examples of bigrams are “عينة الدراسة" (study sample) and “المتوسطات الحسابية” (statistical means). An example of a trigram segment is “الحسابية والانحرافات المعيارية” (statistical and standard deviations), 4-g to 7-g samples are: “المتوسطات الحسابية والانحرافات المعيارية” (statistical means and standard deviations), “عدم وجود فروقات دلالة احصائية” (there are no statistically significant differences), “تم حساب المتوسطات الحسابية والانحرافات المعيارية” (statistical means and standard deviations were calculated) and “وجود فروق دلالة احصائية مستوى الدلالة الفا” (there are statistically significant differences level alpha) respectively.

Observation also indicates that most of the dissertations in the social sciences in this corpus appear to require surveys, collecting and analyzing data, and calculating statistics. Hence, the JUPlag corpus can be used as a knowledge base for the teaching of empirical research.

Experimenting with the plagiarism detection system

To experiment with the academic plagiarism corpus, we implemented a plagiarism detection (PD) system as shown in Fig. 5. The PD system is guided by the DDC system and the JU Library’s metadata for retrieval and discovery of plagiarism. A new submitted dissertation can be checked for plagiarism either in a specific Dewey category (subcorpus) or it can be checked against the entire JUPlag corpus. Our experimentation here utilizes both types.

Fig. 5
figure 5

Graphical user interface of the PD system

To test the PD system, we obtained a new dissertation from the School of Graduate Studies at JU. The dissertation was in the field of “Sociology” “علم الاجتماع" which by Dewey’s classification belongs to the superordinate class of “Sociology and Anthropology” “علم الاجتماع والأنثروبولوجيا” subclass. At this early stage in our project, we only focused on copy-&-paste phenomena, verbatim plagiarism. The test dataset consists of three pages that were extracted from this new dissertation. We created two datasets: One was injected with two plagiarized paragraphs; the other was injected with multi-instances of plagiarized sentences. Both datasets went through preprocessing and segmentation into n-grams of strings as discussed in the previous section. The value of n has been set to 2–7 g. Table 8 shows the characteristics of the three datasets in the untampered form, with plagiarized paragraphs, and with plagiarized sentences. The count column lists the frequency of occurrence of the n-gram segments, the unique count column lists the frequency of such segments when repeated sequences are excluded.

Table 8 Characteristics of the test dataset

Experiment I: plagiarism detection in the original dataset

The first experiment ran the plagiarism detection system through the untampered test dataset in six iterations of segmentation: 2-gram, 3-gram, 4-gram, 5-gram, 6-gram, and 7-gram segmentation. It ran it against the “Sociology and Anthropology” subcorpus (cf. Table 8). The success rate of plagiarism detection for a dissertation (D) is calculated by Eq. 1.

$$ {Reported\ Plag}_D=\frac{detected\ plagiarized\ unique\ n- grams\ in\ D}{all\ unique\ n- grams\ in\ D}\times 100\%\kern9em $$

The PD system labeled as ‘plagiarized’ (256) out of the (586) bigrams in the untampered test dataset (i.e., 43.68%) (cf. Table 8). Table 9 shows samples of the bigram segments that were labeled as ‘plagiarized’. The first column lists the titles of the source dissertations where the detected bigrams were found, the second lists the detected bigrams, and the last lists the frequency of occurrence of these bigrams in the respective dissertations.

Table 9 Samples of unique bigrams labeled as plagiarized

Bigram matching, however, is of little significance as bigrams hardly ever express a complete thought. It is not unexpected for matches to be found between bigrams in different dissertations since most two-word strings hold general concepts. Therefore, bigram matches might not be indicative of direct verbatim plagiarism.

When the PD system ran through the trigram segments, it labeled (15) out of the (618) trigrams in the test dataset as instances of plagiarism, i.e., the reported plagiarism rate was 2.43% (cf. Table 8). They were found in four dissertations. Table 10 shows a sample of the detected trigram segments.

Table 10 Detected trigram segments

A closer look at the detected trigrams shows that they also denote general concepts (see Table 11). However, many scholars consider the similarity of n-gram segments of four or more consecutive words to be verbatim plagiarism and hence it must be labeled as such. For example, Hexham (2005) treated the similarity of strings of four consecutive words as plagiarism, Roig (1999) five words, and Sorokina, Gehrke, Warner, and Ginsparg (2006) seven words.

Table 11 Detected trigrams in the context

When the PD system ran through the 4-gram iteration of the test dataset, it labeled only (2) out of the (624) 4-gram segments as instances of plagiarism, i.e., the reported plagiarism rate was 0.32% (cf. Table 8). Table 12 shows the detected 4-gram plagiarism.

Table 12 Detected 4-grams in the context

Again, the 4-gram segments express general concepts and they hardly constitute genuine plagiarism. Although, 5-gram strings according to Roig (1999) are considered a good starting point for potential plagiarism, in this first experiment we could not find in the “Sociology and Anthropology” subcorpus any suspicious segments of five, six or seven consecutive words. Table 13 summarizes the results of the first experiment.

Table 13 Results of experiment I: plagiarism-labeling in the untampered test dataset

This experiment has demonstrated that when there is no intended plagiarism, a PD system can still label short segments as ‘plagiarized’; the shorter the segment is, the more susceptible it is to misidentification as an instance of plagiarism. Passing a verdict of ‘plagiarized segments’ should be left to the discretion of the human. The machine can only point to the similarity it identified. Causes of this similarity, however, might be totally unrelated to plagiarism as demonstrated by the bigram and trigram detection.

Experiment II: detecting paragraph simulated-plagiarism

In the second experiment, the original test dataset was injected with two paragraphs extracted randomly from the “Sociology and Anthropology” subcorpus to simulate an act of plagiarism. The two paragraphs, shown in Table 14, were inserted into the first and second pages of the original test dataset. For the characteristics of the dataset with paragraph simulated-plagiarism see Table 8.

Table 14 Plagiarism-simulated paragraphs injected in the original dataset

As established by the first experiment, bigram segments are too general to be considered as direct plagiarism. Hence, we ran the PD system through the test dataset with the two plagiarized paragraphs after segmenting it into the 3–7 g iterations.

The results of the second experiment are given in Table 15. The third column lists the number of segments after the insertion of the segments from the two plagiarism-simulated paragraphs (cf. Table 8). The fourth lists the number of n-gram segments that the plagiarized paragraphs consist of. The fifth lists the number of segments that the PD system labeled as ‘plagiarized’. Notice that the values in the fifth column are higher than those in the fourth. The reason is that the PD system was able to detect all the simulated plagiarism and added the number of segments it had labeled as ‘plagiarized’ in the untampered dataset. For instance, the PD system labeled 114 as ‘plagiarized’ trigrams, 99 of which are trigrams in the plagiarism-simulating paragraphs and 15 trigrams labeled as ‘plagiarized’ in the original test dataset as explained in experiment I.

Table 15 Results of the paragraph simulated-plagiarism experiment

Experiment III: detecting plagiarism-simulated sentences injected in the dataset

In the third experiment, the original test dataset was injected with ten plagiarism-simulated sentences that were extracted randomly from the JUPlag corpus at large, rather than the “Sociology and Anthropology” subcorpus as the case was in the second experiment. The rationale was that we wanted to verify how our PD system would behave when the source of plagiarism is outside the scope of its corpus.

The ten plagiarized sentences are of variable word counts, 3 to 7 grams in length. They were appended to the original dataset in different paragraphs, with some injected on the first page, some on the second, and some on the third as shown in Table 16. For the characteristics of the new test dataset with plagiarism-simulated sentences, see Table 8. The PD system ran through this test dataset against the Sociology and Anthropology subcorpus.

Table 16 Plagiarism-simulated sentences as injected in the original test dataset

A summary of the results of this experiment are in Table 17, where column 3 has the number of segments after insertion of the ten plagiarism-simulated sentences (cf. Table 8). In the next column are the number of n-grams that the plagiarized sentences consist of. Our PD system reports, in the last column, the plagiarism ratio as calculated by Eq. (1).

Table 17 Results of experiment III where the dataset is injected with plagiarism-simulated sentences and run against the subcorpus

The table shows the PD system to have failed to detect any of the plagiarized n-gram segments of the sentences that were injected in the test dataset. The system, however, continued to label 15 trigrams and two of the 4-gram segments as ‘plagiarized’. This is reminiscent of experiment I. This demonstrates that plagiarism from sources not covered by the PD corpus is likely to pass undetected.

To verify the efficiency of our PD system when the plagiarism lies within the scope of its corpus but without particularization of topic, the same experiment was run again but this time against the entire JUPlag corpus. It demonstrated that the system was perfectly capable of spotting plagiarized sentences even when the topic is not specified, provided that the plagiarized source is in its corpus. See Table 18 for a summary of results and Table 19 for a sample of identified plagiarism.

Table 18 Results of experiment III where the dataset is injected with plagiarism-simulated sentences and run against the entire corpus
Table 19 Samples of plagiarized n-gram segments

In addition, the PD system labeled more n-gram segments other than the ones reported in experiment I. For instance, the PD system labeled (159) plagiarized trigram segments in the test dataset. This number includes the plagiarism-simulated trigrams (28), the (15) trigrams segments labeled in the subcorpus from experiment I, in addition to (116) new trigrams segments detected in the entire JUPlag corpus.

Notice in Table 18 that the PD system identified exceedingly more than the injected trigrams and 4-gram segments, but beginning from 5-grams the plagiarism yield became more reasonable. This goes to support Roig’s (1999) definition of plagiarism as “the appropriation of strings of five consecutive words or longer. (p.973)” since shorter n-gram segments hardly ever constitute propositions. Even with 5-, 6-, and 7-gram segments, the system overestimated plagiarism by seven, three, and one segment respectively. This distortion indicates that the longer the segment is, the more confident the identification.

Conclusion and research directions

We presented above a plagiarism detection corpus built for Arabic and designed especially for academic purposes. JUPlag is organized in accordance with the Dewey classification system and is guided by the metadata adopted by the Library of the University of Jordan. Although this corpus is still under construction, research on Arabic that is carried out by the international community may benefit from it. It can use it in its current state for the detection of plagiarism in Arabic dissertations and articles prior to final submission. It can also be beneficial for the development of new plagiarism detection tools. It may also be used for corpus-based and corpus-driven linguistic analyses, for language learning and teaching, for lexicography, and for teaching research methodology. We showed here the stages of corpus construction and the challenges encountered. To test the reliability of the corpus and PD system, we conducted a set of experiments with multi-instances of plagiarism-simulated paragraphs and sentences deliberately injected in a test dataset. Experimental results proved both the corpus and the system to be quite efficient in detecting n-gram verbatim plagiarism. It has been demonstrated here that it is indispensable for an extrinsic plagiarism detection system to have an authentic, big, versatile, properly classified and richly annotated reference corpus. It has also been confirmed that verbatim plagiarism detection is only reliable when the similarity-matching unit is longer than 4-g. In the next phase of this project, the reference corpus will be expanded to encompass all the dissertations in the Thesis Repository of the Union of Arab Universities. The PD system will also utilize a variety of plagiarism detection techniques. Future research may focus on the expansion and representativeness of the corpus; the bigger the corpus and the more representative it is of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, the more efficient plagiarism detection will be. Detection may also be complemented by the use of intrinsic, machine learning, and deep machine learning techniques.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available due to JU copyright policy but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.








2 L-APD:

Two-Level Plagiarism Detection System


Arabic Plagiarism Detection


American Standard Code for Information Interchange


Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie


Convolutional Neural Network


Dewey decimal classification


Extrinsic plagiarism detection


External Arabic Plagiarism Detection


Hybrid Plagiarism


Intrinsic plagiarism detection


Information Retrieval


The University of Jordan


Jordan University Plagiarism corpus


Longest Common Substring


Morphological Analysis and Disambiguation of Arabic


Natural Language Processing


Open Source Arabic Corpus


PAN-Forum for Information Retrieval Evaluation


Plagiarism detection


Plagiarism detection software


Part-of-speech tagger


Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency


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The authors would like to thank the director of the JU library, Dr. Nashrawan Al-Tahat and her IT staff for giving us restricted access to the dissertation repository and for providing the necessary computing facilities for the development and analysis of the JUPlag corpus and for permission to experiment with our PD system.


Data collection is funded by the JU Library as part of the doctoral program collaboration.

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This research is part of a dissertation research conducted by the first author, EA-T. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Bassam H. Hammo.

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Al-Thwaib, E., Hammo, B.H. & Yagi, S. An academic Arabic corpus for plagiarism detection: design, construction and experimentation. Int J Educ Technol High Educ 17, 1 (2020).

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