If you've ever written an essay, chances are you've heard your teacher warn you about plagiarism more than a few times. It's probably somewhere in the student handbook or code of ethics, as well as in your course syllabi. One thing is clear: It's considered very wrong and is usually taken very seriously by your academic institution.
But why is plagiarism so bad? Well, not only is it dishonest, but it can have devastating effects on your GPA — and even put your education in jeopardy. Here's what you need to know about plagiarism, including how to avoid it.
What is Plagiarism?
Plagiarism amounts to taking someone else’s writing, ideas or other intellectual property and passing them off as your own. It can come in the form of direct copying or close paraphrasing and may be intentional or accidental.
Intentional plagiarism is done on purpose. A person copies another source or has someone else write their paper for them, then passes it off as their own work. Students have been known to do this since the dawn of education, for a variety of reasons. Maybe they're strapped for time, they procrastinated too long, they haven’t been learning or understanding the material, or they’re at a point where they need to pass their class in any way possible.
Accidental plagiarism occurs when a student is either unaware of how to properly cite a source or they forget to cite the source or add quotation marks. To avoid accidental plagiarism, you want to be informed on proper procedures for attribution and citation.
What Makes Plagiarism Bad?
There are many reasons plagiarism is considered morally wrong and dishonest. Here are a few:
- Plagiarism is a form of theft. While it may seem less severe that theft of physical property, it is just as bad. When you plagiarize, you are stealing intellectual property.
- Plagiarism amounts to cheating. By submitting plagiarized material, you are submitting work that is not your own for credit. When teachers assign work, the reason is to help you learn and grow and to assess that learning and provide feedback. If you get a grade for work you didn’t do, this defeats the entire purpose of your education. You aren’t just cheating your teacher, you are cheating yourself.
- Qualifications earned through cheating are unfair and fraudulent. If you earn a certificate or a degree by plagiarizing, then you are granted a qualification that does not represent your actual skill and knowledge. This degrades the value of qualifications and can be seen as a form of fraud.
What are the Consequences of Plagiarism?
Consequences of plagiarism can vary. In many classes, it means an automatic 0 on the assignment in question. This makes obvious sense as you shouldn’t expect credit for work that was not your own. But it can also lead to a 0 grade for the course entirely because academic dishonesty is seen as direct evidence of disrespect for the educational process.
Teachers may also report severe plagiarism cases to the school, and you could face disciplinary action that even goes as far as expulsion. Your understanding of the misdeed and desire to correct the mistake can go a long way, however, in helping you avoid harsher consequences.
Outside of being a student, plagiarism can have severe consequences on the offender’s career, destroying their reputation and even resulting in legal repercussions due to violations of copyright laws.
How Can I Avoid Plagiarizing?
The best way to avoid plagiarism is to make sure you are fully aware of what constitutes it in the first place. Always adhere to all course policies on citing sources and quoting. Note that simply changing up a few words after copying something over can still constitute plagiarism. Your work should always be your own.
Do your writing after reading and without looking directly at any sources except for when quoting. This will force you to write using your own words.
Remove the temptation to plagiarize by planning large papers in advance, giving yourself plenty of time and working with your instructor to make sure you understand the material.
About the Author
Gayle Towell is a freelance writer and editor living in Oregon. She earned masters degrees in both mathematics and physics from the University of Oregon after completing a double major at Smith College, and has spent over a decade teaching these subjects to college students. Also a prolific writer of fiction, and founder of Microfiction Monday Magazine, you can learn more about Gayle at gtowell.com.