Plagiarism: Avoid the Consequences


Plagiarism occurs when a student presents materials taken from another person’s work without a citation, and either purposefully or unintentionally passes it off as their own. If a student borrows concepts or information from others, proper attribution is always required.

Plagiarism does not solely encompass situations where one copies another person’s work verbatim. Appropriating someone else’s idea, literary structure, sound, or image constitutes plagiarism as well. Many students also believe that summarizing or paraphrasing a source is all that is required to avoid plagiarism. That isn’t quite true, however.

If a student summarizes another person’s work, relying on the original author’s words or anecdotes without a proper citation, that student has appropriated the idea; they have taken credit for a concept that is not their own. Students also often copy multiple ideas in the same order as the original creator, meaning that they plagiarize both the concepts and narrative structure.

There is a key difference between summarizing an idea and synthesizing concepts to form unique thoughts. To properly paraphrase, students must thoroughly understand one or more concepts and be able to apply them to their assignments, which includes explaining the ideas in their own words and not the original authors.

Many believe plagiarism is just a cut-and-dry form of purposeful cheating. In reality, plagiarism is much more nuanced. Direct plagiarism is a constant issue on college campuses, but there are other forms of plagiarism that students should be aware of as well:

Type Definition Explanation
Direct plagiarism A student directly copies the words, images, or sounds of another without attribution. The classic copy and paste issue.
Can be as little as a few sentences
or entire assignments.
Paraphrased plagiarism A student summarizes another’s thoughts without proper attribution. A gray area of plagiarism, as this can be either an intentional or unintentional appropriation by the student. Inexperienced students are particularly liable to accidental plagiarism.
Mosaic plagiarism A student compiles information from multiple sources into a new form yet does not properly cite the original authors. The result of copying or summarizing multiple unnamed sources is what is sometimes referred to as “patch writing.”
Lazy plagiarism A student doesn’t correctly attribute his or her research. This happens when authors don’t properly quote or attribute their work or, when footnotes are missing key information.
Complete plagiarism A student uses a work entirely created by another person and claims it as his or her own. Plagiarism at its most blatant, this form represents a total appropriation of another person’s work.
Self-plagiarism A student submits all or portions of his or her previous work without permission from all professors involved. A student might submit a high school paper
for a college assignment or make minor changes to a previous college work to resubmit it for another class.
Copyright infringement A student can violate another person’s copyright by using
work without permission.
Plagiarism is an ethical issue, but copyright infringement is breaking the law. A copyright holder has the exclusive rights to reproduce and distribute his or her works.

In summation, plagiarism can either be intentional or unintentional. Intentional plagiarism occurs when a student knowingly takes credit for another student or professional’s work. Unintentional plagiarism usually occurs when a student isn’t aware of how to correctly attribute another person’s work. The student may believe that their paraphrasing efforts sufficiently distanced themselves from the original work, or they may not realize that their citations were insufficient.

In most cases, the professor will determine a student’s culpability regarding any piracy. Punishment for plagiarism will vary depending on the circumstances. Students who intentionally plagiarize a significant amount of material may receive a failing grade or be subject to expulsion; those committing comparatively mild offences may be given nothing more than a stern warning.

Discussing plagiarism can work students up into a frenzy, particularly when it feels like everything they write could constitute piracy. Students should understand that it’s acceptable, and often required, to refer to previous scholarship or to quote another person’s idea. The key is that any references to another person’s material must include attribution in the form of a citation.

There are many ways to avoid plagiarism and the consequences inherent in academic dishonesty. Here are five key tips to help you stay away from plagiarism:

1. Improve your note taking: When taking notes, many students will jot down ideas from a text without changing a word. Do your best to write your own thoughts in your notes, or to use quotation marks when your notes directly copy what has been previously written. It may help to include page numbers in your notes so you can review what you read, and cite appropriately, if you plan on using that material in an assignment.

2. Thoroughly research your subject: Students often make the mistake of sitting down to create before they know the assigned subject matter well. Don’t skip steps: perform your research, take thorough notes, and synthesize your ideas before you begin to write. As you learn more about a topic, you’ll become more flexible with the material, and feel less shackled to whatever limited information you do have.

3. Know how to paraphrase correctly: Once you understand a concept, you should be able to explain it in your own words. Your unique explanation, along with a citation, constitutes proper paraphrasing. If you rely on the original author’s words without include an attribution, you’re plagiarizing.

4. Know how to cite: Students can get into trouble by not understanding how to give credit within their work. Know which style you’re supposed to use for your paper and learn how to properly attribute your sources.

5. Ask if you aren’t sure: It’s always better safe than sorry. If you aren’t sure if you’ve paraphrased correctly or whether you need attribution, ask your professor or teaching assistant.

There are plenty of online resources for students who want to learn how to cite work properly. and The Purdue Online Writing Lab are fantastic resources, and both explain how to properly cite work in various style formats.

The format of your citations will depend on the resource you reference and the style required by your professor. In general, if a student uses someone else’s ideas or quotes, they must include a reference list. Below are a few examples of reference list citations for commonly used sources:

Modern Language Association Style American Psychological Association Style Chicago Manual of Style
(General Format)
Author name, work title, publication city, publisher, year published, medium. Author name, publication year, work title, publication city, and publisher. Author name, work title, publication city, publisher, and publication year.
(One Author)
Smith, John. Book Title. New York: Penguin Publishing. 2016. Print. Smith, J. (2016) Book Title. New York, NY: Penguin Publishing. Smith, John. Book Title. New York: Penguin Publishing, 2016.
(Multiple Authors)
Smith, John, and Rose Tyler. Book Title… Smith, J., & Tyler, R. (2016)… Smith, John, and Rose Tyler. Book Title…
Online Sources Author. The title of the site. The site sponsor. Date created. Medium. Date accessed. Author. (Year or n.d.). Article or page title. Larger Publication Title, volume or issue number. Retrieved from URL. Author (and/or owner, sponsor). Document Title. URL or DOI.
Webpage United States Energy Information Administration. “Monthly Biodiesel Production Report.” Petroleum and Other Liquids. EIA, 29 Jan. 2016. Web. 3 Feb. 2016. United States Energy Information Administration. (2016, January). Monthly Biodiesel Production Report. Petroleum & Other Liquids. Retrieved from http://www… United States Energy Information Administration. “Monthly Biodiesel Production Report.” Petroleum & Other Liquids. http://www…
Blog Entry Pope, Geoff. “What is Plagiarism?” Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips. 2 Dec. 2010. Web. 3 Feb. 2016. Pope, G. (2016, February 3). What is Plagiarism? [Web log post] Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips. Retrieved from http://… Pope. Geoff. “What is Plagiarism?” Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips (blog).
Multimedia Title. Director. Producer. Year of release. Medium description. Author (Author’s title). (Year of release). Title. [Format]. Country: Production company. URL or DOI. Title. Directed by Director’s Name. Country: Production company, date or year of release. Format, duration. URL or DOI
Video or Film Casablanca. Dir. Michael Curtiz. Warner Bros. 1943. DVD. Curtiz, M. (Director). (1943). Casablanca [DVD]. United States: Warner Bros. Pictures Inc. Casablanca. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Unites States: Warner Bros., 1943. DVD, 102 min.
Podcast/YouTube Kemper, Elli. “Good Day, Elli!” NPR Ask Me Another. Podcast, 10 Dec. 2015. Web. 3 Feb. 2016. Kemper, E. (2015, December 10). “Good Day, Elli!” [Podcast]. NPR Ask Me Another. Retrieved from http://… Kemper, Elli. “Good Day, Elli!” NPR Ask Me Another. Podcast. Dec. 10, 2015. 51 min. http://…

It’s also crucial to include in-text citations when stating another person’s idea or using a quote. In this way, your professor knows exactly when you are crediting a concept to another author. Here are some examples of common in-text citations:

(General Format)
Requires the author’s name and page number where information being cited can be found. Requires the author’s name, page number where information being cited can be found, and date. Requires footnotes or endnotes that provide the author’s name, publication title, publication date, publisher information, and page number.
One Author
(Not in Text)
This is information being cited from somewhere else (Smith 22). This is information being cited from somewhere else (Smith, 2016, p. 22). 1. John Smith, Title of publication. (New York: Penguin Publishing, 2016), 22.
Two or Three Authors John Smith and Rose Tyler noted in Book Title this is information being cited from somewhere else (22). Smith and Tyler (2016) noted that this is information being cited from somewhere else (p. 22). John Smith and Rose Tyler noted in Book Title that this is information being cited from somewhere else. 11., John Smith and Rose Tyler, Book Title (New York: Penguin Publishing, 2016), 22.
Online Sources Include in the text the first element that appears in the works cited entry. Page numbers and URLs are not required. Use the author-date style as you would with a written document. If the author and date are unknown, use the title or the first words of the title in the parenthesis and “n.d.” Include in the footnote the author’s name, “Title of the webpage,” The publishing organization, publication date and/or access date, URL.
Video/Film Cite in text, using the first element in the works cited entry. Example: There are consequences when Ilsa reunites with Rick in the film Casablanca. Cite in text using release date. Example: There are consequences when Ilsa reunited with Rick in the film Casablanca (1943). There are consequences when Ilsa reunited with Rick in the film Casablanca.1

1.,Casablanca, DVD, directed by Michael Curtiz (1943; Los Angeles, CA: Warner Bros)

Podcast/YouTube Use video author/podcast name and title in text. Use video/podcast name, if known, title, and posting date in text. Include video/podcast information in note as a document from site.

Professors have plenty of tools that allow them to identify plagiarism. There are several websites where they can input a student’s work and learn whether any component of the assignment has been lifted from previous scholarship. Some of the more common tools include:

  • Plagium: You can upload 5,000 characters and compare the sample to other uploaded files, perform a quick search, or use a deep search. For occasional searches it’s free, regular users must pay a nominal fee.
  • Turnitin: This resources offers a database of more than 337 million student papers, 130 million academic publications, and billions of websites to compare work against. The program will show you exactly which parts are original and which are plagiarized. It also provides the students’ sources. You can contact Turnitin online for a price quote.
  • PlagScan: This online resources allows you to check materials against other online work, along with documents uploaded by your university. You can even upload and scan all of your students’ materials at once. There are subscription and individual plans with a range of prices.
  • Dupli Checker: This is a simple, accurate and free tool. You can copy and paste or upload content to be scanned for plagiarism within seconds. If you need to perform several searches, you will be required to register.
  • Plagiarisma: This is another easy-to-use and free tool for teachers. You upload or copy and paste a portion of text and the site will provide you with Google search results of sources used in the material.
  • Quetext: Quetext uses a complex algorithm to search for instances of plagiarism where work isn’t merely copied and pasted directly from another source. The program will show you exact matches, as well as results using a similar structure, all free of charge.
  • Grammarly: This is a popular plagiarism and proofreader that’s used by many universities in the United States. Monthly, quarterly, and annual subscriptions are available for professors planning to use the service frequently.

The results of plagiarism range greatlyplagiarism_frustrated depending on the type, whether it was intentional or accidental and the professor’s and school’s policies. In academic settings, benefiting from another person’s work without providing attribution is a serious matter. Students may be shocked to learn it won’t just be a slap on the wrist if they’re caught.

It is crucial students understand the process set in motion if they turn in plagiarized work. Due to the significance of the issue, it’s likely the student will automatically fail the assignment and potentially the class. His or her other work in the class may be reviewed for plagiarism, and even his or her work in other courses may be reviewed.

This issue won’t stay between the student and professor, it’ll be taken to a dean or academic advisor, which often leads to a loss of reputation. Academic probation might be administered or a letter stating the offense may be added to the student’s record. All of these factors will make it much more difficult to receive letters of recommendation for internships and graduate programs.

One of the worst case scenarios is that the student is expelled. This can occur under a zero tolerance plagiarism policy or if the matter was particularly egregious. If the student is expelled, he or she will have a difficult time gaining acceptance at another institution.

The other worst case scenario is a legal action against the student for copyright infringement. If the student benefits from a copyrighted work, the copyright holder may be able to sue for damages.

Learning to write collegiate level papers can be difficult. Luckily, there are many online resources that aim to improve students’ grammar, teach them to synthesize information and ultimately, avoid plagiarism.