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Plagiarism in College: Why it Happens and Why it's Wrong

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According to Dictionary.com, plagiarism is “the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work” or “something used and represented in this manner.” Plagiarism can occur in many forms, including copying and pasting information from a website directly into your own term paper or submitting an assignment that a friend wrote for you. In short, plagiarism is cheating. It’s unethical, and it can get you kicked out of school … yet it occurs regularly on college campuses.

Forms of Plagiarism

In most cases, students definitely know that they’re cheating and turning in work that’s not their own. It would be pretty difficult to claim you placed an ad on Craigslist looking for someone to write your English paper on Hemingway without realizing that doing so would result in plagiarized work.

Some people see nothing wrong with copying and pasting information from a variety of websites in order to comprise one “new” paper or essay, and a lot of students are even brave enough to purchase term papers on the internet or “borrow” work from friends that have already completed the necessary assignment during a previous semester. Many people will steal ideas or sentences, change a few of the words around, and try to pass it off as their own.

Occasionally, plagiarism is committed unintentionally. Should a student provide a quote from one of their reference materials without placing it in quotation marks or naming the source from which it came, they’re committing plagiarism. Sometimes they forget to record the source of information while taking notes, so they simply don’t use one.

The website Plagiarism.org provides a comprehensive list of things that are considered to be plagiarism:

  • turning in someone else’s work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not

Why do College Students Plagiarize?

Plagiarism is obviously wrong. The importance of turning in own original work was stressed by every single professor I ever had during my entire college career, and all colleges have strict guidelines on plagiarism because it’s a serious academic offense… but it happens anyway.

So why do students plagiarize?

Many students cheated their way through high school and feel if they’ve made it this far, they’re not going to get caught now. Their excuses vary, ranging from “I won’t get caught!” to “Everyone else does it, so who cares?”

Another major reason that students cheat is because they procrastinate. They probably know that a research paper is due on a certain date, but they overestimate their own abilities. “I’ll start on it tomorrow,” becomes “I’ll start on it next week!” and they wait until the last minute before realizing they can’t afford to get a failing grade on such an important project. Fear kicks in, and the idea of having a guilty conscious from plagiarizing weighs lighter than the idea of receiving an F and failing a class.

Discovering Plagiarized Work

Technology has come a long way, and there are programs available to check the originality of work submitted by students, such as Turnitin There are plenty of similar programs available, and colleges do use them. When I took a few online courses through Saint Leo University’s online program, I was notified that my work would be checked for possible plagiarism.

It’s also important to remember that most professors have been teaching for a long time. In fact, most of them started teaching long before plagiarism checkers were common, and they can easily recognize the signs of plagiarized work. They also know the typical quality of their students’ writing, so they’re bound to notice a sudden huge improvement.

Regardless of how sophisticated technology has gotten, some things will escape scrutiny. Even with the advanced programs available today, plenty of college students cheat on assignments and turn in plagiarized work yet never get caught. That’s just the ugly truth.

Punishments for Plagiarism

The punishments for plagiarism vary from college to college, typically depending on the severity of the case. In some instances, the professor will issue a failing grade for the project or even for the entire course. Some schools will suspend a student found guilty of plagiarism, and others will even expel them entirely.

The thought of “borrowing” work from others may be tempting from time to time, but just think how you would feel if someone turned in a project that you spent weeks or months completing and claimed it was their own. Should you fall behind in a class, see if you can speak privately with the professor and set up an extended due date with a lowered grade, or something similar. Even that would be better than receiving an F or getting kicked out of school.

Don’t take the risk and turn in plagiarized work – it’s not worth it.

For Further Reading: www.plagiarism.org

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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