Consequences of Plagiarism in College and Beyond

Know the facts before plagiarism derails your career

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With information easy to access electronically, plagiarism—whether deliberate or inadvertent—is a growing problem on college campuses. Before the internet, copying a paper and passing it off as original was unlikely to be found out. Now there are myriad tools available to professors—and to students—to check for the originality of any given piece of writing. 

What Constitutes Plagiarism

It's important to understand the various distinctions because it's more subtle than you may realize:

  • Verbatim plagiarism: Copying content word for word from a source without citing the source. This is the most obvious and familiar form of plagiarism.
  • Mosaic plagiarism: Piecing together ideas from various resources and, without citing them, creating an unoriginal amalgam of other people's words and presenting it as a new thought.
  • Accidental plagiarism: Often a result of laziness or inadequate comprehension of the material studied for the paper submitted. Students inadvertently—even unconsciously—use the same words they have read because they are unable to interpret what they have learned and explain it with their own thoughts and sentences.

Any one of these forms of plagiarism is easily detected by programs like Viper, Grammarly, Turnitin, and others. 

Many cases of plagiarism are unintentional, but that doesn't make it OK.

Students can be shocked when called out for plagiarizing based on only one sentence in a 1500-word essay. In fact, plagiarizing is grounds for expulsion at many schools or at least cause for a student to fail a class. This problem goes beyond undergraduate school and is just as pervasive at the graduate level. In some cases, the discovery of a past violation can result in a revoked diploma.

Sometimes, students will use information in their work that they are given by other students who have taken courses before them—not an entire paper, but bits and pieces, websites, paragraphs—even sentences. This must be done with caution.

Unless the source of information can be verified, it's a good idea to avoid using any unsubstantiated or uncited information you receive from another student.

If it's found to be plagiarized data, the professor or instructor won't be interested in the explanation that someone else provided the information without citation. Whoever turns in the work is responsible for what is written. Failing a class or being expelled because of another student's laziness is simply not worth the saved time or effort.

Plagiarism Is a Symptom of Bigger Problem

The fundamental purpose of college is to learn to think critically and independently. Writing a well-researched and thought-out paper is the cornerstone of a successful education.

Understanding how to interpret other better-educated, informed, and more intellectual thinkers' ideas—and explain them in one's own words—is the most satisfying and clear example of a well-developed mind.

While the internet and Google put answers at our fingertips, they also take away the opportunity to wonder and contemplate—if only for a few minutes. Students—like so many of us—are in a hurry to get things done as quickly and efficiently as possible. They expect to find answers easily and to turn around and respond correctly just as fast.

Plagiarism is part of the larger problem the availability of instantaneous information creates for all of us. It's easy to get lazy and just as in college, plagiarism at work can be grounds for dismissal.