Unauthorized use or close imitation of others’ words and ideas

Academic study relies heavily on building upon the work of others. However, it’s never acceptable to pass off another person’s ideas as your own. There must be a clear distinction between what’s borrowed and what’s original.

Plagiarism is a serious problem on college campuses across the nation. Over one-quarter of college students admit to having plagiarized an essay. One of the reasons for this is that many students are unfamiliar with exactly what constitutes plagiarism and mistakenly commit plagiarism in their essays. Unfortunately, intent is irrelevant in plagiarism cases, and ignorance can’t be used as a defense.

What Constitutes Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is defined as unauthorized representation of another person’s ideas or words as your own. When using direct quotes in an essay, you must accurately reproduce the original text and note the source. Changing the wording of a direct quote or trying to pass it off as your own work will violate your school’s plagiarism policy.

Plagiarism includes:

  • Not citing a source. This is the most basic form of plagiarism.
  • Not citing enough. Quoting a single passage doesn’t mean you can use the rest of the author’s work without any more citations.
  • Using another person’s ideas as if they were your own (even if you paraphrase them).
  • Copying the structure of another person’s argument.
  • Submitting the same essay (even if it’s all your own words) in more than one class.

There are a few exceptions. You don’t need to cite widely accepted facts (e.g., “Einstein was born in 1879.”). You also don’t need to cite commonly held judgments (e.g., “Einstein is one of the most brilliant physicists of all time.”). If you’re unsure whether a statement is general knowledge, play it safe and cite a source.

Plagiarism and the Internet

The Internet has made plagiarism more tempting than ever before. Not only can students surf around and find hundreds of sources to steal content from, but there are now sites offering pre-written essays for sale.

Think about what you are doing before you buy an essay. Not only does it constitute plagiarism, but the essays for sale online are generally quite poorly written. Sites may advertise that their essays will guarantee you an A, but the truth is that they are usually in the D range. Think about it: If you wrote a great essay, would you want students across the country handing it in and claiming it as their own?

The Internet may be a plentiful resource for plagiarists, but professors have been able to take advantage of it as well. Search engines and new plagiarism detection programs make catching culprits easier than ever before.


Plagiarism is a serious offense. It is tantamount to fraud, and it infringes on the copyright of the original author.

It’s easier for professors to catch plagiarism than you think. Give them some credit. They’re professionals, and they’ve seen it all. They know about Wikipedia. They know about sites that sell essays. Do you really think you can get one past them? Is it worth trying?

If you’re caught plagiarizing, your punishment will likely be severe. Each college has its own policy. Some will issue a warning, while others immediately fail the student or even move for an expulsion. The student’s record will be permanently marked, which can severely hurt his or her chances when applying to graduate school or for employment after graduation.

Remember this: When you plagiarize, you’re not only cheating the system, but you’re also cheating yourself. You paid thousands of dollars for a post-secondary education, so make the most of it. Challenge yourself to think and to form ideas on your own.

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