What College Students Should Know About Plagiarism

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Most college-level courses require a formal paper, whether it is a term paper or a weekly learning objectives essay. Beyond the basic structures and formats of essay writing, students have a responsibility of honesty in their writing. Plagiarism includes copying an entire paper, but something as little as a four- or five-word phrase can be considered plagiarism even if it is accidental. Here are some basics to know about plagiarism on college campuses.

Identifying Plagiarism
A large part of a student’s responsibility is learning how to identify plagiarized material. Words, ideas, or other material taken from outside sources, including but not limited to articles, books, or peer-reviewed studies in print or online, should only enter a student’s paper in direct quotations or by paraphrasing with in-text citations and properly formatted references on the references or works cited page. Many students think rewording sentences from a source corrects plagiarism, but if the overall idea is not original, plagiarism is still present in the paper. Anything borrowed from outside material can be identified and corrected to avoid accidental plagiarism.

Correcting Plagiarism
Correcting plagiarism can be as simple as giving the original author credit. First, always remember to check with your instructor for special formatting instructions. Most colleges use American Psychological Association (APA) or Modern Language Association (MLA) formats that guide students who need to cite sources. Second, get to know the required format by using online or print sources such as an officially published copy of the APA or MLA guidelines. College students often use annotated bibliographies, detailed notes of sources visited with a summary of information and a list of properly formatted references for each authority.

Academic Consequences of Plagiarism
Plagiarism, even accidental, comes with consequences that affect the academic future of college students. Possible disciplinary actions for plagiarism include earning a grade of zero for the paper, dismissal from the class or college, or possible legal action. Borrowing someone’s ideas or a piece of a previous work falls under theft of intellectual property, and according to the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates, colleges may choose to pursue legal action against students. Copying a few sentences or a paragraph is not worth losing class credits or searching for a criminal lawyer to plead your case.

All consequences of plagiarism can be avoided by identifying instances of outside facts or information in a paper and properly citing the original author. Instructors have tips and tricks to avoid and correct instances of plagiarism, and they should always be a student’s most valued source for guidance in academic writing.

This article was contributed by guest author Eileen O’Shanassy.