The Rules of Plagiarism in College

Learn how to avoid accidental plagiarism…and why to avoid intentional plagiarism altogether.

Photo: Thinkstock

If you’re thinking about plagiarizing in college, think twice.

Plagiarism is a serious offense that violates copyright law. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says someone who plagiarizes is committing “literary theft.”

Plagiarism in higher education is not a new issue, but many professors have noticed an increase in students who plagiarize because of the ready accessible information available on the Internet.

Using your own critical thinking skills to complete your assignments, rather than copying the work of someone else, will give you more skills to use in your future endeavors.

Accidental Plagiarism

Most professors, faculty and researchers believe that the majority of students who plagiarize do so because they are uneducated about what constitutes plagiarizing. These are called accidental plagiarists.

Professors are encouraged to explain plagiarism to students thoroughly at the beginning of each semester. Students often do not understand the difference between plagiarizing and paraphrasing and believe that changing a word or two in a sentence makes it original. Handouts that show the difference between paraphrasing and plagiarism will help students better understand the distinction.

A student from Ohio University was expelled from the Semester at Sea program for violating the University of Virginia’s (academic sponsor of Semester at Sea) honor code. Although most believed that the student did not have intentions of plagiarizing, he was left ashore in Greece and required to return home without completing the program.

To avoid accidental plagiarism, some students use programs such as Writecheck, which is a student version of, a website that scours the Internet for duplications in passages.

Intentional Plagiarism

Other students are fully aware of their actions and plagiarize because they think they can get away with it. A survey published by the Psychological Record reported that 36 percent of undergraduates have admitted to plagiarizing.

Some of the more devious students turn to “plagiarism free” essays from Internet paper mills that have writers on staff to create original works. After paying a monetary fee, students turn in the paper and pass it off as their own.

Education Week published a national survey that found 54 percent of students admitted to plagiarizing from the Internet.

In 2006, a few engineering graduates students from Ohio University were caught up in a plagiarism scandal that resulted in their degrees being revoked.

Copying and pasting paragraphs and passing them off as your own may seem harmless, but it means that you are passing off another person’s work as your own. Using your own critical thinking skills to complete your assignments, rather than copying the work of someone else, will give you more skills to use in your future endeavors.

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

College Reading Strategies: Read, Analyze, Remember
College Majors with Papers, College Majors with Tests
What is a Freshman Seminar?
The College Dean’s List
Prestigious College Scholarships: The Fulbright, Truman, Marshall, and Rhodes Scholarships
Taking Notes in College
College Language Requirements
What are General Education Requirements?

See All College Classes and Academics Articles


Visit Our Student Center

Get on track!

Visit our Student Center

And find out everything you need to know about planning for college.