Plagiarism 101: Common Problems

CheatingSince school is starting up again for so  many of you, I had a suggestion to write a post about plagiarism. As technology advances, it’s becoming increasingly easy to plagiarize–and increasingly easy to get caught. Today I’m going to cover the basics of plagiarism so that YOU don’t accidentally do this!

What is plagiarism?

Essentially, plagiarism is when you take someone else’s words and pretend they are your own. If I said “I have a dream,” I would be plagiarizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington speech. The way you avoid plagiarism is by attributing those words to the originator through citations and the like. So if I said, “As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘I have a dream,'” that would NOT be plagiarism. Notice I put quotes around it and attribute it to its ORIGINAL author.

Difficult cultures view plagiarism differently though. I’ll be looking at this topic through an Americanized scope, so please don’t start arguing with me by saying “Well that’s not what it’s like in my country” because that’s not what I’m trying to accomplish.

No-No Number One:

Don’t get someone else to write your paper. I repeat. DO NOT GET SOMEONE ELSE TO WRITE YOUR PAPER. This includes buying papers off of websites, paying a friend, a coworker, recycling someone’s old paper, etc. Guess what? If someone else writes it, the entire thing is plagiarized. That’s pretty much an epic fail. I actually had a student offer to pay me to write his personal statement for medical school–I refused. Not only could he get in trouble, but I could get in trouble too. So if you ask a friend to write a paper, understand that not only will YOU be punished, but so will he or she.

Correction: If you need outside help, write the paper yourself and ask a friend (or a tutor) to read it over and give you advice. That way, the paper is stronger than if you did it alone, but is still YOURS and not from someone else.

No-No Number Two:

Don’t copy-paste directly from the internet. This is becoming a huge problem that I see more and more everyday. You will not outsmart your professors. I’m sorry, but they spent at least seven years on their Ph.D. ALONE. Not to mention undergrad, high school and so on. They will notice if the font type changes, the color changes, or the size changes. And let’s say you’re smart enough to change the font to what you were writing in. You’re STILL not going to get away with it because they will notice a change in diction.

Correction: If you need to use an online source, take the time to type it out yourself. You’ll be more apt to remember to put quotes around it and to cite it.

No-No Number Three:

If you use a phrase that isn’t yours, guess what? You need to put quotes around it. This includes definitions and terminology that isn’t yours. So if you’re writing a psychology paper about Borderline Personality Disorder and you cannot comfortably define it without using the DSM-IV (the dictionary of psychology)–just because it’s the “standard definition” that everyone uses doesn’t mean you don’t need to cite it. This goes for definitions of words etc. Quote and cite.

Correction: If you need to define, quote. Pretty simple.


So one thing you don’t need to quote is paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is NOT changing one or two words–this is a common mistake. Paraphrasing is when you take another person’s ideas, internalize them, and say them in a different way. Here’s an example: “Today’s ever increasing use of the internet provides challenges to the field of education, particularly with providing a sense of authority to students.” I could paraphrase it like this: “The internet causes many problems in various subjects, but it causes a problem in education that may not be seen elsewhere–students may not have a defined authoritative figure on the internet as they could have elsewhere.” I wouldn’t need to quote the second example because it is paraphrased so loosely. I WOULD, however, need to cite it. Although it’s your words, it’s still another person’s ideas.

Final Thoughts

Plagiarism is a serious–SERIOUS–offense. In most schools, you will immediately receive a failing grade for the assignment and the class. You’re just as likely to be expelled from your school. Make sure if you use another person’s ideas or words–you always CITE them and quote them when necessary! Good luck!

Posted in Academic Advice.

One Comment

  1. Thanks, Kelly! I just forwarded this page to my academic advisor and my favorite professors at college, and I received a LOT of favorable responses. I encouraged them to join your FB group, just so you know lol. And I also emailed it to the guy who offered to pay me to write his papers for him. In return, I got to read a very nasty FB post.

    In short, for those who know better, the response seems to be, “No duh!” For those who don’t know any better, the response seems to be a string of curse words and pretending to be offended. Here’s to hoping that most of us are in the, “No duh!” department!!!

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