College Plagiarism - Definition, Help, Tips and Tricks

Students are often unsure of exactly what plagiarism is and how it affects them. Especially these days with the ease of cutting and pasting from the Internet, student plagiarism has become an issue of great concern in academic institutions and it is very important to realize that any accusation of plagiarism is punishable severely.

Note: Whilst writing your essay, dissertation, or any other paper writing task, ensure that you cite all the materials used.

Plagiarism is the stealing of others’ words, thoughts and ideas and is treated more or less like fraud. Ignorance or carelessness is no excuse. Be aware that it is not acceptable academic practice under any circumstances to “lift” or “borrow” text and to present it as your own. There are sophisticated soft wares and techniques specifically aimed at tracking down all kinds of plagiarism. Some international watchdogs have now invested in software designed to detect plagiarism in student work and students may be required to submit their work electronically, so that it may be tested in this way.

Students found guilty could at best fail their course, or at worst face expulsion from their academic institution. Although this punitive and legalistic approach may be regarded as draconian by students who often mean no harm by cutting and pasting, it is important that they realize that doing this has very serious implications. This document assist students, lecturers and other people susceptible to plagiarism understand how to deal with the writing of others without resorting to plagiarism.

What is plagiarism?

According to Collins English dictionary, plagiarism is defined as: “The unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work.” Also plagiarism can be used to refer something used and represented in this manner

According to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary 9th ED, (Springfield, Ma: Merriam 1981, p. 870), he defined plagiarism as “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own: use (a created production) without crediting the source: to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.”

Precisely plagiarism constitutes the following:

Common types of plagiarism in college

Despite plagiarism being multifaceted, there are some that remains to be common and rampant to this day.The most common practices of plagiarism are committed by students; the most offensive are deliberate attempts to "pull one over" from their lecturers. The reasons for doing this vary but laziness and procrastination are high on the list.

Once discovered, which rarely happens, deliberate incidences of plagiarism are handed over to a governing body –the senate for review and prosecution.

Here is a list of the most common plagiarism practices by students:

  • Purchasing an essay or paper from a "third party dealers”, on the Internet, a printing agency, library or anywhere else and presenting it as your own.

  • Borrowing another student's paper from a previous semester and calling it your own.

  • Having someone else do your work, for free or for hire and they cut corners. Make sure you hire someone to do your homework online from a reputable source. Agreeing to do someone else's work is equally wrong.

  • Claiming originality regarding material copied directly from outside sources. In other words, deliberately failing to cite sources.

  • Improperly documenting quoted, paraphrased or summarized source material.

  • Extending the length of a bibliography to meet project requirements by including sources not used in your research or making them up all together.

  • Recycling or buying an essay paper written for one class by using it in another class studying the same or similar material.

  • Receiving help from other students on an essay or paper and turning it in under your own name as individual work.

  • Collectively researching and writing a research paper with other students and each turning copies into different class sections claiming it as individual work.

As observed, most of these involve lying, cheating and stealing. The last two forms of plagiarism, however, are a bit more complicated. They involve collaboration and sometimes the line between it and plagiarizing can be a little blurry. After all, working, studying and sharing information is encouraged in most educational institutions.

How to prevent plagiarism

While there is not simple solution to this problem, an instructor should focus on how to reduce

and discourage cheating activities rather than why students cheat and how they did it. A proactive approach rather than a reactive approach needs to be used to reduce academic misconduct. The best and worldwide recommended proactive approach is through academic citation.

Academic citation requires that all academic writing requires you to cite all the sources that you have read and consulted in the preparation of your work. Citation, also known as referencing, consists of quoting from or referring to other writers’ words and thoughts and the listing of their names, together with the titles and other details of their publications so that these can be tracked down independently. Citation has long been regarded as a hallmark of academic writing of all kinds. There are good reasons for this:

Why citation is recommended to prevent plagiarism.

  • Citations tell the reader of your text that you understand the topic and have read about it. You give authority to your statements and add value to your writing by showing that other writers have supported your arguments.

  • Citations show how well you know the field. It is important to show that you know who the important writers are in a specific field and if you leave some of them out, or if you use the writings of those who are less highly regarded or who have been discredited, it may detract from your own work.

  • Citations show how up-to-date your reading has been. In certain subject fields it is very important to be aware of the most recent developments.

  • Writing is “intellectual property” and you have to give credit to persons who first expressed an idea.

  • Citations enable the reader of one’s work to check the accuracy of a quotation, or to find the source and the context of a quotation.

  • Citations are most important in protecting you from being accused of or from committing plagiarism, as was discussed above.

How does one cite correctly and avoid plagiarism?

  • Every single instance of using phrases and ideas that are not your own must be acknowledged. You do this by giving the name of the person who first expressed every concept or thought that you mention in your text.

  • When you quote someone’s words directly, you have to place these words in quotation marks.

  • Longer quotations, which you should try to avoid or use sparingly, should be “blocked” to make them stand out clearly. This means indenting and single-spacing the entire quotation, also using a smaller typeface if you wish.

  • If you express another’s words or ideas by paraphrasing them, you have to use your own words. It is not enough simply to change the word order or to substitute one or two words only.

  • You may also summarize more lengthy material in your own style and language. Do not repeat the author’s own words without placing them in quotation marks.


  1. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary 9th ed, (Springfield, Ma: Merriam 1981, p. 870).

  2. Plagiarism. Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers.

  3. Turabian K. A manual for writers of research papers, theses and dissertations. 6th Ed.

  4. Rev by John Grossman J, Bennet A. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1996.

  5. University of Oxford UK. References/Bibliography Vancouver style: quick guide. 1996

  6. Max A. Eckstein, Combating Academic Fraud: Towards a Culture of Integrity (Paris: International Institute for Educational Planning, 2003), 13.

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