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5 Most Common Misconceptions Students Have About Plagiarism

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey
Plagiarism Consultant -- Plagiarism Today






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When it comes to plagiarism, students often have a lot of concern and even more confusion

It’s easy to understand why. Strong threats of disciplinary action combined with the ambiguities and complexities of citation is enough to make even the most diligent student concerned.

However, the truth is that most students have far less to worry about than they might think. On the whole, if you do your work honestly, don’t take any unethical shortcuts, and cite to the best of your abilities, you will most likely produce an authentic assignment that you can submit with confidence.

Still, there are many misconceptions about plagiarism that need to be addressed because handling citation correctly isn’t just about avoiding trouble, it’s about becoming a better writer.

Myth 1: Citation is Difficult

Many students, especially those who are novice writers, are often intimidated by citation.

At first glance, it’s easy to see why: knowing what to cite, when to cite it, and how to cite it can be difficult, especially considering there are three separate major citation formats used in North America (APA, MLA, and Chicago) and countless other rules to learn.

However, technology, as it has done with almost everything else, has made citation much easier. The days of needing to memorize citation formats or manually assemble a bibliography are long gone.

If you’re struggling with citation, the first thing to do is speak with your teacher or tutor, then take time to learn the digital tools at your disposal. A little bit of technology can go a very long way.

Myth 2: Citation is Done During Editing

Speaking of citation, many students think that the time to add citations is when they’re editing or proofing a paper; however, this leads to missed or incomplete citations that can result in accidental plagiarism.

Instead, the best time to add citations is as you’re writing. Rather than trying to remember where a fact or quote came from later, it just makes more sense to do it immediately after you drop it in.

The reason for this is because citation is part of the writing process, not the editing process. Working your citations into your paper as you write not only helps to ensure that every citation is included, but it improves the flow of your writing, making it so that the citations don’t interfere with what you’re trying to say.

Myth 3: Paraphrasing is Just Rewriting

When discussing plagiarism and citation issues, one of the most common questions students ask is, “How much do I have to change something to make it a paraphrase?”

The answer is that there is no such amount. Paraphrasing isn’t about taking someone else’s words and editing them, it’s about writing an idea and information from another work and presenting them in your own voice.

The easiest way to make sure you paraphrase correctly is to read what it is you want to paraphrase and then put it away, do not look at it or have it available as you try to communicate what you just learned in your words. Check out Turnitin’s paraphrasing resources to learn more.

With paraphrasing, none of the source material’s words should survive, only the facts and information.

Myth 4: All Plagiarism is Equal

Schools, understandably, want to impress upon students just how serious plagiarism can be; however, what can get lost in that conversation is that not all plagiarism is created equal.

Plagiarism can run the gamut from buying a full essay online to poor paraphrasing in a short passage. Both are still technically plagiarism, but they are very different in both intent and in how instructors respond to it.

Where simple mistakes and accidents might result in a lowered grade on a test (as any writing mistake would), attempting to plagiarize an entire assignment is likely to draw a much more serious disciplinary reaction.

It is much better to make honest mistakes than to maliciously plagiarize. The difference between the two is usually obvious when grading and the difference in outcomes is equally striking.

Myth 5: You Will Get Expelled if You Plagiarize Even Once

Though malicious plagiarism is a serious breach of academic integrity, a single infraction rarely means the end of one’s academic career.

For most schools, expulsion, for any reason, is an extreme last resort only to be used in exceptional cases. It is very rarely the first course of action taken in a plagiarism case.

This doesn’t mean that the punishments for plagiarism aren’t severe. Common punishments include a grade of zero on the assignment, a failing grade in the class, and/or suspension. These can and do have significant consequences for your education.

Also, the severity of the punishments tend to increase the farther along one goes in their education. A high school freshman is not likely to receive the same treatment as a PhD candidate.

Still, very few students are booted for their very first plagiarism incident. As serious as plagiarism is, most instructors and schools would rather their students learn and grow from their mistakes. After all, learning is what school is all about.

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