Q&A: What You Should Know About Avoiding Plagiarism

Think plagiarism isn’t serious? Think about this:

How would you feel if you went to the doctor with back pain that left you unable to function? After running a few tests, the doctor breaks the news to you: back surgery is needed in order to repair a ruptured disc.

The problem with this diagnosis? It’s completely wrong.

A handful of visits to a chiropractor would align your spine. No surgery needed.

Why were you misdiagnosed? Because your doctor plagiarized much of his work, including his dissertation. He faked his way through med school and ended up forging some of his licenses. Thus, he knows very little about medicine. His patients pay the price.

Sure, this is an extreme example, but it happens. People (like this guy) have been caught practicing medicine illegally, and still others (like this guy) have been caught performing surgeries as fake doctors.

I know–you’re saying that practicing medicine illegally and even plagiarizing in med school is a heckuva lot more serious than plagiarizing your argumentative essay in English class.

Yes and no. Your chosen career may never put someone’s life at risk. But if you plagiarize, your degree is just as fake as the fake doctor who forged his medical license.

Convinced of the seriousness of plagiarism? Here’s what you should know about avoiding plagiarism in your writing.

Q&A: What You Should Know About Avoiding Plagiarism

avoiding plagiarism

Q: What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is taking someone else’s words or ideas and trying to pass them off as your own. In the simplest of terms, plagiarism is stealing.

I’m sure you know that using someone else’s paper and submitting it as your own is plagiarism. But you can also plagiarize by doing any one of the following:

  • Omitting quotation marks around direct quotes.
  • Forgetting to include proper citation for paraphrases, summaries, or quotes.
  • Changing only a few words of a quote and writing a paraphrase that is too close to the original statement.

Remember, it’s not only the written word that can be plagiarized. You also can’t use ideas from media–such as artwork, music, or video–without providing proper attribution.

Q: Why do students resort to intentional plagiarism?

avoiding plagiarism

Some students plagiarize simply because they don’t want to do the work. Others plagiarize because they run out of time to write an essay.

Still others turn to plagiarism because they don’t understand the assignment. They’re struggling and likely staring at a blank page and end up plagiarizing because they know they need to turn in something.

To avoid a situation where you’re out of time or so confused that you don’t have time to ask for help, start your assignment early.

If you don’t procrastinate, you’ll have time to take good notes when researching, prewrite, draft, and revise. You’ll also have time to get help from your prof, the writing center, or a Kibin editor if you need it.

Q: What if I accidentally plagiarize?

avoiding plagiarism

Accidental plagiarism occurs when you incorrectly cite a source. For instance, you may, for the most part, be citing correctly, but you might miss an in-text citation for one of your sources (but include it on the Works Cited or References page).

If you’re in a first-year college composition class and just learning about citations, your prof is probably going to be pretty forgiving. Sure, you might lose a few points for the error. It’s doubtful, however, that you’d fail the paper or be kicked out of college for plagiarizing.

On the other hand, if you’re writing a PhD dissertation or submitting a paper for publication and forget a citation, people won’t be so forgiving.

Q: Can I be thrown in jail for plagiarism?

avoiding plagiarism

If you’re caught plagiarizing, you might fail the paper, fail the course, or even get kicked out of college. You won’t be thrown in jail.

Outside of the classroom, plagiarism could mean the loss of your job or a ruined career. And although it’s highly unlikely that you’d be criminally charged for plagiarism, it is possible.

Q: If I intentionally plagiarize, how will my prof even know?

avoiding plagiarism

Let’s say your prof is reading a first-year student’s college essay about parenting styles and reads the following sentence:

Studies showed the reciprocal nature of parents’ and children’s emotion dysregulation and how it escalated during experimental play sessions.

Most first-year college students don’t write this way. Your prof knows this.

What if your prof reads a sentence like this?

The available evidence suggests that there is a clear link between parenting styles and children’s capacities for emotion regulation.

This sentence sounds a bit more realistic and could possibly be written by a first-year college student.

However, keep in mind that your professors read lots of papers. They know whether this type of writing looks like your writing and can spot clear changes in wording and sentence structure.

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Probably one of the easiest ways for students to plagiarize is to do a Google search and then plagiarize one of the sources that appears in the list of search results.

Ironically enough, probably one of the easiest ways that profs can determine whether a student has plagiarized is by completing a similar Google search.

If a sentence looks suspicious (as in the examples above), pasting the suspicious wording into the search box will reveal whether the information is plagiarized.

In the case of the sentences above, they are taken from the article Harsh Parenting in Relation to Child Emotion Regulation and Aggression.

Of course, if profs aren’t relying on their own detective skills to catch plagiarism, they might also require you to turn in your sources with your research paper. They might even have you submit your paper to a plagiarism checker website.

Q: How do I actually avoid plagiarism?

avoiding plagiarism

The easiest way to avoid plagiarism is to make sure that you’re citing correctly. Not sure whether the information is common knowledge (and therefore doesn’t need to be cited)? Play it safe and cite anyway. It’s better to cite than plagiarize.

If you want a little more help with citation and avoiding plagiarism, read How to Avoid Plagiarism in Your Essay Writing.

Interested in practicing citation and getting a little more help actually avoiding plagiarism? Try reviewing one (or more) of these example essays about plagiarism to see whether students have cited correctly.

Worried That You’re Plagiarizing?

avoiding plagiarism

Have a completed essay where you’ve reworked citations a million times but are still worried about whether you’ve cited everything and done so correctly?

Here are a few quick tips to help you with avoiding plagiarism:

  • Read through your paper again. Mark everything you learned from your research. If you learned it from a source, it needs to be cited.
  • All direct quotes must be enclosed in quotation marks and contain appropriate citations.
  • Cite all paraphrases, summaries, and quotes.
  • Citation requires both an in-text citation and a corresponding References page (if you’re citing in APA format) or Works Cited (if you’re citing in MLA format).

Still worried? Send your paper to an editor at Kibin. While we don’t check for plagiarism — after all, you know how to avoid that! — we can make sure your citations and references are polished to perfection.

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.