Why Plagiarism Matters

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By Debbie Lechtman Fachler > Sophomore > Syracuse University > Magazine Journalism, Photo by New Mexico Activities Association 

Nearly every university professor includes a small section on his or her syllabus warning against plagiarism and its consequences. “The Syracuse Academic Integrity Policy holds students accountable for the integrity of the work they submit,” writes Gareth Fisher, a professor of Buddhism at Syracuse University.
 
 

 Yet, despite all that is said to discourage students from plagiarizing, the reality is that few of them actually pay attention to any of it. According to a study by Brian Jacob and Thomas Dee that was published in the New York Times, most college students plagiarize because of “a poor understanding of academic integrity and the perception that the probabilities of detection and severe punishment are low.”
 
Plagiarism, however, could have very severe consequences, both with your college and with the law. It is important to pay close attention to all of your work in order to avoid creating major problems for yourself.
 
What is plagiarism?
 
Students often confuse plagiarism with cheating, but they are two different things. Cheating could be asking your English major friend to write a paper for you or signing someone else’s name on the attendance cheat. Plagiarism is a form of cheating. Essentially, it involves stealing another person’s idea and taking credit for it, either intentionally or unintentionally.
 
Even though cheating is never okay, plagiarizing could have even graver consequences because it could violate intellectual property law. It could also easily get you expelled from college. At some other schools, like Illinois State University, you may be put on a minimum of one year of disciplinary probation.
 
How do professors check for plagiarism?
 
If you copied something from a class reading or lecture, it is easy for your professor to find out. And even if you plagiarized from another source, it is surprisingly simple to spot plagiarism in the age of the Internet. There are a number of websites, like turnitin.com, that are set up exclusively for teachers and professors to detect plagiarism in their students’ papers.
 
So how do you avoid plagiarism?
 
It is always better to be safe than sorry. Always cite any idea that did not originally come from you. To be extra safe, ask your professor what format he or she would like you to cite the sources in.
 
“To be honest, when professors have accused me of plagiarizing, it really only happened because I did not know how to cite sources or I didn’t think a particular thought needed to be cited,” says an anonymous Syracuse University senior. According to this student, he met with the professor to explain the situation and did not get in any major trouble – but you might not be so lucky.

College Magazine Staff

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