no. 16 – plagiarism | how it’s done and are you doing it?

I came to WordPress to become part of a community of writers, to join a group of like-minded individuals who take pleasure in writing just as I do. To clarify, I was not just looking for a community of people who enjoyed writing. I was looking for a community of people who had respect for the craft of writing and more importantly, the people doing it.

I’ve explained in a previous post reasons why bad writing is good, and I strongly believe that because as long as a writer is practicing authenticity, the writing will improve over time. “Bad” writing can be good when developing writers risk vulnerability and struggle to find the right ways to convey their thoughts. I explained how important it is that we appreciate a writer’s work even though it may not be so polished. Essentially, we should make some excuses for developing writers.

However, there’s definitely a limit to that. The line stops with plagiarism. It’s the type of thing that causes students to fail in college, and more importantly, it’s the type of infraction that ruins careers and companies in the real world.

As for WordPress, it’s a quick and easy way to alienate other users and lose respect from your followers. has a very comprehensive article on the matter, and they also start off by acknowledging that there is some confusion surrounding it:

Many people think of plagiarism as copying another’s work or borrowing someone else’s original ideas. But terms like “copying” and “borrowing” can disguise the seriousness of the offense[…]

So while people are aware they may be copying someone else’s ideas, they don’t understand the legal ramifications of doing so. And if you aren’t sure of what constitutes plagiarism, the site goes on to list several examples:

  • turning in someone else’s work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not

Just slapping your name on it

The first example is the most clear. Everyone knows that it’s not permissible to turn in someone else’s work with your name on it. It’s a blatant sign of disrespect and a refusal to acknowledge the original writer’s hard work. If someone did this to me, I would be furious.

Failing to give credit

Now, as far as not giving credit to someone when you know they are the originator of an idea, it’s just sleezy. Don’t be this person. These are the types of people that you work with  who when the boss suddenly comes around take credit for a group’s work and fail to mention your part in the success. They are shameless self promotors and don’t understand how community functions.

Refusing to quote

Sometimes, students refuse to put information in quotes because they aren’t sure of how to do it. To be fair, this one is sometimes a mistake, but it doesn’t stop me from failing a student’s paper. If I have spent an hour lecturing on plagiarism and how to avoid it, the student deserves the consequence. At no time in industry will he be able to publish materials without giving credit. There will be consequences, and they will be far worse than an F on a paper. We are talking law suits in the realm of thousands of dollars, termination without severance and unemployment.

Taking it out of context

This is when you insert a quote in your work to make a point the original writer never intended. Oddly enough, it happens in the media all the time. I wonder how often media outlets actually face consequences for taking things out of context…

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Another time this may happen is during reports that require substantial readings. For instance, perhaps you assign your students to write a paper on Moby Dick. Now, if this class of yours is a requirement, there is a very good chance they are not reading that book. First of all it’s too long for a required course, and second of all, it’s really boring. Anyhow, all a student has to do to make his points is read CliffsNotes, open a searchable PDF version of the book, which can easily be found on sites like and search for quotes associated with keywords. As long as the student is willing to read surrounding information, he may manage to pull it off. But often, they are too lazy to do even this, so the quotes appear out of context and ruin their grades.

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Changing a word here and there


I don’t see this often and probably because I terrified my students. Copying and pasting into Word and then using the thesaurus for every other instance can be easily spotted. Now, I don’t know how close other teachers read, but it doesn’t take too much time to spot an error like this. If the student doesn’t have a strong command of the English language, he won’t be successful at selecting the appropriate synonyms to begin with. But on the rare occasion that he is, he might incorporate a quote that leads me right to the page he copied the syntax from.

Quoting too much

This is just obnoxious and lazy. If you have an assignment that requires you to write only 600 words and to implement a couple of quotes, I can assure you, your teacher is most likely expecting you to limit your quotes to one or two sentences. Original work is required in scenarios like this. If half of a student’s paper is quotes, he receives a 50 in my class because only 50% of the work is original. Any more than that, and he receives a 0.

Checking for plagiarism

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The fastest way to spot plagiarism is to run it through a plagiarism checker. The internet has a lot of them. I typically use, a free software application, because it searches the internet for quotes in the paper and can find them regardless of whether the student appropriately cited them. The website in question will appear and enables me to review the students work and the original source side by side. Any copy material will appear highlighted in red on the webpage.

This also helps me to identify if the source students included on the works cited page is the original source. Sometimes students record a random citation and include it with the quote. Perhaps they don’t think I will verify it. Perhaps they do it because they believe I won’t realize they copied from the original site and are hoping to throw me off. And maybe, just maybe they do it because the quote they were required to include in their paper never existed to begin with. I have seen all of these things happen. On the rare chance you are doing this because you forgot to write down the original source, run your paper through a plagiarism checker and it will find it for you.

Do you have any questions on plagiarism or tips to avoid it?

Let me know in the comments.