Plagiarism: Its Effects and How to Prevent It

Plagiarism is an often-encountered topic when working in an academic or professional field. It is also something that occurs regularly due to misunderstandings and confusion despite its frequent discussion. This fact is unfortunate as a single act of plagiarism can severely damage an academic or professional reputation.

The concept of plagiarism is a simple one. Plagiarism is to plagiarize. It is to present the content or ideas of another person in such a way as to imply that they were your own. It has a very straightforward definition. Most of us are taught this concept early in our education. We should do our own work and not copy our neighbor. Usually, the confusion is related to the prevention of plagiarism rather than a misunderstanding of its definition.

Types of Plagiarism

There are two types of plagiarism. Plagiarism can be intentional or unintentional. The only real distinction between the two is intent.

Intentional Plagiarism

Intentional plagiarism occurs when someone knowingly and willfully copies the work of another person. This deception allows them to take credit for work that they did not actually do. An example of this would be finding an essay online, copying it into a word document, putting your name on it, and submitted it to someone as if you spent hours writing it.

Almost everyone knows that this is wrong. In fact, it is a common theme for villains in movies to take credit for the ideas or work of the people around them. It is one of the indications to us as an audience that perhaps this character is not going to be a nice person. It is a theme used to destroy our trust in that person’s character. Most of us do not trust someone who would lie.

Unintentional Plagiarism

Unintentional plagiarism occurs when someone plagiarizes without meaning to. This event happens when someone either intends to or tries to give credit to the original work, but that credit somehow became ‘lost in translation’. This most commonly results from two errors in writing.

Failing to Place a Quote in Parentheses.

Direct quotes require parentheses. Parentheses let readers know that the phrase is a quote belonging to someone else. Their absence implies to readers that the words quoted belong to you – even if the quote was otherwise correctly cited.

The Inappropriate Paraphrasing of Someone Else’s Work.

Paraphrasing is taking what someone else has said and placing the meaning of it in your own words. Taking their sentence and substituting words with synonyms is still plagiarism. It must be your own understand of what was said in order for it to be correctly paraphrased. Even though you are using your own meaning, you must credit the original author that led you to that conclusion. Otherwise, it is still plagiarism as you are giving the impression that you came to that conclusion without anyone’s help.

Preventing Plagiarism

Take Time to Organize.

It is extremely easy to become disorganized while writing papers, notes, or essays. It is just as easy to forget that the few lines you jotted down quickly while researching where not your own notes. Disorganization is probably the largest contributing factor to unintentional plagiarism. It can save you both time and embrassment at a later date if you are highly organized with your notes when performing research.

A good habit to form while making your notes is to develop the habit of differentiating clearly whether each point is a direct quote, a summary, or your own original thoughts on the subject. Each of these must be incorporated differently into your project. A direct quote will require parentheses and citation. The original source for your summary must be correctly paraphrased and credited. Your own thoughts do not require any citation.

Citing Your Sources

The information needed to form a citation should ideally be collected as you research. It should be kept with the information that you gathered from that source. This organization saves you from having to look up the information later or forgetting to do so.

Information Needed to Cite a Source.

All citations require the same basic components of information: author name(s), publication date, name of the source, pages referenced, editor name if available, and publisher company and location. If it is an online source, then the URL of the page where you found the information is needed. You do not have to write out a correctly formatted citation while in the information gathering stage of your project. At this point in writing, you just need the information to refer to for the later development of the citation required for publishing.

Formatting Citations.

Help in formatting citations can be found online. Purdue OWL offers many examples of how to cite sources in both American Psychological Association (APA) and Modern Language Association (MLA) format. There are also websites which take the information you’ve gathered and formats the citation for you. Citation Machine is one site that does this.

There are also resources available in your community. We often forget the power of people in our high-tech world. Librarians are an excellent and often under-utilized source of reference help. Librarians are trained on how to help people find information. This reference help is something that most of them are not only incredibly good at but also enjoy doing!

When to Cite a Source

Citations are needed any time you must refer to another source for information. The best solution is to cite a source if you are uncertain if it should be cited. Having a referenced source does not shed any bad light on you as an author. It is the opposite. Quality references add to the credibility of what you are trying to say. This support strengthens your arguments and validates that you put forth the effort to research your topic.

The Consequences of Plagiarism

Loss of Credibility

Loss of credibility is a significant consequence of plagiarism. It has cost many a professional their career. Plagiarism results in people questioning the integrity of the author and the reliability of the work that they have done. This distrust can extend beyond the plagiarized article to all works attributed to the author. It can lead to the dismissal from current employment and the refusal of hire by others. The credibility and integrity of your work is a powerful thing not to be taken lightly.

Violation of the Code of Ethics

Educational institutions draw a hard line in the sand against plagiarism. Most institutions of learning have policies in place that addresses their guidelines for plagiarism. It is considered a violation of their student code of ethics. Consequences can range from automatic failure of a class to expulsion from the institution.

Theft of Intellectual Property

Works created by another are legally termed their “Intellectual Property”. Intellectual property is a broad term that “refers to creations of the mind” (World Intellectual Property Organization, n.d.). Intellectual property can include artwork, poetry, or music. It is all protected by copyright law. Copyright law allows a copyright holder to seek damages from those who plagiarize their work.

Checking for Plagiarism

The internet blew open the doors to a world of information. You can now “google” any number of subjects and find up-to-date information, misinformation, and even a completed essay that can be all yours for the price of a coffee! This encouragement of academic dishonesty led to the creation of sites such as Turnitin. These sites use a search engine that takes submitted works and searches them against other known works for plagiarism. Many universities are using these companies to detect academic dishonesty.

There are a few sites which offer online plagiarism checking resources just for students. They usually require registration and are generally not a free service. However, it is an excellent source to help double-check your papers for unintentional plagiarism prior to submitting them. Citation Machine offers a plagiarism check on their website. I decided to try it. You can see the results of this article below.

These resources scan for similarity between known sources rather than plagiarism. There is no clear consensus on what percentage of similarity constitutes plagiarism. It is up to the person interpreting the results to decide if plagiarism occurred. It is thought that any percentage less than 15% – 24% similarity is a good indication that plagiarism did not occur. Basically, the lower the percentage, the less likely that you plagiarized.


Ultimately, the key to preventing plagiarism is awareness. Remain organized in your research and keep a thorough and complete list of all of your sources. Understand the importance of correctly citing your sources. Above all else, utilize your resources to prevent unintentional plagiarism.