8 Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty

You’ve probably heard or read a variety of warnings, policies, and threats about plagiarism, or “academic dishonesty.” In fact, your syllabus for this course has a plagiarism policy. Such policies are required to handle the occasional transgressions of students who aren’t serious about their education. Or maybe those students are serious, but made wrong decisions. Most instructors, however, aren’t concerned with an individual’s motives for plagiarism. When we encounter plagiarism, we’re removed from our task of reading and evaluating your writing. We must shift from teachers to rule-enforcers. Some people may think of plagiarism as a teachable moment; however, the student who plagiarizes shows little interest in learning or being taught much of anything. At that point, most teachers would rather spend their limited time with students who are pursuing their studies honestly.


It’s important to know that the kind of plagiarism we’re discussing is using other’s work as your own. This could be using another student’s paper, written for another course, or it could be copying and pasting from an article or paper online. There is a less-serious type of plagiarism that’s sometimes called “mosaic plagiarism” and that’s usually committed by students who don’t understand citation rules. You’ll learn more about this when we discuss research and source citation.
Plagiarism that isn’t a citation error is stealing. It’s fraud. It’s dishonesty. In the professional world, plagiarism can cause loss of job, reputation, and money. In college, it can cause failure on assignments or even in courses. You’re wasting your time when you plagiarize. Instructors take your learning seriously; we want to read your papers and discuss your writing. What we don’t desire is to be disciplinarians. There is no point for instructors to waste their time and expertise with copied work.
As a final note, you should also remember that writing instructors analyze and evaluate writing as part of their profession. We know what student writing looks like and we know that it looks much different from professional writing. We also see your writing in homework, in-class writing, and drafting, so it’s often easy for us to spot plagiarism. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and are tempted to plagiarize, don’t. Email your instructor and discuss your difficulties. Submit a weaker draft if you need to. Remember, even a failed paper earns more points than a zero.
Many institutions also use software that can check your paper and evaluate how material is used and identify possible citation errors. Instructors can set this up so that you can submit your work to see if you have made any potential errors.


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Writing and Rhetoric by Heather Hopkins Bowers; Anthony Ruggiero; and Jason Saphara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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