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How to Prevent Plagiarism and Cheating in Grad School

Plagiarism is a prevalent issue in grad school, but many students struggle with understanding exactly what it is and how to prevent it. This guide uncovers how plagiarism and cheating are detrimental to your college career and future, what exactly constitutes plagiarism, and how to avoid it.

Author: Kristina Brune

Editor: Staff Editor

Plagiarism is a prevalent issue at all levels of education, including grad school. According to a study by the International Center for Academic Integrity, 29% of students surveyed admitted they had cheated in some way on an exam and 13.8 % admitted to using a source without citing it. Unfortunately, part of the problem is that many students simply struggle to understand what plagiarism is and how to prevent it.

Awareness and prevention across the board is important for students and the institutions they attend. Cheating is also an issue that needs to be addressed, and considering the ethics of doing so is crucial. This guide uncovers how plagiarism and cheating are detrimental to your college career and future, what exactly constitutes plagiarism, and tells you how to avoid them.

Truth and Consequences: What is Plagiarism?

Creating anything, whether it’s art or work, takes effort and draws on your unique experience and knowledge. While research and ideas are meant to be shared, discussed, and used to further education and knowledge, wanting credit when you put time and effort into creating something is only natural. Using someone else’s work as your own creates a moral and ethical problem and has serious consequences. For these reasons, having a thorough understanding of plagiarism and how to avoid it is essential.

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of using someone else’s work – writing, artwork, ideas, photos, or expressions – without acknowledging the original creator. This includes published or unpublished material in print or digital form. Anyone who writes (e.g., professional authors, students, lawyers, business and marketing writers, and more) should avoid plagiarizing someone else’s work.

General knowledge does not need to be cited. The Harvard Guide to Using Sources defines general knowledge as information (e.g., facts and dates about events, definitions of common words, etc.) that educated readers likely know from years of learning. For example, it’s general knowledge that Christmas Day is December 25th. Outside of general knowledge, any information that is a product of someone else’s work should always be cited. If it’s not, whether intentional or accidental, you’re guilty of plagiarism.

Intentional plagiarism involves taking the words, ideas, or other work you know to be a direct product of someone else’s efforts and claiming you created it. Examples include purchasing a paper or other work from someone else and turning it in as your own, allowing another person to create a large part of your work and not giving them credit, using parts of someone’s work and folding it into your own without giving proper credit, and using false citations.

Accidental plagiarism happens when a student or a writer uses someone else’s work or ideas, doesn’t cite it properly, and isn’t expressly intending to cheat. Examples include paraphrasing someone’s work and not citing it, not using quotations when using someone’s exact words, not citing a resource that isn’t general knowledge, and not being loyal to a source’s intent.

Examples of Plagiarism

The best way to learn what plagiarism is and how to avoid it is to study examples of both incorrect citations and correct citations. Below are two examples of plagiarism using original text from the book Stories that Stick by Kindra Hall.

Original Quote: “The first process is story collection. Story collection is about generating story ideas without regard for whether they’re any good or appropriate or useful or even tellable. Story collection is good old-fashioned brainstorming, but with a few tools to help you avoid the intimidation of the blank page.”

Example #1: Direct Plagiarism

Example #2: Uncited Paraphrase

Consequences for Plagiarism and Cheating

One of the goals of enrolling in grad school and obtaining a higher degree is learning how to conduct yourself in a professional setting and putting your education and knowledge to use both as a student and a future professional. That includes learning how to properly conduct research and cite sources. If you’re caught plagiarizing or cheating, the consequences can be long-lasting and impact not just your academic career but extend into your personal life and professional career as well.

Academic Consequences

The most obvious consequences of plagiarism are what happens to you as a student. Sanctions for plagiarism vary by school, department, and professor. Most academic professionals have little tolerance for cheating and may respond by lowering a grade, giving a failing grade, or kicking the offending student out of the class. A student can even be removed from a degree program for plagiarism. Plagiarism also results in losing the respect of professors and department heads and thus losing them as potential references later. Other disciplinary options include suspension, expulsion, being placed on probation, and receiving a note in your official transcript that could prevent acceptance into future programs.

Career Consequences

When disciplinary action is taken against a student for plagiarism and it’s indicated on a student’s official transcript, future employers will likely see it as a negative indication of your work ethic, trustworthiness, and integrity. Plagiarism also robs you of the opportunity to learn how to properly cite sources, use research, and formulate your own ideas. This lack of knowledge could follow you into your career and leave you unprepared for work responsibilities.

Plagiarism in a professional setting can have even steeper consequences than those for a student. If an employee is found plagiarizing, the company they work for could lose money or be sued, the content may not rank well online or be flagged for plagiarism, or you could damage your career reputation so much that you may not be able to find work in your field.

Personal Consequences

Plagiarism and cheating are moral and ethical issues, and getting caught plagiarizing tarnishes your academic and personal reputation. In addition, learning to rely on shortcuts or cheating diminishes your knowledge base and creates bad habits. Relying on other people instead of cultivating your own creativity also takes away your opportunity to grow personally and professionally. Copied work simply isn’t as creative or engaging as original work.

Legal Action

While not common in graduate school, plagiarism can lead to legal or criminal action, particularly if the plagiarized work is protected by copyright law. Not only will you have to pay for legal representation, but you could also lose any professional licenses, pay fines, and be fired.

Avoiding Plagiarism: The Basics

Graduate students work hard to expand their knowledge and formulate original ideas, and part of that learning is educating yourself about how to avoid plagiarism. As a rule of thumb, always cite a source even if you’re unsure it’s necessary. It’s better to cite too much than to not cite enough and not give proper credit to your source. There are also some best practices and organizational tips you can implement in your writing and research processes to help you avoid plagiarism, some of which are detailed below.

Use Style Guides

Style guides are a set of standards used for the writing and layout of written documents, both print and electronic. These guides can be used in general writing, for specific publications, in education and research, and within organizations. The four main style guides accepted by major publications and schools are Associated Press (AP), Chicago Style (CMOS), American Psychological Association (APA), and Modern Language Association (MLA). For students, the style guide to use when writing is usually dictated by your school, discipline, or professors.

Keep Track of Your Sources in One Place

Have one master resource document that contains all your sources, organized in whatever way works best for you (e.g., by name, topic, etc.) with links to the source. This not only keeps your project more organized but also helps you locate sources more easily as you write and edit. This practice also helps you build a bibliography, if necessary, since all the information is in one place. As you edit and finalize your work, having sources in one place allows you to ensure each citation and corresponding bibliography listing is formatted correctly based on whatever style guide you’re using.

Don’t Copy and Paste Sources Directly into Your Writing

When you copy and paste sources directly into your writing, you run the risk of not re-working the information enough to make it an original idea. Keep sources separate from your own writing, so you don’t lose the original information and can easily decide where it fits into your work. This also gives you time to absorb the information and ideas from the source and to form an original opinion. Try transferring source information into your notes and paraphrasing it there. When you transfer that idea into your own paper, paraphrase it again. Working on the same idea multiple times in multiple locations helps you better integrate that idea into your original work.

Use Correct Quotations and Citations

Using a style guide prevents plagiarism by showing you how to properly cite your sources, including direct quotations. When using someone else’s words verbatim, even if it’s just a few of them, place them in quotation marks and give proper credit. Also be sure to correctly cite ideas, direct research, and publications according to the style guide you’re using.

Paraphrase Carefully and Cite Your Sources

Paraphrasing someone else’s ideas and information is an accepted part of research and writing. After all, published ideas are meant to be shared and discussed. However, it’s sometimes difficult to paraphrase enough to avoid plagiarism. When paraphrasing, make sure you’re re-working the information enough to make it your own. Be sure you’re using the proper citation and crediting the source, too. Try to put your own spin on the idea, presenting new information and using different words.

Keep Your Notes Separate from Your Writing

Anyone who has written a longer piece that includes multiple sources understands that staying organized can be a challenge. When your work gets messy, you risk losing the source of the ideas, quotes, or research as you develop your own ideas. Keeping your notes organized and separate from your writing helps you insert research in the appropriate places and cite it correctly. You’ll also be able to locate the information you’ve collected more easily

Avoid Reading Similar Essays for Inspiration

While doing research requires reading other sources, you should avoid reading pieces that are too similar in opinion or topic as yours. If you immerse yourself in ideas that are too much like what want to write, you run the risk of copying someone else’s ideas or writing directly. Instead, read information about different pieces of your essay or topic separately, taking breaks to absorb the ideas and form your own conclusions. You can also read pieces that cover the same topic but from a different or even opposing position.

Give Yourself Enough Time to Research and Write

Plagiarism often occurs when writers are in a rush and don’t have time to properly use their research and write their own work. It becomes tempting to quickly finish the project by using someone else’s work. When you have enough time, though, you can keep your notes and research better organized, properly work it into your writing, and ensure your citations are correct. You’ll also have time to write multiple drafts, edit your work, and double-check your citations.

Cite as You Go

As you conduct research and complete multiple drafts of your work, ideas and sources can run together and become worked into your own ideas. To avoid this, properly cite courses as you include researched information. This ensures you don’t miss any citations and that each source is cited correctly and connected accurately within your writing. Keep each idea, quote, or specific bit of research or information directly linked to its source both in your notes and your final writing.

Resources for Students on Campus and Online

Avoiding plagiarism takes a lot of work and dedication. Fortunately, there are a lot of helpful resources available to grad students and writers of all levels to help them learn about plagiarism and how to avoid it and to help double-check work for plagiarism. Below are 15 solid resources for use by on-campus and online students.

How Can Colleges Prevent Plagiarism?

Academic institutions take cheating and plagiarism very seriously, and research and other work produced and published by academic professionals is upheld as reliable and accurate. Any allegations of cheating or plagiarism can severely call the integrity and reliability of that work into question. Grad schools have many ways they can prevent plagiarism and help support students as they learn how to properly cite their resources and produce work that is impactful and furthers their field. Below are six ways colleges can prevent plagiarism within their institution.

Clearly Define Plagiarism

Students sometimes don’t have a clear understanding of what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. Schools can provide clear resources with examples of plagiarism along with education about how students can check their work for plagiarism. In addition, schools can encourage professors and administrators to clearly define expectations about cheating and plagiarism.

Provide Examples of Properly Cited Work

Professors can provide students with examples of properly cited work that is pertinent to their areas of study and that follows the style guide used by the department or school. Students should also be encouraged to practice citations and ask for guidance from professors to ensure they fully understand how to cite their resources.

Have Disciplinary Policies in Place

Schools need clear disciplinary policies for students caught cheating or plagiarizing. While it may be up to the professor to implement consequences, students must understand what those consequences are. Harvard University Graduate School of Design, for example, clearly outlines its procedures for dealing with academic violations, and MIT provides plagiarism prevention resources for teachers.

Encourage Professors to Use Plagiarism Tools

There are many plagiarism tools available for professors to check student work for plagiarism. Some are specifically designed for academic professionals and can be great resources for students and professors.

Provide Writing Resources

Grad schools should provide online or in-person writing support and resources. These can be simple guides addressing grammar, research, citation, content creation, clarity, etc. Schools may also provide tutoring and other guidance.

Carefully Review Rough Drafts

While it does add an extra step to the review process, requiring students to turn in rough drafts of their work helps them identify potential plagiarism issues before the consequences are severe. This step should also include resources and help to correct any problems.

Expert Interview

Elise Phillips

Elise Phillips is a high school teacher and writes at The Will to Teach.

Q. Why do students cheat?

Many people think that the main cause of plagiarism is that the students are trying to cheat and do the wrong thing, but this is actually rarely the case. In most situations, students struggle not to plagiarize, and they don’t put as much effort into building the necessary skills because they don’t understand the consequences. Even if they get punished for plagiarizing, there is the common perception that it is okay ‘just this one time’ or that it is some arbitrary rule that schools implement and not a fact of life that has consequences in the real world as well. The key is that plagiarism isn’t always malicious and so if we just address it with disciplinary action, that may not actually help. We need to teach our students how to not plagiarize.

Q. How can schools prevent plagiarism?

There are more plagiarism checkers now than ever before. Many still use TurnItIn because it has the added benefit of adding any assignment that you check through them into their system. This means that every assignment that you check through TurnItIn is also checked against every other assignment that it has checked. Grammarly also has a plagiarism checker that is quicker and easier to use, and Google Classroom has its own plagiarism checker embedded into its platform.

Q. What are the long-term effects of plagiarizing on schools, students, and academia?

The big problem with plagiarism is that it is a moral issue, which filters down to impact schools and students. You don’t want to be seen in academia as a school that plagiarizes, and as a student, you don’t want to be seen by your school to be contributing to this bad image. At the very top level, every piece of writing that is published is meticulously reviewed by experts in the field. If a piece of work gets published that has been plagiarized, it cannot be hidden as it is very likely that the author of the original work will find it.

Academia is structured this way because it serves a ‘higher purpose’ of furthering human knowledge. The machine falls apart if it starts repeating itself and people start trying to serve themselves without serving the growing body of literature. This is a bit philosophical, but that’s how it’s designed. Plagiarism is very self-serving at its root. Those who plagiarize are trying to get the benefits of publishing for themselves without contributing anything else. As I said before, this then filters down to the school and personal level.

Q. How is plagiarism detection/prevention changing as technology gets more advanced?

It is far easier to detect plagiarism than ever before, and more tools are now available.

As a teacher, I typically don’t use a tool to screen for plagiarism unless it is a very important piece of work, but I will screen them myself and then use a tool such as TurnItIn or Grammarly to confirm. The confirmation is essential because you need some evidence before you go and confront the student.

Most of my students submit all of their work through Google Classroom, which does have a built-in plagiarism detector, but you are only able to turn it on for a couple of assignments per class. I turn it on for the most important or the longest assessment tasks and run anything else through Grammarly if I’m suspicious.

These new platforms and programs are a lot easier than TurnItIn, which many teachers are familiar with and used to be the only option. TurnItIn is clunky and takes time, and honestly, I’d avoid using it unless I felt like I really needed to. With how quick and easy more recent plagiarism detectors are to use, I’m checking far more frequently and am confident that I’m catching more plagiarism than I was before.

Q. How can schools support teachers in detecting and prevention plagiarism?

Making these tools available is the number one way that teachers can be supported. Because the technology is developing rapidly, it’s useful for schools to support teachers to test out different platforms and software. With new products coming on to the market every year, it is likely that there will soon be a better option than what schools are currently using.

Many teachers do not check plagiarism for every student because they simply don’t have the time to check every piece of work, so finding tools that can be integrated into current systems would also make it far easier to detect plagiarism. For example, we use the detector on Google Classroom because I just need to tick a box and it’s done for me. The university that I attended required students to upload their assignments through a certain platform that automatically put them through TurnItIn, so the marker would get the plagiarism report at the same time as the assignment itself.

As for preventing plagiarism, students need to be taught that it isn’t acceptable and why. If students are simply punished for it, it can feel unfair and they may not grasp the seriousness of what they have done. Students need to understand all of the reasons why plagiarism is not acceptable and be given the tools so that they know how to avoid it.