K M Enayet Hossain
12 June, 2021

5 min read


Plagiarism by students - consequences and how to avoid it

Learn all about plagiarism i.e. what is it, types of plagiarism, plagiarism facts, reasons for plagiarism, how it may affect you and how to avoid it.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is a form of cheating and is a serious academic offence. It arises where work submitted by a student is not their own and has been taken from another source. This may include images, audio, video, spread-sheet, PowerPoint presentation, etc., without proper citation and reference. Both published and unpublished content in any form either published or in an electronic form are considered to be plagiarism. It is an act of intellectual dishonesty, and it is a form of theft that goes against the rules of academia.


10 types of plagiarism

  1. Direct plagiarism
    It involves directly copying another person’s work without changing anything. This copied work is then presented as one’s own without acknowledging the author/source or enclosing it in quotation marks.


  1. Collaboration or contributing author plagiarism
    This type of plagiarism occurs when multiple authors contribute towards writing a project, but in the end only one person is credited for the whole project. This type of plagiarism occurs mainly among students who take help from their friends in completing a project, or in classroom activity groups where the group leader solely takes credit for the work done by all the team members.


  1. Aggregated plagiarism
    With aggregated plagiarism, the person uses all the citation and referencing techniques to correctly credit the sources, but they do not add anything of their own. Therefore, the work ends up being a culmination of work from various sources, with no original input from the author.


  1. Mosaic Plagiarism
    This type of plagiarism means presenting the ideas borrowed from another source in your paper without any quotation marks. It also means rewriting the author’s concepts by using synonyms but preserving the structure and meaning of the original pattern


  1. Accidental Plagiarism
    Accidental Plagiarism might occur when you do not really understand how to properly paraphrase, quote and cite your research. This can occur if you accidentally fail to cite your sources correctly, don’t cite paraphrased information and incorrectly paraphrase the source content.


  1. Outline plagiarism
    In this type of plagiarism, the author copies the outline and layout exactly from another essay or report.


  1. Self-plagiarism
    There are some cases when students submit their previous papers stating they are exclusive. Self-plagiarism is generally defined as reusing or recycling your own particular words from previously published texts or class submissions. Although it does not cross the line of true theft of other people’s ideas or texts, it can give birth to problems in the scholarly publishing world. Another case of self-plagiarizing is submitting the same assignment to professors teaching different courses without their permission.


  1. Global Plagiarism
    This type of plagiarism involves taking someone else’s work as a whole and claiming it as your own work. This includes having a different person with the knowledge of the subject, such as a friend or classmate write work for you, as well as purchasing an essay from a company.


  1. Padding a Bibliography
    This type of plagiarism involves mentioning a large number of sources in the bibliography or reference list to give a false sense of thorough research to the reader. This is done by students when they are trying to finish the paper last-minute, and don’t have enough time to do legitimate research, and they end up mentioning references they haven’t research on. This is a breach of trust by the author since the intent of this is to deceive the reader and is highly discouraged.
  2. Misquoted citation
    A misquoted citation occurs when someone misrepresents the exact words that an author writes and leaves something out or adds something. This type of plagiarism can happen on accident, and students should take care to always mention the complete quote.



Plagiarism facts and figures


  1. Plagiarism is a very common form of offense among students. In a survey conducted by Rutgers University, 95% of the students had admitted having taken part in plagiarism through internet sources or admitted to directly copying a friend’s work.


  1. Plagiarism is rising at an alarming rate every year, and most colleges admit that students’ papers have increasing levels of plagiarism in the last 5 years.


  1. According to research conducted by a university in Malawi, most students plagiarize intentionally or unintentionally, from the pressure of submitting a lengthier research paper.


  1. International students are more prone to commit plagiarism: According to a study carried out by University of Minnesota on its international students, 85% of the students admitted to plagiarising. This was due to them not being well-versed in English. The study also reveals that international students are twice as likely to be caught plagiarising that their domestic counterparts as they are unaware of the techniques to avoid plagiarism. For more information, please check Challenges in Addressing Plagiarism in Education’.


  1. A rise of 40% in plagiarism in the top UK Higher Education Institutions: According to news published in The Guardian, some of the top universities have witnessed at least a 40% increase in plagiarism in the academic year 2019-2020. Leeds University, UK has witnessed a sharp rise in reports of cheating. Cases of academic dishonesty more than doubled from 181 to 433 in three years. At Glasgow University, UK, the number rose from 161 to 394.


  1. According to a study conducted by Donald McCabe and the International Center for Academic Integrity between 2002 and 2015 in the USA, the following was learned:



Graduate Students


Number responding



% who admit cheating on tests:



% who admit cheating on written assignments:



% total who admit written or test cheating:




As apparent, the number of students who cheat or plagiarize is alarmingly high and is on the upward trend since then.


  1. According to a U.S. News and World Report survey, 90% of students polled didn’t believe they would get caught or punished for plagiarism and cheating on other’s work.  (Source: Open Education Database, USA)


  1. The rise of fake term papers (either from a mill or a website) has affected as much as 15% of the students in the university system (Source: EasyBib).



8 reasons students plagiarise

Although it is a common ethical sense that it’s wrong to take someone else’s work and passes it on as your own, it is still very common among students. As we have seen in the previous section of this article, a large number of students fall prey to this crime every year. We will now look at a few reasons as to why someone might be tempted to plagiarize:

  1. Fear
    A lot of factors might drive the student towards plagiarism, but none as strong as the emotion of fear. The fear of getting a lower grade in an assignment, or the fear of failing the course, is one of the biggest driving factors behind plagiarism. A student might think if they copy from a more legitimate source, they have a higher chance of passing a course. However, the students often fail to make a sound judgment, as the consequence of getting caught with plagiarized material can be much worse than just getting a lower grade on an assignment.
  2. Lack of research skills
    Many students joining the university do not possess the skills for thorough research. Because of this, many freshmen wrongly research the books and journals in the library and copy the material straight from the source. If a student is lacking research skills or is not sure how to pick up an idea from the source and translate it into their work, they should take the help of university library services. These services are there to teach the students correct research methods.
  3. Poor time management skills
    Some students might be capable of doing independent research, and come up with original ideas for their project, but lack time management skills. As a result, they hold off on doing research for the project till the last minute, and due to the fast-approaching deadline, ends up plagiarizing from various sources. As a student, it is important to keep track of your time and schedule and keep an eye on assignment deadlines to better prepare yourself.
  1. Lack of interest in the project
    Students need to have the drive to carry out research for a particular subject. Many students may not have the interest towards the subject and may decide to combine information from various sources with no original input. This is also a form of plagiarism, and it is still not an excuse to cheat.
  2. Confusion
    Many students might not have any sinister intents, rather they might just be confused as to what constitutes as plagiarism. According to a study, 60% of students do not understand the difference between paraphrasing and plagiarism. (Roig M. Plagiarism and paraphrasing criteria of college and university professors. Ethics & Behaviour. 2001;11) The two are vastly different, and it is important that students do not accidentally plagiarise instead of paraphrasing.
  3. Careless note-taking
    Many students accidentally plagiarise while doing initial research. During the note-taking phase, directly quoted material from various sources and paraphrased materials get mixed-up, and later during the writing phase students are no longer able to differentiate between the two. One way to easily avoid this type of mishap is to clearly mark the paraphrased material with a P, so there is no room for confusion.
  4. Peer pressure
    Some students might not care what it takes to keep up with their peers in the classroom when it comes to grades. They might not care what they are learning, or if doing the project is benefitting them in any way. Therefore, they might resort to plagiarism in an effort to get better grades than their classmates. This is wrong and is an unfair way to gain an edge over the competition.
  5. Cultural factors
    In many cultures, the practice of ‘owning’ a piece of written work is non-existent. Students from different cultural backgrounds other than a western one might find it difficult to understand this concept. In fact, copying someone’s work is a compliment in various cultures. As a result, many students do not give enough importance to plagiarism.



How plagiarism is detected

Due to the rapid rise in plagiarism, plagiarism checkers have become a must-have in order to find out if your work is genuine and free from any sort of copied work or ideas. Usually, these are web-based services that could be either free or paid, with the paid ones providing the most thorough checks and insights into your paper.

An example of this is Turnitin, a service used my most universities to check for plagiarism in their students’ submitted work. First, the student submits their work either by copying and pasting it directly in the field provided or uploading the word file into the website directly. Once uploaded, the software first breaks the document up into smaller chunks, and then applies complex algorithms to the document to check it against a database of sources. On finding similar or duplicate content, the software marks these sections. Then, the software displays what percentage of the submitted document matches the sources in the repository.

Another service used by universities is called Unicheck. This service also works in the same way as Turnitin but has a better technical support team.


10 consequences of plagiarism


  1. Lower grades on assignments
    Often for the offense of plagiarism, professors may decide to award a zero to the submitted work. This will have repercussions as getting a zero in one assignment might drastically reduce the final grade of the module.


  1. Failing a course
    Occasionally, the university might decide to fail the student in their entire module if the offence is deemed too severe. This will mean that it will take longer for the student to graduate since they will have to repeat the module.


  1. Loss of degree
    The university review board may decide to revoke the degree of a student at a later date, if it revealed that the student had submitted plagiarized in the past. This is a big blow to the student’s reputation and career prospects.


  1. Public shaming
    If the university chooses to make an example out of a student’s plagiarised work, it will bring great shame to the student in the form of public shame. The student will lose trust among their peers and academics alike.


  1. Additional tasks
    A committee might give you tasks you must complete proving that you’ve realized your mistake and are ready to make changes. It could take the student hours and days of work in addition to other assignments they will be working on. For example, the student may be asked to complete a 6000-word essay about the consequences of plagiarism as a punishment. Each claim must be supported, and a variety of valid sources has to be used.


  1. Official warnings
    Universities may decide to send an official warning to the student and students’ sponsor via mail. This can have serious consequences for the student, in terms of their funding and other costs, if the sponsor decides to withdraw their financial support.


  1. Expulsion from the university
    If the violation is serious enough, and it is a repeat offense, he or she might be expelled from the university entirely. An expelled student usually finds it very difficult to get a re-admission in other universities because of their bad record.


  1. Destroyed academic reputation
    This consequence might actually be the worst of all. If you destroy your academic reputation, it will be very difficult for you to recover. Many jobs require a university degree, and this could end up affecting your future in a permanent way.


  1. Monetary consequences
    In the case where an author sues a plagiarist, the author may be granted monetary compensation. In the case where a journalist works for a magazine, newspaper or other publisher, or even if a student is found plagiarizing in school, the offending plagiarist could have to pay monetary penalties.


  1. Damaged reputation for the university
    The reputation of the entire university is on the line if they allow students to plagiarise. With social media traveling as quickly as it does, the story circulates as soon as plagiarism takes place.
    Future students, who spend thousands of pounds on university tuitions, might not want to attend a university with bad reputation, and so universities should strive to reduce plagiarism within their premises.



9 ways to avoid plagiarism


  1. Using a wider range of sources
    Reading from multiple sources will mean you widen your vision and have much better idea on a specific subject. Limiting yourself to only once source will mean you don’t have much to write, or enough knowledge to formulate your own ideas.


  1. Develop your own unique style
    When you join the university, you should have your style of writing. Always try to be concise and clear.  If you use words and phrases that you don’t normally use, it might stand out from the rest of your work, and your lecturer might suspect you of plagiarism.


  1. Citing and Referencing
    The easiest way to avoid accidental plagiarism is to point out in the body of your assignment every part that is not your own. In addition, you have to give full details of the sources in order to allow for the lecturer to check your work. This is known as citing and referencing. You should do this as you go, and not leave it till the end, as this might result in you missing a few sources.


  1. Taking Notes
    When you are doing a literature review or reading for an assignment, you should take notes about the author, title, and page numbers for the books and journals and web addresses for websites. This will have 2 effects: it will save you time in the end when you are filling up the reference list, and also help you to keep track of all your sources.


  1. Use quotation marks
    An easy way to avoid plagiarism is to put directly copied material from other source between quotation marks. This way the reader will be made aware of the work that is not yours.


  1. Proofread
    It does not take too much time to carefully go through your work once it has been completed, but the benefit of doing so is immense. Many issues with your work will be more visible when you are proofreading, rather than checking it while you type.


  1. Make it a priority to do your own work
    If you have doubts regarding a subject, ask your course instructor, but do not resort to cheating by asking your friends to do it. Furthermore, many students ask for copies of old assignments to copy off, which are also a severe form of cheating. Therefore, always focus on doing your own work.


  1. Start working on it early
    When doing research for your paper, you should make sure you give yourself enough time read and understand the source material. The major reason for plagiarism as stated by students is the lack of time. Usually, students underestimate the time it takes to do sufficient research for a paper, and because of lack of time towards the deadline, end up plagiarising from the source material.


  1. Using a plagiarism checker
    After finishing your final draft, run it through one of the free plagiarism checkers to get an idea of the level of plagiarism on your work. If you accidentally miss to cite or reference a source, you will have an earlier notice to fix the error before your final submission.


Avoiding plagiarism is important. It is important to properly acknowledge the roles played and information provided by other authors. It shows respect for their work, most importantly, you are giving credit where credit is due. You are not deceiving the person who reads it to falsely believe that the work is yours.

From what we have discussed in this article, plagiarism is certainly on the rise among higher education students. This creates nuisance for both the instructors assessing the module, as well as the university, and wastes a lot of resources. The penalty for someone who gets caught plagiarizing could be severe, such as failing the module or expulsion from the university as we have mentioned earlier. Therefore, it is very important for students to understand how to avoid plagiarism, and the consequences of it.



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