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How to Describe to a Student Why Plagiarism Is Dishonest

by Jan Archer, studioD

Regardless of printed policies and verbal reiteration, many students have a hard time understanding plagiarism and what it entails. Plagiarism is a form of theft that doesn't involve taking a concrete object in the traditional sense. Instead, plagiarizers steal words, sentences, paragraphs or even whole papers. Helping your child understand the definitions and consequences of plagiarism can alleviate stress and help her avoid academic irregularities. Plagiarism is a serious offense that's treated harshly in academia and even more seriously in the business world, as copyrighted and published material is technically owned property.


When you talk about plagiarism, treat it as theft to emphasize the severity of the issue. Use the words "stealing" or "taking" and ask your child if she remembered to cite or list her references. This helps her understand that sentences, terms, and written material are actual things that belong to the person who created them. For example, if your child is working on a business presentation and is using Internet research, give a friendly reminder that any information written on websites and in journals is owned by an author or company. Explain it like this: A company pays a writer to create the content on its website, so if the student copies that information into a report, the student is stealing copyrighted material. In the business world, one company could sue another for stealing website content. The employee who stole it could be fired or even face trial for stealing property and costing his business money. If you show your child perspectives from all sides of the equation, it may make more sense why plagiarism is a form of theft.

Types of Plagiarism

Explain the types of plagiarism, from the blatant to the subtle. For example, if a student purchases an essay online and hands it in as her own work, that's plagiarism. Reiterate how important it is for every student to create her own original work, not just for her learning process but also for her academic record. Likewise, if your child takes a sentence or two from a research article and drops it into her paper with no citations, that's also plagiarism. Reinforce that it doesn't matter how many sentences are stolen: When a student represents work as her own that has been created by someone else, that constitutes plagiarism in the academic world. If your child asks why it's plagiarism if she purchased and owns the paper, explain that in academia, you represent that you have created the work that earns your grade in the class. It is unethical to buy grades, just like it would be unethical to pay another student to take a test or sit in on classes. Even if your child is still in high school, this knowledge will help her prepare for the college years ahead.


Although most English teachers teach citation formats, it won't hurt to ask your child if she has properly cited sources and external material. You can also familiarize yourself with her textbook or handbooks to remind her how to locate references for APA, MLA or other style guides needed for a class. The best way to teach a child not to plagiarize is to give her the tools to find citation styles on her own. That way, she can always count on herself to cite sources correctly. Explain that if in doubt, she should always cite, and she should always list references used at the end of a paper in either a works cited page or a bibliography. It's always better to list extra sources than to leave one out, so encourage your child to play it safe. Extra sources might be penalized by a few points, but that's better than receiving a failing grade or an expulsion for a plagiarism charge.

Encourage Questions

Each new assignment might send your child home with more questions about plagiarism, so it's crucial to keep an open dialogue about the topic. Encourage your child to ask the teacher if she is ever in doubt about plagiarism. That way, if she makes a mistake or accidentally leaves out a citation, it will be evident that she made attempts to avoid plagiarism. If you need extra guidance, set up a meeting or quick chat with the teacher or professor to learn more about plagiarism and how to help your child avoid it. A learning environment is designed to teach students to avoid these types of irregularities, and the teacher will likely be willing to work with a parent who shows active interest in supporting the academic interests of her child.

About the Author

Jan Archer holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science and a master's degree in creative writing. Roth has written trade books for Books-a-Million and has published articles on green living, wellness and education topics. She taught business writing, literature, creative writing and English composition at the college level for five years.

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