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How Plagiarism Affects Students

by Ralph Heibutzki

Plagiarism involves appropriating ideas or thoughts that aren't your own. In justifying such practices, students sometimes write them off as victimless crimes that hurt no one, but reality doesn't support these assertions. What you learn through writing assignments, for example, is not just the material but how to research, how to synthesize your information, how to discover connections and how to back up your arguments. If you're caught, your reputation is tarnished. Because you invested little effort in learning, your degree is devalued as well -- if you are allowed to stay in school, that is.

Academic Discipline

Most major colleges and universities impose some form of progressive discipline on students suspected of plagiarism. For example, Purdue University's academic integrity code requires an initial meeting with the instructor. Penalties can include a lower or failing grade for the assignment as well as the course. The instructor can also request additional work and refer egregious cases to the Dean of Students. Potential punishments range from warnings to probation, probated suspension and expulsion.

Damaged Relationships

Dishonest behavior damages relationships within an academic commiunity and school. A professor who discovers plagiarized material within a research paper or assignment probably won't trust you anymore. Fellow classmates may draw similar conclusions after hearing of your actions, especially if they didn't cheat. Grades function as a reward for well-executed work, so you're essentially earning similar "pay" without investing any effort or "earning" your grade. This can lead to resentment from classmates, and they may bow out of helping you in the most minor details for fear of their ideas being stolen.

Disrespect for Intellectual Property

Plagiarism breeds disrespect for intellectual property, say educators who study the issue. Traditional concepts of authorship hold little meaning for a generation used to instantly downloading their favorite movies and songs. The situation emboldens many students to incorporate whatever print materials they find into their texts, according to Sarah Brookover, a Rutgers University librarian interviewed for a July 2010 "New York Times" report. Many students don't attribute their source materials because they erroneously assume that all information online is common knowledge.

Lack of Intellectual Growth

Students who plagiarize deprive themselves of the chance to grow intellectually. Plagiarism undermines the development of critical thinking and advanced communication skills and individual expression that colleges and universities have traditionally promoted. True scholarship doesn't occur without effort. However, a student who passes off other peoples' words as his own -- and sees only one way of looking at a topic or doesn't end up truly understanding the material researched -- is unlikely to develop writing skills or learn needed professional skills.

About the Author

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