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Why Is Plagiarism Unethical?

by Neil Kokemuller

Plagiarism is the use of someone’s written work without permission or proper citation. In a paper or report, a student should use quotations to denote word-for-word use of phrases or statements. He should use in-text citations crediting source materials he includes in his paper. Despite common penalties schools impose for plagiarism, students often don’t understand the ethical, educational and potential legal implications involved.

Idea Theft

One of the most critical reasons plagiarism is unethical and a violation of the student conduct code at most high schools and colleges is that you essentially steal someone’s ideas and work. A simple awareness of the golden rule dictates that if you wouldn’t want someone else to use your work and ideas as his own for credit, you shouldn’t do it. If someone uses his time and talents to create an original work, he has the legal and ethical right to use it for personal or monetary gain. Stealing his work limits this ability.

Fraud and Deception

Plagiarism is part of the broader concept of cheating in school. You submit work borrowed or copied from someone else as your own. This equates to deceiving instructors and committing academic fraud. School -- and often instructor -- policies usually clearly spell out what constitutes plagiarism and the consequences to those who violate the policy. When you choose to submit work that is plagiarized, you intentionally attempt to get credit for unoriginal work. Even if a student claims policy ignorance, he bears the burden of responsibility for understanding plagiarism policy and will experience the consequences, which often begin with project or class failure.

Peer Disrespect

When you plagiarize, you attempt to get credit for work you did not create even as your peers submit work they spent time and creative effort developing. If an instructor assesses the work of other students based on the quality of a plagiarized work, their grades can suffer. If you copy another student's homework without permission, you may expose that student to risk for investigation of supplying you the answers. That student even risks being suspected of copying your work -- since the instructor has no way of knowing who created the work originally. Even if the truth comes out and the other student is cleared, your reputation as a cheater may circulate among your peers.

Personal Integrity

Plagiarism is unethical because it goes against the typical college and class standards that require students to create original papers and work. The point of written projects and papers in school is to help students critically think, create and communicate in written form. If you plagiarize, you circumvent this educational objective.

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