Consequences of plagiarism

Share to Google Classroom

Plagiarism is the act of taking someone else’s ideas or words and passing them off as your own. This can have devastating consequences for anyone, whether you are a student in college or a professional in the workforce. The consequences of plagiarism are far-reaching, and for a few moments and a lapse in judgment, using someone else’s ideas can hurt your pocketbook, your reputation, and your future.

Guide Overview

When it comes to taking other people’s ideas and using them as one’s own, there are two types of plagiarism:

  • Accidental plagiarism
  • Deliberate plagiarism

Accidental plagiarism

Accidental plagiarism happens when someone includes information in their work but unintentionally fails to properly cite the work’s source. This can happen if a citation was accidentally left out, the writer does not properly use in-text citations, or if the writer’s paraphrase is too close to the original source.

The rules governing the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) have specific directions in place in order to give credit in the appropriate way. Although you may think that accidental plagiarism would not carry the same consequences, this infraction is just as problematic as plagiarizing on purpose.

Misquoted citation

A misquoted citation occurs when you misrepresent the exact words that an author writes and leave something out or add something. In this quote from Chapter 10 in Moby Dick, Ishmael is meeting Queequeg for the first time. If you use quotation marks, you must write exactly what the author, in this case Herman Melville, wrote.

Here is the original:

“With much interest I sat watching him. Savage though he was, and hideously marred about the face—at least to my taste—his countenance yet had a something in it which was by no means disagreeable. You cannot hide the soul.”

Here is an example of a misquoted citation:

“With much interest I sat watching him. He was Savage, and hideously marred about the face—at least to my taste—his countenance yet had a something in it which was agreeable. You cannot hide the soul.”

Even though there are similarities in the quotes above, changing Savage, the modifiers and the word agreeable changes the quote and its meaning and is considered misquoted. There would be consequences for misquoting, even if it was an accident.

Forgotten citation

The second type of accidental plagiarism is a forgotten citation. Just like the name implies, this involves a writer using a quotation and then forgetting to give credit to the source. For most styles of writing, this involves using parenthetical citation at the end of the quotation and putting the whole thing in quotes. The consequences of forgetting the citation are serious.

Here is a correct citation:

“With much interest I sat watching him. Savage though he was, and hideously marred about the face—at least to my taste—his countenance yet had a something in it which was by no means disagreeable” (Melville 35).

Here is an incorrect citation:

“With much interest I sat watching him. Savage though he was, and hideously marred about the face—at least to my taste—his countenance yet had a something in it which was by no means disagreeable.”

Sloppy paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is taking information from a source and putting it into your own words while keeping the original meaning intact. To paraphrase, a writer should read the original text and re-write the same ideas with your own words and sentence structure. If you are “sloppy” in your re-phrasing, and your version is too much like the original, you may inadvertently plagiarize.

Deliberate plagiarism

Unlike accidental plagiarism, purposeful, deliberate plagiarism occurs when someone takes words or ideas that are not their own and tries to pretend that they are; this can result in serious consequences. Deliberate plagiarism is basically considered stealing since the person is taking something (an idea or words) that does not belong to you. There are three basic ways someone can deliberately plagiarize.

  • Global plagiarism
  • Cut and paste
  • Mosaic plagiarism

Global plagiarism

In this type of plagiarism, a student takes an entire paper that someone else wrote and acts like it is their own paper.

Cut and paste

Just as the name implies, this type of plagiarism means that a student has copied and pasted from another source. The copy/paste tools on personal computers make this easier than ever.

Mosaic plagiarism

A mosaic is a fragmented collection of things, usually related to the field of art. In mosaic plagiarism, a student takes ideas that are not their own from several sources, and puts them all together as if they wrote it all themselves. They may think they are being clever because they are not taking everything from one source, but this is a serious breach of ethics.

In all three cases above, the consequences are far-reaching for these purposeful plagiarisms.

Why plagiarism happens

Why is there so much plagiarism in today’s world? There are several reasons why.

Avoidance of work or poor time management

Often, procrastination pushes someone into a corner where the only solution they can see is to plagiarize. A paper or article is due on a deadline, but maybe there isn’t enough time or motivation to properly do quality work…so plagiarizing seems like a fast and easy answer. However, there are serious consequences to this ‘easy answer.’

Wanting to help others and collaboration

We are taught to work together and to share ideas from an early age. So what’s the harm in helping someone if they’re struggling, or asking for help if you are struggling? Sometimes, this leads to work being copied, which is still a form of plagiarism.

Ease of plagiarizing

The ease with which someone can plagiarize makes the whole process more tempting. With the simple use of the copy and pasting buttons, anyone can copy and paste someone else’s work into their own document. Unlike past times when you might have to write or type words manually from a book, the ease of copy and  paste makes plagiarism more tempting. This leaves students more susceptible to the consequences.

Consequences of plagiarism

The consequences of plagiarism can be absolutely dire. Although copying and pasting only takes a few minutes, the ramifications of plagiarism can actually last a lifetime. Especially for students in an accredited university, plagiarizing can change the entire trajectory of their lives.

Consequences for university students

Some of the most prominent consequences include the following:

Lowered grade on the assignment

Often for first offenses, a professor would give the person a zero on the assignment. But, because of the nature of college classes, a zero can have a devastating effect on a person’s average in the class.

Failing a course

Sometimes a university policy or professor feels that the plagiarist should fail the entire course. Depending on your year in college, failing a course could delay your graduation, and would certainly cost you money and time.

Disciplinary action from the university

Often the provost of the university will get involved in plagiarism cases, and committing plagiarism could result in disciplinary action from the school. Many schools have an Academic Review Board that meets to discuss the plagiarist’s fate, then doles out the consequences.

Expulsion from the school

If the infraction is serious enough, or it is not a person’s first time plagiarizing, he or she might be expelled from the university entirely.

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 college degree, and this could end up affecting your future in a permanent way.

Consequences for universities

Universities need to take plagiarism seriously because the university itself has a lot at stake too.


The reputation of the entire university is on the line if they allow students to plagiarize. With social media traveling as quickly as it does, the story circulates as soon as plagiarism takes place.

Future students, who are spending a lot of money for college tuition, want to go to a school with a solid reputation, not one that is mired in scandal.


Money is also at stake. Universities need every tuition dollar they can get, and with even a hint of a scandal, students will take their tuition dollars elsewhere.

Consequences for professionals

Professionals also experience the consequences of plagiarism.


Copyright infringement lawsuits are very serious consequences for professionals who take copyrighted materials and try to pass it off as their own. There are many stories of famous writers, musicians, and artists who have been sued for potential copyright infringement.


Fines can be assessed for a breach of copyright, and you could also be responsible for lawyer’s fees if the case goes to federal court.

Professional reputation

Destroyed professional reputation is another consequence of professional plagiarism. Stealing ideas or plans from others can ruin your reputation for life and make it difficult to get a job. Often, famous writers who have been accused or found guilty of plagiarism were also fired from or resigned from their positions.

University plagiarism protocol

Although each university has its own policy, there are several schools’ policies that stand out:

  • University of California at Los Angeles
  • Princeton University
  • University of Notre Dame


University of California at Los Angeles takes academic dishonesty very seriously. All cases are referred to a review board who will investigate and determine what consequences, if any, should be included. According to their Registar, academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to the following:

“…representing, with or without the intent to deceive, part or all of an entire work obtained by purchase or otherwise, as the student’s original work; the omission of or failure to acknowledge the true source of the work; or representing an altered but identifiable work of another person or the student’s own previous work as if it were the student’s original or new work.”


Students at Princeton University have a similar academic honesty policy, specifically an Honor Code that all people must sign off on before they are admitted to the university. Any infractions to the Honor Code are governed by the Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline, who will dole out the consequences as needed.

The Honor Code takes things one step further, and discusses the mandates on collaboration, or group work.

“Before you work with a classmate on a problem set, paper, laboratory report or computer coding assignment, make sure you understand the specific course policies.” This is important because learning is often a social activity, but each class dictates what people must do by themselves or what they can receive help on.

Notre Dame

A third university, the University of Notre Dame, calls on peoples’ spiritual dimension as they look at academics as a whole person. They have an entire booklet dedicated to their honor code, the ideas of which are infused in everything that is done at the university. It states in part:

“As members of an academic and spiritual community, students, faculty, and staff at the University of Notre Dame are engaged in a collaborative educational endeavor.”

This shows that all people at the university have a stake in academic honesty.

How to avoid plagiarism

The consequences for plagiarism can be steep and long-lasting, as outlined above. Add to that the examples of the three high-powered universities who take academic integrity very seriously, and in light of those facts, it is imperative that you learn to cite information correctly, and thus avoid the reach of the consequences of plagiarism. There are several ways to do this, and with a bit of concerted effort, you can set yourself up for success.

Careful reading

Read the source carefully. One of the reasons that people end up plagiarizing is that they don’t take the time to carefully read a source. Whether this is a time management issue or an issue of not understanding the rules and the consequences, if you are not willing to read the source carefully, you may end up plagiarizing. You need to take time with the source. Read it once for the overall gist, and a second time to find the specific details that will help you with your argument.

Take notes as you go

Although it can be tempting to leave your work until the last minute, if you take notes as you go, you will avoid the panic that often leads to plagiarism. Doing a little research at a time is always helpful.

Keep track of all quotations

Note all quotations. As you research, you may find places that you want to cite specifically. In these instances you would use a direct quotation. Save direct quotations for experts on the subject or really remarkable ideas.

Use your on writing style.

As a scholar, hopefully by now you have developed your own style of writing. It is important to use your own words any time you are writing academically. The more you do it, the more natural it will be.

Use writing styles to give credit to the author

Make sure to credit the author for any quotes or ideas that are not your own. To avoid plagiarism, you need to cite any direct quote. In addition, you need to cite an author’s particular idea, one that is not seen in other articles. Consult your professor to see what style of writing you are doing.

Modern Language Association

Most humanities courses use the style of the Modern Language Association (MLA). Following these guidelines carefully is your key to giving credit to an author.

In the MLA in-text citation model, the quotation is cited by placing the author’s last name and the page number of the quote in parentheses at the end of the quote. The entire sentence gets set off by quotation makes. It would look like this:

“With much interest I sat watching him. Savage though he was, and hideously marred about the face—at least to my taste—his countenance yet had a something in it which was by no means disagreeable. You cannot hide the soul” (Melville 49).

At the end of the paper, the full information for the book Moby Dick, as well as any other sources used, is listed on a Works Cited page.

American Psychological Association

The American Psychological Association (APA) gives the following guidelines on how to give credit to an author. The APA Model is a little different. In this case, the quotation is cited by placing the author’s last name and the year the book was published in the parenthesis. At the end of the paper there is a reference list where all the sources you used would be listed.  The APA citation would look like this:

“With much interest I sat watching him. Savage though he was, and hideously marred about the face—at least to my taste—his countenance yet had a something in it which was by no means disagreeable. You cannot hide the soul” (Melville, 1851).

Note that in both cases, the period for the sentence is AFTER the parenthesis. Additionally, within the parentheses for MLA, there is no comma between the author’s last name and the page number, while in the APA parenthesis, there is a comma between the author’s last name and the year.

Use a plagiarism checker

With so much on the line as far as your academic integrity is concerned, an investment in a plagiarism checker is a wise move. Especially in the case of inadvertent plagiarism, you don’t want your entire academic career on the line.

How does a plagiarism checker work?

Plagiarism checkers are software tools that match your writing using an entire database of sources. Using a plagiarism checker, like the EasyBib plagiarism checker, will help you protect yourself from accidental plagiarism and purposeful plagiarism.

Published October 28, 2020.


How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?