57 thoughts on “How to not get caught plagiarizing

  1. It’s also plagiarism if you take the idea(s) of someone else even if you do not use the same words. I’m not sure where I heard that before. Although this issue may be trickier at the high school level (and even early college), because it is probably difficult to for students to know which ideas are common knowledge and which require citation.

  2. This is like, “the surefire way to not get caught cheating by your wife: don’t cheat!” Great post! I tell my students that I don’t care /how many/ citations they have (for the upper limit), if their writing contains a citation every few sentences, /that’s awesome/. I tell them to look at the science journal articles that they’re using for their research, if you eliminated all non-original work in those articles, they’re’d be practically nothing, so it’s basically impossible for a student to over-cite. I’ve never heard of it in fact.

    I also like that you specifically addressed the issue of having poorly organized research notes. A student should /especially/ be punished when they plagiarize because of that, they /need/ to develop good note taking techniques. I recently saw some scans of C. Darwin’s notebooks (I believe this was the Red notebooks in particular) and he’d actually strike-out entire sections as he used them, /that’s/ discipline!

    Also, on plagiarism being obvious, it’s funny you mention this because our campus has gone through a bit of a process to get “plagiarism detecting software” and push it’s use on us. And yet, I don’t think I’ve heard of a single student being bounced out because of plagiarism. Guess we only have super honest and diligent students (see, they exist, they’re just all here!).

  3. If plagiarism is such a bad thing–and I am not disagreeing–how can so-called reputable academic journals get away with it. I am thinking of Lior Shamir’s situation but cannot afford the Chronicle subscription to discover just which journals are the co-conspirator offenders. I have been plagiarized myself but Canada makes it difficult: I have to hire a lawyer in that country and sue there–I do not have the funds.
    I always stress that ideas must be documented as well as their expression–unless the idea is one’s own. I have seen passing few original ideas since I began teaching a half-century ago. I stress that appeals to common knowledge require documentation that the ideas are common knowledge. It is easier for the writer simply to document a source than to document the existence of “common knowledge” as several students have found to their dismay.
    One spent weeks doing so and failed because he did not have enough time to finish the paper adequately; his colleagues were smarter and picked a source to cite, ignoring any “common knowledge.”

  4. Hey, I had an entire chapter of an archaeological contract report, addressing side notched points from the Esopus river region of New York State, lifted and published almost word for word as an article in Man in the Northeast by Charles Fisher. Chuck was a friend of mine but his wife, Karen Hartgen of Hargen Associated forced him to do it. That was a long time ago, but it was still a serious academic crime. I never said much publicly about this to avoid embarassment to Chuck but now that he is dead, I don’t really care. He is already remembered as someone totally controlled by Karen. But I digress…

    I don’t entirely get the logic of “if it is so bad why do people get away with it, for example…” because the examples are people who did not get away with it!

    But you are right, it is amazing that this occurs at the professional level. On the other hand, college policies and new high school policies will hopefull reduce this in the next crop of scholars.

    One of the famous cases was a neuroscientist who wrote a piece for scientific american that turned out to be full of text from other sources. He claims, and this is supported by his long time secretary/assistant, that he write the SA piece by writing up his lecture notes, which were in turn originally transcriptions of various written sources that he would refer to (but not read) when he gave lectures, and that these notes over the years were typed up by his secretary as they aged and got ratty. Somewhere along the line the original attributions were lost and he forgot that they were direct quotes.

    He still lost his position as director of the top neuroscience institution in the world.

    And I was thinking exactly of this fact when I wrote this post: Assume that scientist really didn’t intentionally steal other people’s work; The fact is that other people’s work was published under his name. It does not matter if you run over the puppy on purpose or back over it in the driveway by accident; The puppy is still run over. By keeping track of sources religiously this can be voided. The puppy lives.

  5. If plagiarism is such a bad thing–and I am not disagreeing–how can so-called reputable academic journals get away with it.

    In the past it was often difficult to detect. I was a victim once where I caught the plagiarism because I happened to be a referee on the paper and recognized four paragraphs copied verbatim from one of my own papers; that journal rejected the manuscript, but the authors submitted it to a different journal whose referees did not notice the plagiarized text. I also found a case by pure luck: I thought to myself, “Hasn’t a version of this figure been published before?” and on doing a short literature search found the exact figure in a paper which had no authors in common with the manuscript I was reviewing (which did not declare the figure’s publication history). But often plagiarism went undetected.

    That situation is changing: Some publishers now use plagiarism detection software (similar to what universities use) to flag blocks of similar text. It is up to the editor’s discretion whether the similarities constitute plagiarism (the software will often flag common or technical phrases which might have been copied accidentally or which must be copied exactly; e.g., most journals in my field require authors to supply paper titles in the reference section).

    I have also seen cases of inappropriate referencing: some authors cite secondary instead of primary sources, where said secondary sources clearly identify the readily available primary source (I have also seen citation chains go three or four levels deep to reach the primary source). Not exactly plagiarism, but it has the same effect of depriving credit to the original source.

  6. Plagiarism has been around a long time, and the Internet has made it easier than ever to copy and paste. But even with the rise of technology, people are still getting away with it. Yes, technology has helped bring awareness that it is indeed a very big problem, and make it more difficult for people to get away with it. But the bottom line is that people don’t know what they are doing wrong, they are lazy or don’t have the time to do their own work, which makes it necessary for institutions and publishers to have to “police” submitted work. The real root of it is the need to educate students when they are learning to write papers so that they know what to do… and what not to do.

  7. Back in the 80’s when I worked for the US Army Corps of Engineers, construction of Lock and Dam 26R was the major District project. Things were, in fact, cut and paste. We would prepare a document, with boilerplate out of other documents, cut and pasted, and take it to the typing pool. We produced a fair number of documents on other projects which included comments on L&D 25R.

    I know of an instance where the PhD dissertation of a fairly prominent person in the profession was a word for word translation of a previous PhD dissertation in another language. It happened years ago, not in my field,and was not pursued.

  8. I take the line that if you can’t recast the what you’ve read (researched) into your own words, you haven’t understood it properly.

    So for me, the problem with students plagiarising isn’t that they’re trying to lie to the teacher, it’s that they haven’t absorbed the information.

    Plagiarisation after graduation is more serious, of course.

  9. “In other words, when you plagiarize something, it is always spotted immediately.”

    So true…

    I am suddenly reminded of the heavily dyslexic student I had who suddenly started turning in extremely well written essays. Typing the first sentence into google got me the original.

  10. “In other words, when you plagiarize something, it is always spotted immediately.”

    Except when it isn’t. You have no idea how often it goes undetected so it is a leap of faith to say it is always spotted immediately.

    What is spotted immediately is the sloppy plagerism. Fonts suddenly change, they forget to take out little asterisks or footnote symbols, sometimes first person becomes multiple persons (we, our team), writing style changes drastically, spelling and grammar go from sloppy to perfect. In that case I’m more annoyed that they think I wouldn’t notice…or are so apathetic about my class they don’t even bother trying to do a good job. Either way, they won’t last in class. (not that I teach any more…went back to the field).

  11. Daniel, no, that is not true at all. It is all easily spotted. There is no leap of faith here.

    I’ve conferred with colleagues and from their experience and my experience there is no difference between looking and seeing it vs. the results from systematic sampling with google or running it through turnitin.

    This is a science blog. We do not make leaps of faith here!

  12. “This is a science blog. We do not make leaps of faith here!”

    bullshit

    telescopes listening for signs of life in the universe, Voyager’s golden records (yeah, that’s definitely not a leap of faith lol), SETI – all these are a mixture of science and faith

    and as for plagiarism ?
    teachers and academic institutions are full of crap: the very fact that you can plagiarize yourself is ridiculous

    if you write a paper for one class, you should be able to make a few modifications and turn in the same paper for another class, but no, that’s plagiarism – BS !

    and as for stupid comment that said “if you can’t put something you’ve read into your own words, then you haven’t researched it enough”, well that’s just dumb

    if an author explains something well and gets the meaning across with simple, clear examples and very few words, I’m expected to make the explanation more complicated because I can’t use his words ?
    that’s just stupid

    the ONLY reason teachers get upset about plagiarism is because getting published is how they get promoted

    They don’t want other people getting promoted from their hard work.

    That’s a fair and valid point.

    But nobody in the real world gives a shit about what stupid papers you’ve written. All they care about are actual results that make money or that you can do the job. Getting published accomplishes neither of these.

    Getting published doesn’t make you a better nurse or medical doctor or pharmacist. Yet they are all required to do research and they pretty much have to be published to be hired because somehow this idea of research = competence has infected the real world.

  13. and as for stupid comment that said “if you can’t put something you’ve read into your own words, then you haven’t researched it enough”, well that’s just dumb
    if an author explains something well and gets the meaning across with simple, clear examples and very few words, I’m expected to make the explanation more complicated because I can’t use his words ?

    But see? You just did that, so what’s the problem?

    Anyway,yes, there are no doubt times that you should use the perfect formed paragraph of an author to get that author’s point across.

    It is called an attributed quote. If you use the author’s words and don’t indicate it is a quote and attribute it, you are a thief.

    the ONLY reason teachers get upset about plagiarism is because getting published is how they get promoted
    They don’t want other people getting promoted from their hard work.
    That’s a fair and valid point.

    We are mostly talking about high school teacher here, so, no.

  14. A teacher of my acquaintance works in a department with a large number of Asian students. He hasn’t mentioned any population in particular, but he sometimes mentions the troubles he has keeping some from plagiarizing because in their culture, it is a compliment to the original source to be quoted even without citation.

    It’s extra upsetting because he knows he has an obligation to report them, but if he does so they will be expelled and sent back to their home countries. I think usually freshman or students who have just arrived in America get more leniency from him – he’ll talk with them and explain the problem – and probably an F or double-F on the assignment. The longer they’ve been at his institution, or if he’s caught them before, he will report them.

  15. “Telescopes listening for signs of life in the universe, Voyager’s golden records (yeah, that’s definitely not a leap of faith lol), SETI – all these are a mixture of science and faith”

    I’m with you on that one – my daily research is a leap of faith. I’m hoping that my line of research is actually going somewhere. But the science is science, and should be no matter what I hope.

    “teachers and academic institutions are full of crap: the very fact that you can plagiarize yourself is ridiculous. If you write a paper for one class, you should be able to make a few modifications and turn in the same paper for another class, but no, that’s plagiarism – BS !”

    On this topic, it’s something I’m learning myself. In science publications, the article that has been published by Nature or Science or any other journal belongs to the journal, not to the authors, legally. By submitting the article for review and publication, you are allowing the journal to protect your rights (by giving those rights to them). So if you want to talk about something you’ve already done, you have to cite yourself, or risk the anger of the journal.

    In class, I assume it’s the same way: by turning in an assignment in my chemistry course, that paper will be “reviewed” by the professor and will become the property of that class. I can’t then turn around and submit that same or similar paper to an other class without first getting permission of both teachers – aka, citing my previous paper.

    “the ONLY reason teachers get upset about plagiarism is because getting published is how they get promoted
    They don’t want other people getting promoted from their hard work.

    That’s a fair and valid point.

    But nobody in the real world gives a shit about what stupid papers you’ve written. All they care about are actual results that make money or that you can do the job. Getting published accomplishes neither of these.

    Getting published doesn’t make you a better nurse or medical doctor or pharmacist. Yet they are all required to do research and they pretty much have to be published to be hired because somehow this idea of research = competence has infected the real world.”

    And this is the argument of yours I most disagree with (aside from the idea that “that’s just dumb”, and “that’s just stupid” are valid arguments). If you publish a paper in a journal, everybody else who publishes on similar topics cares what you’re doing. And so does the government or who ever else you convince to fund your research. The point of publishing is to communicate your research. Communicating your results is how people find out what you’ve been doing in your lab. And if nobody finds out what you’re doing, you can’t get funded for further research. No funding, no job. AKA, publish or perish.

    We also publish because that’s how our peers can review our work – how well-reasoned it is, how clearly we can explain ourselves, and whether there are any flaws in our experiments or theoretical designs. In theory, peer review is how ‘bad science’ gets weeded out, so if you get published, that is a gold medal for doing good research (especially if you get published in a top journal).

  16. I am a co-author on a paper that’s in press; however, my contribution was a few paragraphs of text and many of the figures. I wrote an MS thesis on a related subject; I went back, re-read the primary author’s introduction to the paper, and was hopelessly dismayed. His introduction could mostly do duty as mine, and he’s a far more eloquent writer than I am — how was I to write my own introduction, without plagiarizing, and come up with something nearly as good??? But after thinking about it for awhile, trying to set the stage for my own arguments, I did end up with something quite different.

    By golly, if I can do it without plagiarizing, anybody can. No excuses.

  17. I just wanted to say i know a lot of people who have been copying for years without anyone noticing… but it comes at no suprise to me… its as easy and safe as downloading copyrighted movies from piratebay…. at least thats my experience… sry for bad english

  18. There’s also an ease-of-use factor… just click a button and there’s the song/movie/game/ebook you want within a few minutes, although NetFlix/Steam/iTunes has done well to fill that need.

  19. I teach intermediate composition (preparation for Comp. 101) for ESL students at a community college, and plagiarism is a concept many of my students find confusing. Having come out of many different educational systems, they may have been used to writing down exactly what a teacher says in a lecture and then repeating those words on an exam. Also, they may have been used to copying examples of good writing in order to learn how to write well. Each semester, I spend one class period explaining what plagiarism is and showing my students examples from student writing. I also stress that the writing assignments I give do not require consulting outside sources; my job is to help students learn how to write a paragraph in standard academic English. Indeed, if my students feel compelled to search for information to help them write, they have chosen the wrong topic.

  20. Great post! I’m sad I only found this just now. I think I will use your PDF to hand out to my students at the beginning of next semester. Thank you.

  21. What are you talking about. I am in Stanford University just because I have plagiarized in my entire life and still do because I know to get a job, only networking matters not this academic shit.

    Cheater

    shdydh56@gmail.com
    108.205.50.54

  22. My calculus professor told me a story of a very blatant instance of plagiarism, person copy and pasted from Wikipedia and didn’t even bother to remove the links.

    @25 and then get fired for incompetence. Have fun!

  23. I’d like to point out a few reasons why this is a load of bullshit.

    You can get caught up in a “plagiarism” charge for forgetting to cite one single thing. You can have a goddamn near perfect paper, but if you forget that one thing, you’re simply screwed. Your whole paper is down the drain. You instantly fail the essay. Furthermore, you quite possibly fail the ENTIRE class – simply because you forgot to cite a single source while every other thing in the paper is properly cited.

    TO EXTEND THIS EVEN FURTHER, you now quite likely have your name smeared. You have lost credibility in your community as a student. Other teachers will not trust you and grade harder. (Which brings me to another point: many students DO get away with plagiarism because many students DO plagiarize material – it’s just that teachers do not go through and carefully check citations for every student. So who’s to say that when a teacher decidedly dislikes a particular student that said teacher couldn’t go through this student’s essays with a much finer comb? Everyone’s plagiarizing, but this one student is caught just because the teacher dislikes them.)

    Don’t get me wrong. You should be citing things, you should be giving credit where it’s due – BUT IT SHOULDN’T BE THAT BIG OF A DEAL. The academic communities goal SHOULD NOT be to make an individual name for each person – no, it should be to SPREAD KNOWLEDGE and make the world a better place because of it!

    @26, riiiight, if #25 has a job, it’s probably nothing to do with actual research requiring citations, dumbass.

  24. When thousands of students or tens of thousands have written articles on the same subject every year for 15 years or more, how can there not be “plagiarism”?

  25. Aaaaaaaah……I use words “language acquasition ………the……” and its picked up as plagiarised!!!!!! When is going to bring down this turnitin site , I cant use “the ” too many people use it

  26. so what would happen if two university students, handed in exactly the same dissertations – one the legit way, of sending it through electronic plagiarism checking software and then handing in the hard copy, and the second only handing in the hard copy with the student name changed without using the software?

    would the second paper be tested through the software even though no electronic copy had been handed in? or would it just be marked in the usual way with two teachers marking the work individually and then agree on a mark ?
    would the teachers be suspicious by reading it? (maybe one of the teachers might remember, but what happens when it could be marked by other random staff members?) even when they have to read over 500 dissertations?

    1. Nobody has to read 500 dissertations in a term. In any event, most of the time we can tell the work is plagiarized by looking at it. Then, it is very easy to check. Sometimes we work in pairs. One person looks over the text and now and then marks part of it, and the other person types that into the software and we find out if it is taken from another source. The original papers don’t have to be electronic to do that.

      We always know.

  27. i’m mainly talking about plagiarism between students not quotes/paragraphs taken off the internet without crediting.

    for instance……say if one student handed his dissertation in, and then the another student handed in the same dissertation a couple months later due to being granted an extension. Do you think the teachers would notice without the software even though the original dissertation has already been marked a while ago?

  28. It’s very serious issue. First of all I appreciate your post on this topic. We have to use the right sources like internet and other references to avoid this.

  29. Thank you for this article. Good Stuff! I really enjoyed reading. I will be visiting often and telling my friends about this Hope to read more good articles

  30. While I believe that there are good reasons to prevent plagiarism in the academic world, mainly that it is important to create a safe environment for researchers where creativity is encouraged and recognized, I don’t think that the issue is the same for high school plagiarism. It’s basically like learning to have good habits : at a certain level, it’s mostly the students issue. He/she’s not stealing the credit of anybody when handing the work in class… Just give it a bad grade and basta.
    And it’s actually easy to go through the plagiarism testing software… Just download a few of those progranms, test your essay on it. Take the parts that are returned by the program. Go to Google translate, translate them to another language then back to English, a few times. Correct the grammar mistakes.
    Repeat the process until clear.
    Tough to aim for a good grade like that though haha.

  31. Excellent post indeed. Thanks for sharing some very useful tips for plagiarism checking. As you are giving tips for plagiarism so I like to share a very useful tools called Solid SEO Tools. It’s an amazing tool for any blogger. It can help you in a top level to satisfy your demand from a super tool. I personally prefer this tool and always advise my friends to use it and now they are doing so. You can try Solid SEO Tools. I’m sure you’ll love it after a try on it.

  32. this is supposed to be giude How to not get caught plagiarizing !!! this bull shit is i here all the time ,dont do plagiarism ! !! you idiot wasted my time and data . go to hell man .

  33. M y son jack is always getting bad grades at school(I’m not married). I talked to his teacher and she said she caught him cheating an a test. he got a zero. I was wondering if you could right something on cheating I need help!!!

  34. One of the above commentators is right: the best way to plagiarize is to hire someone else to write original papers for you, which is not technically plagiarism but corrupts the evaluation process in the same sort of way. Of course, you take the risk that the person you’ve paid is selling the same paper more than once. Another related approach is to bribe your professor to do the work for you. This is also quite undetectable. There was a short story by Asimov based on this idea, and in a world where students often have far more (family) money than those who teach them, this is pretty likely.

    The moral issue isn’t so simple, anyhow, because what counts as corrupt depends on what your role is. It’s not corrupt to use a spelling checker, or to get someone to check your spelling for you — unless you are a kid taking a spelling test. Politicians can and do plagiarize routinely by using speechwriters, but as long as nobody sues them for copyright breach, this is ethically fine. On the other hand, politicians are not supposed to lie, whereas nobody gives a damn if a student actually believes his thesis, as long as he can argue it.

  35. I got dinged for plagiarizing because my mom edits my papers. I 100% write them, but then my mom helps with vocabulary and syntax. Apparently there is software that decides a piece is too well written for a 24 year old college student. Unbelievable.

  36. Yep, it would have been helpful for Melania Trump to read this article before the epic speech :))

    Anyways, that’s a great article. Plagiarism now-days is a hot topic and we all need to be careful with our words, especially in public speeches. If anyone need to check their speech for plagiarism use – https://noplag.com/ plagiarism checker.

  37. Greg, I just found your fascinating blog today while researching Five Lined Skinks. Now I’ve been reading multiple topics for hours. I just want to say I love your candor! On your #5 comment regarding Chuck and the domineering spouse; hysterical! There’s a foot fungus post where someone lashed out at you. I found nothing “harsh” or incorrect in your replies whatsoever. But then no good deed ever goes unpunished. I for one appreciate your knowledge and wisdom, mostly deep gratitude for taking the time to help and enlighten us. You rock!

  38. I was accused of playgerizing a term paper. I used 3 sources of research. Turn It In showed two other research sites that were plagerized but I didn’t even use those sites. When I asked my teacher how could I be accused of playgerizing from a source or sources that I didn’t use the teacher said because the sites I did use most likely plagerized from the sites I didn’t use. Is this the procedure educational institutions use?….how can I have control over a sited reference that plagerized other sources?

    1. Sounds like your paper had text close to word for word copied from a site, and that information was not properly put in the context of a quote or a citation.

      Is that the case? You should go back to your teacher and get a clarification on this, because if a) you think you did not do something wrong but a) you actually did plagiarize, then you need to straighten that out before it happens again.

      If your teacher is wrong, take it to a higher authority and get your grade back!

  39. I just love this part:
    “Don’t do it.
    Don’t seem to be doing it, and for that, I have some actual helpful advice.”
    Thanks for a great article!
    Also, helpful tool to check plagiarism [LINK DELETED]

    1. Grade, I deleted your link because I don’t want to send students to a place where they will just get into more trouble.

      No, using a machine or a consultant to “paraphrase” your work is still cheating. Shame on you.

      Which I’m sure rolls right off your back because you are not a real person. But I do appreciate the opportunity to point out to folks reading this thread that the paraphrasing services do not get you away from plagiarism. Paraphrasing still may be plagiarizing.

  40. Um… how about citing the ideas that you used from the comments in your essay? Someone would have to read the comments to understand that those ideas were suggested by someone else. Is that irony? 🙂

    1. Sir Essly,

      I wrote this essay before I read the comments on it. Because the comments didn’t exist yet.

      Time. It goes that way.

  41. Most people cheat for fear of failure, being lazy lack of self confidence and bad time management. It is unfortunate if one does it by mistake and then gets caught. This is a great post.

  42. Totally agree with the Cheater. In the modern professional world, everything can be plagiarized, but not networking. That’s why this skill becomes #1 must have for any adult person, whose job is at least somehow connected with people. I cheated by myself a couple of times, but I’ve never been caught because of real pros who kindly sold [link to a paid for plagiarism site deleted because this comment is essentially spam] for me. The modern world is an ocean, and the who has sharpest teeth wins. And it just doesn’t matter how you get them: you grew them by yourself or somebody just sold it to you. That’s what I’m talking about, and the main point is that plagiarism isn’t a bad thing. The bad thins starts when people get caught on it.

    1. If you had been my student, Imogen, you would have been caught. You probably were caught, but since you echew learning, you were not smart enough to know that the teachers were simply tired of your bullshit and let you go.

  43. Greg, so she wasn’t smart enough to know that you believe the teachers were probably timid, weak and lazy so couldn’t be bothered with her?

    Oh, and just in case there is a word in there that I’m the only one on this blog using…

    [WARNING: Watch My Language}

  44. She, who is an ad bot and not a person, was not smart enough to know that networking is key and that by blatantly cheating she destroyed her all important recommendations from the teachers who lost all respect for her.

    You had used a version of the word “retard” which is a dick move, don’t do it again.

  45. A “version”?

    I’m sorry, I don’t know what “version” you are talking about since you have never explained it. Hard to know what I’m not supposed to use when others are using it.

    So this is where you explain the double standard you have when it comes to using certain words. I’ve already given many examples where others on this blog have used the exact word I used (different version?) never to be challenged by you…. I could give them again if need be, but since it’s your blog I’m sure you are aware of the many times the word has been used by others.

  46. I have a question, I wrote a personal story about my place of birth and the land surrounding it plus the dates the things happened, but my instructor call the sentence with dates plagiarism. How can I fix my paper.

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