Plagiarism is when a person uses someone else’s ideas and represents those ideas as his or her own, either on purpose or because the person was too careless to realize what he or she was doing. Ideas include entire essays or reports, paragraphs, sentences, or even phrases. Ideas can also refer to statistics, research, art., etc. It is plagiarism when these ideas, in any of the above forms, are taken from a published source (a book, a magazine, scholarly journals, an encyclopedia, etc.), an electronic source (material discovered on the Internet, for example), another student from any school, or a paper-writing agency that profits from selling pre-written papers and essays.
When a student finds information in a variety of sources or if the knowledge is widely known and accepted, this is called common knowledge. Common knowledge does not have to be cited (giving credit to the original source of information) if it is rewritten in the writer’s own words. If, however, the student finds a piece of information in one source that he or she wishes to use, the student must cite the source of that information. Although there are a variety of formats that can be followed when citing information, it is common to include the title of the source where the information was found, the author, and the page number. Besides revealing to the reader that the specific piece of information was another person’s original idea, it helps the reader to locate the original source if he or she wishes to do so.
If a student plagiarizes willingly or accidentally, there can be severe penalties. Usually educational institutions have an explicitly stated policy on how the school will deal with plagiarism cases. Many times, teachers and professors will also have a policy stating how they will handle students who plagiarize. These policies can range from receiving a zero on the paper in question to failing the class for the term, or even being expelled from school for the year or indefinitely. Even if the student is not caught by a school official and penalized on this higher level, the student who plagiarizes loses out on the opportunity to truly learn the material and contribute something worthwhile to the educational community.