The Definition of Plagiarism: The Capital Offense of Graduate School

The Definition of Plagiarism: The Capital Offense of Graduate School

Academic integrity is the primary foundation on which the whole of academia is built, both at the undergraduate and graduate level. Regardless of field of study, type of research or level of degree, the one constant imperative presented to students is to be honest when it comes to their work, fastidious when it comes to their research and meticulous when it comes to their attributions.

The New York Times reported that recently elected Montana Sen. John Walsh had allegedly plagiarized around 25 percent of his master's thesis. Such a high-profile case highlights the importance of educating students on the severity of the offense, and ensuring they understand exactly what their responsibility is when researching papers.

What Plagiarism Looks Like

Contrary to popular belief, plagiarizing another writer's work extends beyond the egregious and stereotypical act of downloading a paper from the Internet. In fact, it need not even be a malicious process. According to the Council of Writing Program Administrators, plagiarism is defined as the knowing use of another's words, ideas or other form of material without attributing the information to the original source. There is no minimum requirement - anything from an entire essay to a single sentence lifted without citation can be considered plagiarized.

Unfortunately, many students lack understanding of the nuance of the definition and can inadvertently land themselves in academic hot water. Statistics from revealed that nearly a quarter of graduate students admitted to copying and pasting a sentence or two from an online source without referencing the original work. While likely not a malicious act, such a practice would still be considered plagiarism. The golden rule for avoiding unknowingly swiping sources is that if you're not sure, always include a citation.

Consequences of Plagiarism

As a student there are few things you can do that are more serious than plagiarizing. Schools never take such an offense lightly, and consequences can be harsh. Ivey Consulting outlined some of the repercussions for getting caught stealing, ranging from being denied admission to a school for plagiarized application content to receiving a failing grade on a paper to outright expulsion in some cases.

High-profile figures aren't immune from the consequences of plagiarism, even years after the fact. Nature magazine noted that Germany's minister of science and education, Annette Schavan, was found to have plagiarized parts of her doctoral thesis from the University of Düsseldorf that she submitted in 1980. Despite a period of more than 30 years having passed, the school responded harshly, actually stripping her of her Ph.D.

About the Author: Laura Morrison is the Web Content Manager for She earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.


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