As information has become easier and easier to access via electronic resources, plagiarism - whether deliberate or inadvertent - has grown to be a huge problem on college campuses. Unlike the days before the internet, when copying a paper and passing it off as original was unlikely to be found out, there are myriad tools available to professors - and to students - to check for the originality of any given piece of writing.
It's important for students to understand, long before the question arises, what constitutes plagiarism.
Verbatim plagiarism is copying content word for word from a source without citing the source. This is the most obvious and familiar form of plagiarism.
Mosaic plagiarismis piecing together ideas from various resources and, without citing them, creating an unoriginal amalgam of other people's words and presenting it as a new thought.
Accidental plagiarism is a result of laziness or inadequate comprehension of the material studied for the paper submitted. Students inadvertently - even subconsciously - use the same words they have read because they are unable to interpret what they have learned and explain it with their own thoughts and sentences.
Many cases of plagiarism are, indeed, unintentional - but that doesn't make it ok.
Students can be shocked to be called out for plagiarizing based on only one sentence in a 1500+ word essay. In fact, plagiarizing is grounds for expulsion at many schools, and if not expulsion it can be cause for a student to fail a class. This problem goes beyond undergraduate school, and is just as pervasive at the graduate level.
Yale College considers all referred plagiarism cases in its Yale College Executive Committee and commonly suspends the student, lowers a course grade or gives a failing grade and, in the most serious instances, may expel the student from Yale. The University of Virginia's Honor Code, established in 1842, requires all students to pledge not to cheat or cover up for someone who does. Violations of the code incur immediate expulsion, and the discovery of a past violation can result in revocation of a diploma. Source: Everydaylife.globalpost.com
Sometimes, students will use information in their work that they are given by other students who have taken courses before them - not an entire paper, but bits and pieces, websites, paragraphs - even sentences. This must be done with caution. Unless the source of the information can be verified, it's a good idea to pass on unsubstantiated or uncited information. If it's found to be plagiarized data, the professor or instructor won't be interested in the explanation that someone else provided the information without citation. Whoever turns in the work is responsible for what is written. Failing a class or being expelled because of another student's laziness is simply not worth the saved time or effort.
Plagiarism is a symptom of a bigger problem
Students - like so many of us - are in a hurry to get things done as quickly and efficiently as possible. The fundamental purpose of college is to learn to think critically and independently. Writing a well-researched and thought-out paper is the cornerstone of a successful education. Understanding how to interpret other better educated, informed and more intellectual thinkers' ideas and explain them in one's own words is the most satisfying and clear example of a well-developed mind. While the internet and Google have given us answers at our fingertips, they have also taken away the opportunity to wonder and contemplate - if only for a few minutes. Students today have naturally learned to expect answers quickly and easily, and to turn around and respond correctly just as rapidly.
Plagiarism is just one symptom of the larger problem that the availability of instantaneous information can be for all of us.