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Plagiarism Tutorial: 2. Why Plagiarism Matters

This guide explains what plagiarism is, why it's important, and how to avoid it.

2.1 Why is Plagiarism a Big Deal?

There are several reasons why plagiarism is taken seriously and many have to do with expectations for academic work in Canada.

1. Originality is important in academic writing

Academics try to add original contributions to human knowledge by finding gaps in research and by studying very specific topics in detail. As a student, you are not expected to make any big discoveries. However, a level of originality is still expected in your writing.

Incorporate originality into your work by:

  • Analyzing the sources you use, rather than merely summarizing arguments 
  • Presenting your ideas in a unique way, not copying the structure or pattern of a source's argument
  • Coming up with your own examples to support a point
  • Relating examples to your experiences

2. Questioning sources is expected, not a sign of disrespect

Perhaps you grew up learning that copying large portion's of an author's text was a sign of respect for an author's expertise. In Canada, this action would be considered disrespectful. Ideas are other people's work, and should be acknowledged through citations.

3. Critical analysis is important

Your assignments will require you to analyze ideas from multiple sources, draw connections between them, and come to your own conclusions. As you read sources, you should ask questions about the text, even if it is a source written by an expert.

4. Academic writing is an ongoing conversation

In academic writing, authors respond to and build on what others have said before them. By citing your sources, you demonstrate that you "listened" to the conversation before coming to your conclusions and also make it easier for your reader to learn more.

5. Academic dishonesty devalues everyone else's hard work

When one student unfairly cheats or plagiarizes and gets away with it:

  • It devalues everyone else's hard work
  • It means that not all graduates with the same grades did the same work or have the same skills
  • Damages the reputation of the college because employers will realize that graduates of the college do not possess the skills that they should 

2.2 Video: Academic Integrity

Academic dishonesty is a broader term that includes plagiarism as well as:

  • bribery
  • using a paid service to submit work
  • any form of cheating, including copying from another student, or helping another student cheat

Watch the video below to learn what academic integrity is and why it matters.

2.3 Real Life Consequences of Plagiarism

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg

Plagiarism committed in college can  follow you later in life. For example, internet sleuths combed through German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg's PhD thesis and found that he had copied large sections from other sources without citing. The scandal resulted in zu Guttenberg being stripped of his doctorate degree and resigning from his position in 2011.

Timothy Goeglein

Timothy Goeglein was Special Assistant to U. S. President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2008. He plagiarized more than 20 opinion pieces he wrote for a newspaper, and resigned from his position after being discovered.

Nick Simmons

In 2009, Nick Simmons's (son of celebrity Gene Simmons) wrote a comic book, Incarnate. When it was released, comic book aficionados noticed that dialog, characters, scenes and plot segments were taken directly from other published and unpublished works. The discovery led to the book's publisher halting the distribution and production of Incarnate.

Plagiarism Resulting in Legal Action

Plagiarism can result in legal action. When a writer, singer, or artist copies the work of another person, they may infringe on the rights of the copyright holder. The copyright holder can then take legal action. 

For example, the estate of late singer Marvin Gaye recently successfully sued singer Robin Thicke for copyright infringement. They claimed that Thicke's song, "Blurred Lines," copied elements from Gaye's song "Got to Give It Up." 

2.4 Plagiarism Quiz #2

Video: Acceptable/Unacceptable Behaviours

Watch this funny video from the University of Alberta to understand how certain behaviors that are acceptable outside of school, are unacceptable at school.

University of Alberta and Townend Films. "Acceptable/Unacceptable." YouTube, 18 Dec. 2013,