Are You Cheating & Don’t Even Know It?

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Plagiarism has been reported to be one of the most common means of cheating by international students in college (both undergraduate and graduate levels). Learn exactly what plagiarism is and how you can avoid it!

International students that visit the US come from a wide range of cultural and academic backgrounds.  However, the educational organization in the US is very different than the system to which they are academically and culturally accustomed to in their home country.

Despite coming from a very big city like Mumbai, I was completely oblivious to what plagiarism was when I came to the US in 2008. The Indian education system simply does not emphasize on issues related to plagiarism. In America, there is an emphasis on critical thinking and original ideas; hence students are required to not copy other people’s work (intentionally or unintentionally). Writing in American schools has its own rules and guidelines of which a number of international students may not be aware.

Looking at the increasing number of international students who are accused of plagiarism, I believe that there are other education systems as well where plagiarism is not emphasized. Thus, it is important for international students to appreciate what plagiarism is, before they are accused of intentional or unintentional plagiarism.

What is plagiarism?

international student voice magazine plagiarism (1)

Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s words, ideas, processes, or results without giving appropriate credit. For academic purposes, universities may extend the definition to words, ideas, data, computer programs, compositions, artwork, etc. done by some other person or student.It applies to papers, reports, PowerPoint presentations, homework assignments, etc.

For example:

You are writing a science essay on ‘DNA’ and you read the book ‘The Double Helix: A personal account of the discovery of the structure of DNA’ by Dr. James Watson, one of the two scientists credited with the unraveling of DNA structure in 1953. You are inspired by the book and use a paragraph from the book in your essay. There is a good chance that you will be accused of plagiarism by your teacher or professor who evaluates your essay.

Yes, really. Unfortunate, but true.


Yes, really!

An accusation of plagiarism can have severe consequences on students ranging from receiving a Fail (F) grade in a course to expulsion from university or loss of position/job. Turning in a ‘plagiarized’ paper is more severe than turning in a paper late or turning in something that is not satisfactory as per you. So take it seriously!

How does my professor know that I plagiarized?

I am certain most of us would agree that new technologies like internet, cell phones, etc. have made it easier for students of our generation to cheat. In a similar manner, our teachers and professors use ‘anti-cheating technology’ to catch students who might have plagiarized! There are a number of online resources that they use to determine whether a student has plagiarized. For example, they use websites like,, etc. which use algorithms to determine what percentage of the student’s work is original vs. how much is plagiarized.

Don’t try this excuse with your professor.

Don't try to use this excuse with your professor

How to avoid plagiarism?

Here are a few powerful strategies that would help you avoid plagiarism:

  1. Understand plagiarism: Most international students are accused of plagiarism because they are not aware of what it is. Hence it is important to understand plagiarism and the serious consequences of being accused of plagiarizing.
  2. Pick a novel topic: Perform a simple Google search and make sure that you are working on something that is novel. Doing this solves a lot of the issues related to intentional plagiarism. Avoid reading other peoples work for inspiration!
  3. Use your own words:  Paraphrase or summarize the content in your own words. Changing the voice of the sentences could also help. NEVER CUT AND PASTE any content verbatim. ‘Cut and paste’ stuff from the internet is now-a-days on of the most common way of plagiarizing.
  4. Cite the source: Even if you use your own words to describe someone’s work or words, you must cite the source.  You don’t need to cite a source for something that is common knowledge (widely known or in the public domain) for everyone or even within a particular field. Your interpretation of the topic, your comments, views, etc. need not be cited.
  5. Use quotation marks: What happens in cases where you really have to use a great person’s lines verbatim? Whenever you use someone’s specific words, place those words or sentences within quotation mark (“…”) and cite the source.Here is an example: Mahatma Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. In this way, you can use the great person’s lines and not be accused of plagiarism as you were very clear of you intentions and cited the source of those lines.
  6. Rely on your notes and memory: One of the most powerful ways to avoid plagiarism is to rely on your notes and memory to paraphrase or summarize the content while you are writing your own draft of the paper. Try to avoid looking at the original source; because once students refer to the original work, they are more likely to use the same words/lines as they appear in the original work. Doing this solves a lot of issues related to unintentional plagiarism.
  7. Manage your drafts and references:  It is important to have well-organized system of maintaining previous drafts of the papers! You can name your drafts numerically or by date and time, or any other system that works best for your work. To manage your references, I would highly recommend using special citation software like EndNote, RefWorks, etc., especially in cases where there a large number of references involved.  These softwares make it easier to keep track for your references and it is ridiculously easy to learn these citation softwares!
  8. Write and Cite simultaneously! Do not write your paper and then think about referencing. Referencing while writing the paper is the better way to go as it saves time and reduces, if not eliminates, any confusion that might arise out of your notes and drafts.
  9. Proofreading and finalizing the paper: Before submitting the paper, read the final version thoroughly to make sure that all the sentences/content are well referenced.
  10. Online references: I am sure that most students use online resources such as pictures/images from Google or Wikipedia in presentations, reports or papers; however they usually do not provide the web reference. More and more professors are fine with their students using a few online websites as their source of information to get started with their work. A few of the professors will also advise their students to have a separate ‘Web References’ section at the end of their paper/report to separate the literature references and online references.  Word of Caution: before having a separate ‘Web References’ section in your bibliography, make sure that your professor is fine with it!

Following these rules will make you confident that your paper is AMAZING!

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international student voice Jay Bhatt

This article was written by Jay Bhatt, ISV Ambassador 

Featured photograph courtesy of

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