Consequences of Plagiarism for Students & Academics

If you use someone else’s words or ideas without properly crediting them, you could be committing plagiarism. The exact consequences of plagiarism depend on your institution’s rules and the type of plagiarism, but common consequences include:

  • Grade penalties
  • Course failures
  • Disciplinary action
  • Suspension or expulsion from your university

Apart from the immediate consequences, being caught plagiarizing can have long-term effects on your academic or professional record and jeopardize your future career. Plagiarism in published work can also have serious legal and financial consequences.

Consequences of plagiarism in college

Plagiarism in college has serious consequences, even when committed by accident. You can usually find the details of your institution’s plagiarism policy and examples of plagiarism in your code of conduct. If you’re unsure about the specifics, ask your instructor.

If you unintentionally plagiarize and have no previous infractions, you will likely receive a lower grade or automatic zero. You may also be placed on academic probation.

Intentional plagiarism or repeat offenses often lead to suspension or expulsion. Plagiarism may prevent you from graduating and is likely to have long-term consequences for your career.

Level of plagiarism Example Likely consequence
Mild
  • Citing a source in the text but forgetting to add it to your reference list
  • Accidentally using a phrase from a source without quotation marks
Lowered grade or automatic zero
Moderate
  • Copying a passage from a source without quotation marks and only changing a few words
  • Paraphrasing an idea from a source without citing it
Failing grade in the course
Severe
  • Plagiarizing parts of different sources to create a new work and passing it off as your own
  • Submitting a paper written by someone else
Academic probation or expulsion

It’s not just in college that plagiarism is against the rules. It can also have serious consequences in high school and during the college application process. Many high schools treat plagiarism the same way colleges do, and admissions officers will likely automatically disregard your application if you plagiarize any part of it.

What academic institutions have to say about plagiarism

What are the penalties for violating the code?
Academic Integrity Code violations are treated very seriously. The misperceived short-term gain from these acts is not worth the long-term consequences of the penalty.

Sanctions for code violations include loss of credit for the assignment, a failing grade for the course, a permanent notation on the transcript, and dismissal from the university. Second offenses will result in suspension or dismissal from the university.”

Source: American University

“While it is recognized that scholarly work often involves reference to the ideas, data and conclusions of other scholars, intellectual honesty requires that such references be explicitly and clearly noted. Plagiarism is a serious academic offence.”

Source: University of Calgary

“Students accused of academic misconduct may not change registration in the course (e.g., drop the course, change grading option to P/F) while the case is pending, or if a finding of academic misconduct has been made. While the case is being investigated and/or adjudicated, the presumption of innocence means that the student may continue to attend class and receive grades. During that time, however, the student may not receive credit for the course in which the alleged misconduct occurred and may not be graduated.”

Source: University of Michigan

“An instructor who determines that a student has cheated or plagiarized has a range of many options, which may be as severe as giving the student a failing grade for the course. Furthermore, the student may face other penalties as stated in the college’s Student Conduct Policy. Finally, it must be understood that a student who knowingly aids in another student’s cheating e.g., permitting the other student to copy a paper or examination question, is as guilty as the other of the offense.”

Source: Cerro Coso Community College

Avoiding plagiarism in college

To avoid plagiarism and other kinds of academic dishonesty, it’s essential to properly cite your sources in every piece of writing you submit.

Even if you’re confident that you haven’t plagiarized, an online plagiarism checker can identify mistakes like missing citations and paraphrased passages that are too similar to the original text. Services like the Scribbr Plagiarism Checker detect similarities between your paper and a comprehensive database of web and publication content.

Note: Self-plagiarism, where you reuse content from your own past writing without permission or acknowledgement, can also be a problem. Scribbr’s Own Sources Checker allows you to check for this issue by comparing your text against other documents you upload yourself.

Consequences of plagiarism in academia and research

In academia and other research-based professions, plagiarism has serious personal and professional consequences. A credible accusation of plagiarism can irreparably damage your reputation, resulting in a loss of research funding or rescinded consideration for tenure or promotions.

Some academic institutions will even revoke your degree long after you’ve graduated if they discover plagiarism in your thesis or dissertation. Former Hungarian President Pal Schmitt and former Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta were both stripped of doctoral titles retroactively due to plagiarized dissertations.

If you’re an academic or researcher who has committed plagiarism, consequences could include:

  • Retraction of past published works
  • Ban on future contributions to journals
  • Inability to find sponsors to fund your research
  • Loss of tenure-track status

Plagiarism in academia may also have legal consequences, including accusations of copyright infringement and fraud if you do not give proper credit to a co-author.

Many academic journals consider duplicate submission to be plagiarism and have written policies regarding self-plagiarism. If you’re not sure, check the submission guidelines for the journals you are interested in submitting to.

What academic journals have to say about plagiarism

“Submitted articles may be checked with duplication-checking software. Where an article, for example, is found to have plagiarised other work or included third-party copyright material without permission or with insufficient acknowledgement, or where the authorship of the article is contested, we reserve the right to take action including, but not limited to: publishing an erratum or corrigendum (correction); retracting the article; taking up the matter with the head of department or dean of the author’s institution and/or relevant academic bodies or societies; or taking appropriate legal action.”

Source: SAGE Publications

“Redundant publication (also described as ‘salami publishing’) refers to the situation that one study is split into several parts and submitted to two or more journals. Or the findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper cross-referencing, permission or justification. ‘Self-plagiarism’ is considered a form of redundant publication. It concerns recycling or borrowing content from previous work without citation.”

Source: Springer

“Plagiarism can be said to have clearly occurred when large chunks of text have been cut-and-pasted without appropriate and unambiguous attribution. Such manuscripts would not be considered for publication in a Nature Portfolio journal. Aside from wholesale verbatim reuse of text, due care must be taken to ensure appropriate attribution and citation when paraphrasing and summarising the work of others. ‘Text recycling’ or reuse of parts of text from an author’s previous research publication is a form of self-plagiarism.”

Source: Nature

The Complete Guide for Understanding & Avoiding Plagiarism

An all-in-one guide for preventing different kinds of plagiarism. Or you can do the check directly and discover how much plagiarism you have in your document.

Consequences of plagiarism in other professional settings

Plagiarism is not only an academic issue. It is considered a serious professional offense as well. While public figures often bear the most widespread reputation costs for plagiarism, professionals in other fields can also face severe consequences. If you’re found plagiarizing, it could severely limit future job prospects and potentially end your career.

Example: Plagiarism outside academia
Former German Defense Secretary Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg had to resign after it was discovered that he plagiarized sections of his doctoral dissertation from the University of Bayreuth. His doctorate was later revoked, and the scandal completely destroyed his political career. His enduring legacy was his nickname, “Baron zu Googleberg,” the “minister of cut-and-paste.”

Source: CNN

The most serious legal consequence for plagiarism relates to copyright infringement. If you publish plagiarized material, the author of the original text might have legal grounds to sue you. If the author wins, you will have to pay damages, in addition to any legal fees you may incur during the process.

Why is plagiarism so serious?

You might wonder why universities and other organizations impose such serious consequences for plagiarism, even when it’s accidental.

Plagiarism amounts to theft, and there are good reasons for institutions (and for you!) to take it seriously. Plagiarism:

  • Is dishonest: When done deliberately, plagiarism indicates that the person responsible is not honest about their work, which is a problem in any context.
  • Harms the person you’re plagiarizing: It’s easy to see why you wouldn’t want your writing stolen and passed off as someone else’s—especially in publishing.
  • Hinders the learning process: If you’re stealing words and ideas from others, your own creativity is not being tested, and you’re not learning.
  • Obscures the sources of ideas: All academic writing builds on the ideas of others, and it’s important that the reader can clearly trace where those ideas came from.
  • Results in bad writing: Whatever the quality of the text(s) you’re plagiarizing, a paper made up of a patchwork of different unacknowledged sources is usually a mess.

Frequently asked questions

What happens if you plagiarize?

The consequences of plagiarism vary depending on the type of plagiarism and the context in which it occurs. For example, submitting a whole paper by someone else will have the most severe consequences, while accidental citation errors are considered less serious.

If you’re a student, then you might fail the course, be suspended or expelled, or be obligated to attend a workshop on plagiarism. It depends on whether it’s your first offense or whether you’ve done it before.

As an academic or professional, plagiarizing seriously damages your reputation. You might also lose your research funding and/or your job, and you could even face legal consequences for copyright infringement.

Is plagiarism illegal?

Plagiarism has serious consequences, and can indeed be illegal in certain scenarios.

While most of the time plagiarism in an undergraduate setting is not illegal, plagiarism or self-plagiarism in a professional academic setting can lead to legal action, including copyright infringement and fraud. Many scholarly journals do not allow you to submit the same work to more than one journal, and if you do not credit a co-author, you could be legally defrauding them.

Even if you aren’t breaking the law, plagiarism can seriously impact your academic career. While the exact consequences of plagiarism vary by institution and severity, common consequences include: a lower grade, automatically failing a course, academic suspension or probation, or even expulsion.

Why is plagiarism wrong?

Plagiarism is a form of theft, since it involves taking the words and ideas of others and passing them off as your own. As such, it’s academically dishonest and can have serious consequences.

Plagiarism also hinders the learning process, obscuring the sources of your ideas and usually resulting in bad writing. Even if you could get away with it, plagiarism harms your own learning.

Can plagiarism be accidental?

Accidental plagiarism is one of the most common examples of plagiarism. Perhaps you forgot to cite a source, or paraphrased something a bit too closely. Maybe you can’t remember where you got an idea from, and aren’t totally sure if it’s original or not.

These all count as plagiarism, even though you didn’t do it on purpose. When in doubt, make sure you’re citing your sources. Also consider running your work through a plagiarism checker tool prior to submission, which work by using advanced database software to scan for matches between your text and existing texts.

How is plagiarism detected?

Plagiarism can be detected by your professor or readers if the tone, formatting, or style of your text is different in different parts of your paper, or if they’re familiar with the plagiarized source.

Many universities also use plagiarism detection software like Turnitin’s, which compares your text to a large database of other sources, flagging any similarities that come up.

It can be easier than you think to commit plagiarism by accident. Consider using a plagiarism checker prior to submitting your paper to ensure you haven’t missed any citations.

What is self-plagiarism?

Self-plagiarism means recycling work that you’ve previously published or submitted as an assignment. It’s considered academic dishonesty to present something as brand new when you’ve already gotten credit and perhaps feedback for it in the past.

If you want to refer to ideas or data from previous work, be sure to cite yourself.

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Tegan George

Tegan is an American based in Amsterdam, with master's degrees in political science and education administration. While she is definitely a political scientist at heart, her experience working at universities led to a passion for making social science topics more approachable and exciting to students. A well-designed natural experiment is her favorite type of research, but she also loves qualitative methods of all varieties.