Parent Alert: Could Your Child be Plagiarizing Homework?

shutterstock_565598083“Borrowed thoughts, like borrowed money, only show the poverty of the borrower.” ~Lady Marguerite Blessington

Most of us would gasp if we received a call that our child cheated on his or her Algebra test by looking at another student’s paper. But did you know there’s another form of cheating going on in schools today that is just as destructive to students? Hastened by easy Internet access to information and a culture of social sharing, plagiarism is a practice that could be costing students big time. (And hey, adults aren’t immune from the practice as recent headlines have alleged).

In a survey of 24,000 students at 70 high schools, Donald McCabe of Rutgers University found that 64 percent of students admitted to cheating on a test, 58 percent admitted to plagiarism and 95 percent said they participated in some form of cheating, be it was on a test, plagiarism, or copying homework.

Defining the problem

The classroom has forever morphed. The wooden card catalogs we relied on to help us research our term papers are extinct. Today’s digital catalog consists of the vast, deep, endless cyber miles of the Internet. Students now have a self-perpetuating universe of information, resources, and learning at their fingertips. So, there’s a reasonable chance that many of digital natives don’t even understand they are plagiarizing information they gather online.

What constitutes plagiarism?

The Yale Center for Teaching and Learning defines plagiarism this way:

Plagiarism is the use of another’s work, words, or ideas without attribution. The word “plagiarism” comes from the Latin word for “kidnapper” and is considered a form of theft, a breach of honesty in the academic community. Plagiarism takes many forms, but it falls into three main categories: 1) using a source’s language without quoting, 2) using information from a source without attribution, and 3) paraphrasing a source in a form that stays too close to the original.

According to, plagiarism also includes the following:

  • turning in someone else’s work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules)

5 Ways to Avoid Plagiarism

  1. Plan out your paper. Planning is the most important step students can take to avoid plagiarism. Creating an outline, listing resources, reviewing notes, and even talking through the topic with another person will strengthen the planning process and build a student’s confidence.shutterstock_509975221
  2. Create a strong thesis. Looking at a blank page can strike panic in a student and increase the temptation to plagiarize. Creating a thesis statement, a paper’s central idea that formulates an argument, will help define the boundaries between ideas and researched sources.
  3. Give credit where credit is due. Be sure to make it clear who said what, and give credit to the correct person when writing. This can be done by using quotes, inserting names of authors, and citing sources. Also, because the Internet houses so many resources that vary in quality, be sure your sources are credible. Use the Web Page Evaluation Criteria to verify your resources.
  4. Paraphrase properly. A paraphrase is a restatement of someone else’s ideas in your words and is acceptable as long as a student does it properly. Students need help learning how to paraphrase correctly, but once they understand it, they will gain confidence in their work.
  5. Be informed. Take the time to review the basics of plagiarism with your kids. This video on Paraphrasing from Imagine Easy Solutions on Vimeo is an excellent five-minute primer that will help your kids understand the basics.

Family conversation starters:shutterstock_566384944

Teachers know. Ask a teacher, and you’ll find out they know when students plagiarize. They have been at this a very long time and recognize academic phrasing, tone, and style.

Gaps in learning are costly. Every assignment is an opportunity to learn that will only benefit you as a person. If you skip that opportunity by using someone else’s ideas, you forfeit real knowledge, and more importantly, you forfeit your chance to use your own voice in the learning process.

Consequences can be serious. Depending on the teacher, the school policy, and the level of education, punishment for plagiarism can be severe, ranging from a failed grade to a one-day suspension, to expulsion from a private school or university. In the adult world, you can add firing, public humiliation, and legacy marring to that list.

Plagiarism is stealing. Using someone else’s work without attribution is stealing. And, when plagiarism becomes commonplace, the lines of right and wrong can blur in other areas. Think of it this way: If you can get away with stealing one cookie, why not steal a dozen the next time? And, if you can successfully steal a dozen cookies, why not pick up a gallon of milk from my neighbor’s house as well? It’s critical to teach our digital kids that words and ideas have enormous value and personal integrity is priceless.

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).

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