And how to avoid it - a guide for ESL learners

Do you plagiarize?

Plagiarism is an illegal form of copying. It means taking another person's work (without asking) and calling it your own. Plagiarism can be accidental or intentional. Copying an entire essay or story and calling it your own is plagiarism. Copying one sentence word-for-word without "quotations" is also plagiarism. Whether you hand it in to a teacher, or post it in your blog, plagiarism is against the law in most nations.

Examples of plagiarism

Why do English learners copy?

Here are some common excuses English learners use:

There are two main reasons why plagiarism is taken so seriously in the academic world:

  1. Authors and artists work very hard to create original work. They deserve the credit.
  2. Teachers want to know that students understand their research. Copying requires almost no effort.

International plagiarism

Most countries have copyright laws. In places like North America, plagiarism is taken very seriously. Students learn about plagiarism at an early age, and teachers in high schools and universities rarely accept any excuses for copying.

In some countries, the idea of "intellectual property" is not valued. Students from poor countries (or places where the government has a lot of control) may not understand the idea of an author owning his words or a photographer owning his photo.

There is no excuse for international students to plagiarize in a foreign country, however. It is important to understand and respect the copyright rules of the author or artist's country.

Reasons not to plagiarize

Even though most ESL or EFL teachers will not accept any of the excuses above, many students are tempted to plagiarize. Teachers are trained to recognize plagiarism. Most importantly, they know the level of their students. Learners who intentionally plagiarize will likely get caught.

Here are more reasons not to plagiarize:

Copying from the Internet

Text on the Internet is no different than text in a book or newspaper. Anything that another person writes, including email, is copyright protected. Internet plagiarism often involves copying text or images from websites, blogs, forums and social media sites.

Myth: "The Internet is a public domain."
Not true! Most Internet content, including images, is protected by copyright. You need permission to use it. You also need to credit the author or creator.

Copying from the Internet is very easy to do. It is also easy for teachers to catch. Teachers who suspect plagiarism can check the Internet for exact wording by doing a simple search.

The World Wide Web is a growing international community. It loses its reputation when copyright rules are broken.

Getting caught for plagiarizing

The punishment for plagiarizing can be very severe. Some teachers will give you a second chance if your form of copying was unintentional. Many teachers have a strict policy and will not accept any excuses.

Students, job applicants, and even politicians have been caught plagiarizing. When you put research into your own words and acknowledge your sources, everybody wins.