The hidden threat in every course: avoiding plagiarism throughout your studies

Have you ever skipped through that final section of regulations in every course manual or syllabus you read? Yeah, me too. It always ends with a section about plagiarism that contains daunting phrases about immediately failing a course or even being expelled from your program.

We all know that we’re not allowed to plagiarise and the availability of plagiarism checker software makes sure that it’s very hard to get away with as well, should you wish to try to cheat your way through.

Yet, despite the presence of the subject throughout study-related documents, many students don’t exactly know what plagiarism is and what is and isn’t allowed. Therefore plagiarism is often committed by accident.

What exactly is plagiarism?

According to the Oxford Dictionary plagiarism is “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.” This means that copying and pasting without referring to the source is not allowed. But also paraphrasing, summarising or directly translating someone else’s work without referencing the original author is illegal. You should therefore be sure that your references are on point.

How much plagiarism can my paper contain?

The answer is simple: none. As plagiarism software recognises similarities, not actual plagiarism, percentages from plagiarism software are often as high as 10%. This does not mean that the document contains 10% plagiarism, but that it contains 10% similarities. This created an understanding amongst students that 5-10% plagiarism is allowed. However, none of the similarities in your document are allowed to be plagiarism.

Preventing plagiarism

The first step in preventing plagiarism is not copy-pasting. If you want to use someone else’s work, be sure to directly write it in your own words or summarize it. If you still want to directly copy the text, make sure to clearly mark the section. In every case you immediately write down the source(s) next to the section.

Secondly, you make sure that your work contains your own addition. Simply combining the work of other authors, without adding in your own input is also considered plagiarism, even if you refer to the source(s).

Finally, you make sure that your references are correct. Work with the reference style that your degree requires, or at least make sure that you are consistent. Examples of widely used reference styles are APA, MLA and Harvard. To make sure that you’re referencing correctly you can use a tool like the APA Reference Generator.

A plagiarism checker: your final reassurance

Generally, you won’t have much to worry about if you haven’t copy-pasted anything and kept track of your sources. However, better safe than sorry. Especially when writing longer papers or even a thesis you don’t want to take the risk of having plagiarised.

There are several free plagiarism checkers available, but their algorithms work poorly and some even sell your document to third parties. We advise you to spend some money and use a paid plagiarism checker to be sure that you won’t be surprised with an unexpected result.


Leon (25)
Works for Scribbr