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
  • Failing your course
  • Disciplinary action
  • Suspension or expulsion from your university

Apart from the immediate consequences, being caught plagiarising can have long-term effects on your academic or professional record and jeopardise 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 likely 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 plagiarise and have no previous infractions, then you will likely receive a lower mark 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.

While each academic institution handles plagiarism differently, the consequences are often similar.

Level of plagiarism Examples Likely consequence
  • 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 mark or automatic zero
  • 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 mark on the course
  • Plagiarising 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

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

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

What academic institutions have to say about plagiarism

‘The University regards plagiarism in examinations as a serious matter. Cases will be investigated and penalties may range from deduction of marks to expulsion from the University, depending on the seriousness of the occurrence. Even if plagiarism is inadvertent, it can result in a penalty.’

University of Oxford

‘Plagiarism is dealt with very severely. All students suspected of plagiarism will be subject to an investigation. If found guilty, possible penalties include permanent withdrawal from the University.

‘If you are suspected of plagiarism, your school will hold a meeting where your case will be heard. If you admit the offence and it is deemed to be minor and a first offence, your penalty will be agreed by the school. If the case is more serious, or is not your first offence, your case will be referred to the Committee on Applications.’

University of Leeds

‘Any suspected cases of plagiarism will be investigated by the University. This might involve initially being interviewed by the Examiners and Proctors and could ultimately lead to suspension from the University or failure.’

University of Cambridge

‘Plagiarism of any kind is not acceptable and is contrary to the Code of Student Conduct.

‘The Code also sets out what action can be taken against those who have breached the Code – this can include a reduced mark or a penalty grade H (effectively a ‘zero’). Grade H for a core course or a core piece of work can mean you are unable to complete your degree.’

University of Glasgow

Plagiarism isn’t just against the rules at university. It can also have serious consequences in secondary school and when you are going through the university application process. Schools often treat plagiarism the same way universities do, and a university application will likely be automatically rejected if it’s found to be plagiarised.

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 permanent positions 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 plagiarised dissertations.

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

  • Retraction of past published works
  • Banning of future contributions to journals
  • Inability to find sponsors to fund your research

Plagiarism in academia may also have legal consequences, including copyright infringement and fraud if you do not give proper credit to a coauthor. 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 plagiarized 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.’ – 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.’ – 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 summarizing 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.’ Nature

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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 significant reputation costs for plagiarism, professionals in other fields can also face severe consequences. If you’re caught plagiarising, it could severely limit future job prospects and potentially end your career.

Example: Professional consequences of plagiarism
Former German Defence Secretary Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg had to resign after it was discovered that he plagiarised 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’. – CNN

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

Frequently asked questions about plagiarism

What happens if I plagiarise?

The consequences of plagiarism vary depending on the type of plagiarism and the context in which it occurs. For example, submitting a whole essay by someone else will usually have 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 offence or you’ve done it before.

As an academic or professional, plagiarising 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 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 coauthor, 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, and even expulsion.

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 plagiarised 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 essay 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.

Can plagiarism be accidental?

Accidental plagiarism is one of the most common types 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 referencing your sources. Also consider running your work through a plagiarism checker tool prior to submission. These tools work by using advanced database software to scan for matches between your text and existing texts.

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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.

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