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What is Systematic Plagiarism?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Systematic plagiarism is plagiarism which is repeated consistently, and usually deliberately. This is in contrast with a single incidence of ordinary plagiarism, or accidental plagiarism, in which a writer simply doesn't understand that he or she has committed plagiarism. Systematic plagiarism is a problem for some academic institutions, as well as newspapers; in the early 21st century, several newspapers including prominent publications like the Washington Post were rocked by plagiarism scandals involving formerly well-respected journalists.

Plagiarism involves passing off someone's ideas as one's own. This can involve the direct use of someone's words without a proper citation, or it can involve a more abstract theft of ideas without appropriate credit. There are several reasons why plagiarism is viewed as harmful. From the point of view of the original author, plagiarism takes away from the credit of his or her accomplishments, and it can have a financial impact as well. For people evaluating plagiarized work, plagiarism makes the entire piece suspect, because it suggests that the author did not take the time to perform thoughtful research and come up with independent ideas.

Many people plagiarize by accident at some point during their careers, and typically allowances are made for this; it's easy to accidentally lift someone's words when working late on an academic paper or throwing together a news story in a hurry, for example. If someone is accused of plagiarism in a professional or academic setting, he or she may be given an opportunity for self-defense, to explain how the plagiarism occurs. If the plagiarism is repeated, however, the plagiarist may come under suspicion, and he or she may be accused of systematic plagiarism.

Sometimes, a case of systematic plagiarism isn't uncovered until well after the fact. Long-term plagiarism, when done in a stealthy way, can be tricky to detect, and when it is revealed, it can cost someone his or her career. In the case of newspapers, systematic plagiarism doesn't just end the career of the journalist involved; it also casts aspersions upon the management of the paper, as they are held responsible for not catching the plagiarism earlier.

Academic institutions, newspapers, and other professional settings which require the submission of written work usually have very strict policies about plagiarism. As a general rule, plagiarism policies dictate that several warnings will be provided before serious disciplinary action is taken, and plagiarists may be required to take a remedial class so that they understand how to use sources correctly. If a writer proves to be a systematic plagiarist, expulsion is likely, along with a black mark in the academic or professional record of the plagiarist.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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