Academic Dishonesty: Why Do Students Plagiarize?

“While some students knowingly choose to plagiarize, viewing plagiarism as simply an integrity issue is not helpful in many cases.”

Southern Africa-Indian Ocean March 3, 2022

Plagiarism is a serious form of academic dishonesty and can have consequences for students both in school and in their future lives as workers. Northern Illinois University points out that “good academic work must be based on honesty. Promoting honesty in academic work requires understanding its definition, its different types, and its causes and consequences.” An essential part of this understanding is understanding the reasons for student plagiarism.
Olutula found that students plagiarize due to:

  • Inadequate level at which students are taught the rudiments of writing scholarly papers
  • Ignorance about the rules guiding scholarly writing
  • Demographic, individual, and situational factors: students who are male, younger, or have low GPAs are more likely to plagiarize
  • Lack of language proficiency
  • Attitude toward plagiarism
  • Unprecedented availability of large amounts of materials on the internet.

Students who plagiarize can be separated into three basic groups based on their level of knowledge about plagiarism.

  • Very Little Knowledge. These students are often high school students who are plagiarizing innocently because research is new to them. In some cases, teachers may have little or no research experience or not realize that students need to be taught about plagiarism directly. Plagiarism in this group is primarily about ignorance and can be greatly reduced by increasing their knowledge of the expectations of academic research.
  • Some Knowledge: Students in this category are often working on undergraduate degrees. As students advance in college, their high school research ignorance will dwindle. Plagiarism for this group is generally a combination of ignorance and carelessness.
  • Full Knowledge: Students in this category are often working on advanced degree programs. They have done a lot of research and know what is expected of them. Their research teachers have extensive writing and research experience and ensure that students have this knowledge as well. Plagiarism with this group primarily comes from carelessness.

Looking at these three groups shows that plagiarism is often a shared responsibility between students and their schools and teachers. While some students knowingly choose to plagiarize, viewing plagiarism as simply an integrity issue is not helpful in many cases. Luckily, there are several steps a school can take to reduce plagiarism based on carelessness or lack of knowledge:

  • Have standard admission criteria, including language proficiency testing, that can reveal some of these weaknesses so that they can be addressed at the very beginning of the students’ academic careers.
  • Introduce the students to research integrity at the same time as you introduce them to research.
  • Consistently remind students of the importance of time management so that students do not end up plagiarizing because they are trying to write papers quickly.
  • Work with teachers to create institutional expectations for how academic honesty is understood and taught and for consequences that befall dishonest students.

By working with students and making sure that they have the knowledge and skills necessary to
avoid plagiarism, we can minimize plagiarism and provide our students with valuable research
skills they will need throughout their lives.


Athanase Rutebuka

Rutebuka has a PhD in Educational Administration and Supervision – Andrews University. He served as Interim President of Ethiopia Adventist College (2013-2015), Africa. Associate Professor; currently serving as Head of the Department of Management. Is author of "School Violence and Unspoken Messages to Children: The Remedy Is In Your Hands" (2001) and "My Story" (2010), a book that tells the story of a church established and developed under difficult circumstances.

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