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Programming & Plagiarism: What is Plagiarism?

A guide to computer programming ethics, plagiarism, and intellectual property.

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of taking or copying ideas or words without clearly acknowledging the source of information. Using a direct quote, paraphrasing or editing a sentence, or even copying from your own assignment can be considered cheating under the Student Code of Conduct and Due Process (Policy 04:02:00).

What Does this Mean for Computer Programmers?

Plagiarism in Computer Science can be a difficult concept to understand. Almost all computer programs contain ideas or short sections of code borrowed from elsewhere. But does that make it ethical to copy code without giving credit in your assignment? Or is there an alternative way to write your code correctly?

Writing a program is much like writing a paper. A significant amount of creativity is involved, and many of the same rules apply regarding copyright and intellectual property. In the classroom, you should consider:

  • What are the rules on using outside source code? 
  • What are the rules on teamwork?
  • How do you cite borrowed code? 

Takes Steps to Avoid Plagiarism

  1. Code in a Clean Room: During a work in progress, physically separate your original code from anything you copy. No unoriginal text should be added to your work without immediately providing a citation.
  2. Comment Thoroughly: Every programming language has a means of inserting comments into code. It is a simple way to show what is and is not original work. Good comments will also illustrate a thorough understanding of what was written to your instructor.
  3. Use Original Text: Whenever possible, ensure that your variable, class, and other names are original. Your instructor will notice if more than one student has submitted the same variables, sequence of programming statements, or even comments. 
  4. Always do the work yourself!