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Plagiarism: Definitions, Examples and Penalties
Department of Chemistry
University of Toronto


The University of Toronto defines plagiarism and other academic offences in Section B of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters.

As indicated in the following information, plagiarism is more than simply copying someone else's laboratory report. Possible penalties for academic offences such as plagiarism range from a mark of zero for the entire laboratory component of a course to suspension from the University for one year.

The salient points of the Code are discussed here. Emphasis is added to the sections which students should pay particular attention.


All academic work, written or otherwise, submitted by students to their instructors or other academic supervisors, is expected to be the result of their own thought, research, or self-expression. In cases where students feel unsure about a question of plagiarism involving their work, they are obliged to consult their instructors on the matter before submission.

A student is guilty of plagiarism when they submit work purporting to be their own but which, in any way, borrows ideas, organization, wording or anything else from another source without appropriate acknowledgment of the fact.

Plagiarism includes reproducing someone else's work, whether it is a laboratory report from a friend, a published article, a chapter of a book, web site material, or whatever. Plagiarism also includes the practice of employing or allowing another person to alter or revise the work that a student submits as his/her own, whoever that other person may be. Students may discuss (for example) laboratory experimental data among themselves or with an instructor, teaching assistant or tutor, but when the actual report is written, it must be done by the student, and the student alone.

When a student's assignment involves research of outside sources or information, the student must carefully acknowledge exactly what, where and how he/she has employed them. If the words of someone else are used, the student must put quotation marks around the passage in question and add an appropriate indication of its origin. Making simple changes while leaving the organization, content and phraseology intact represents an act of plagiarism.


Below are some cases representing acts of plagiarism. This list is by no means complete, but simply contains the most common occurrences and misperceptions about plagiarism. If you have any doubt whatsoever whether your use of materials constitutes plagiarism, consult with your course instructor and/or teaching assistant before you submit the laboratory report or assignment.

Case 1: Submitting Someone Else's Work

ALL work submitted must be your own, even if you worked with a laboratory partner, unless specified otherwise by the instructor. Here are a few of the more common examples:

  • Copying someone's laboratory report or assignment and turning it in as your own. This is easily detected and is harshly punished. Whatever you submit for grading must be your own work. Note that copying, or using as a template, the laboratory report of a classmate in the corridor immediately prior to submission constitutes plagiarism and will not be tolerated.
  • Identical passages in laboratory reports or assignments. You and your laboratory partner (unless otherwise indicated) must prepare independent, individual laboratory reports and assignments. ALL aspects of the written material should differ. In the case of laboratory reports, the Experimental Section should differ because you need to express what you did in your own words.
  • Copying or using a laboratory report or assignment from a previous semester. Direct copying or even using an old laboratory report as a template are violations. Contrary to what you may think, this is also easily detected. Students have unique writing styles that can be easily spotted. In addition, some instructors photocopy old laboratory reports at random for reference purposes. Note that copying, or using as a template, the laboratory report of a previous student in the corridor immediately prior to submission constitutes plagiarism and will not be tolerated.
  • Submitting someone else's computer input/output as your own. Laboratory reports or assignments that require you to generate computer input or output files are usually assigned on an individual basis. Copying another student's files or printouts is plagiarism. If you work on the laboratory report or assignment with a lab partner, you must BOTH have made a contribution to the work done on the computer one person can not do it and simply give it to his/her partner.

Case 2: Rewording a Sentence (Paraphrasing)

This is one of the most common mistakes that students make. You cannot simply reword a sentence. This is best illustrated by an example. Consider the following sentence from Synthesis and Technique in Inorganic Chemistry (G. S. Girolami, T. B. Rauchfuss and R. J. Angelici):

"Those complexes that contain unpaired electrons are attracted into a magnetic field and are said to be paramagnetic, while those with no unpaired electrons are repelled by such a field and are called diamagnetic"

The following permutations are unacceptable changes in wording:

  • "Complexes that contain unpaired electrons are those that are attracted to a magnetic field. These are called paramagnetic, while those with no unpaired electrons are repelled by a magnetic field and are said to be diamagnetic."
  • "Those complexes that contain paired electrons are repelled by a magnetic field and are said to be diamagnetic, whereas those with no paired electrons are attracted to such a field and are called paramagnetic."
  • "Compounds that have unpaired electrons are attracted to a magnetic field and are called paramagnetic. Compounds with no unpaired electrons are repelled by this field and are said to be diamagnetic."

Sometimes there is no good way to make the sentence substantially different and still convey the information with the same effectiveness. It is perhaps OK to do this once or twice in a laboratory report or assignment, but certainly no more than that. Remember, the wording must be your own! Express information in your own words.

Remember: Paraphrasing is Plagiarism!!! 

Case 3: Direct Copying from Original Sources

Typically, this involves using one or more sentences verbatim (word-for-word) from your original source. If you copy your source text you must put the passage in quotation marks. This includes material taken from a web site. However, extensive quoting of this nature is generally frowned upon in scientific writing and indicates that you have made little original contribution to the work.

Do not be fooled into thinking that you can copy sentences from textbooks, journal articles or web sites and get away with it. The shift in your writing style is often quite obvious as is the ease with which you suddenly start discussing unfamiliar terms or concepts. Your instructors are very familiar with the common sources of information on each subject.

The best way to avoid accidental copying (it is a still a violation whether you meant to or not), is to read the passage and then express it in your own words . Afterwards, compare your text to the original and make sure that they are sufficiently different. Take care to avoid paraphrasing (simple rewording, see Case 2).

Case 4: Direct Copying from Original Sources, but with Footnotes

Assembling sentences or passages from various documents and putting a footnote at the end of each sentence or paragraph is still plagiarism. None of the words in the passage are your own (and probably very little of the organization, too).

Consider: One could not copy a $120 text, put a footnote after each sentence and then sell it as his or her original textbook for $60. Likewise, you can not do the same with a laboratory report or other assignment.

Case 5: Borrowing Organization

This is also fairly common because many introductions, for example, tend to follow the same pattern of organization. However, beyond the first sentence or two, there is plenty of room for divergence.

Avoid the trap of following the organization and content of your source too closely by making sure that you collate the ideas to be presented and then express them in your own fashion. You may still follow elements of another author's organization, but make sure that you haven't copied sentences verbatim (Case 3) or paraphrased the original work (Case 2).

Case 6: Failing to Reference/Footnote Source Material

Any time you present a new fact that is not immediately obvious to someone in the field (or at your level of knowledge), you should provide a footnote reference to the source material. Ideally, this will be a reference to the primary literature (usually a scientific journal or sometimes a book).

Some examples of items that need to be referenced/footnoted:

  • Data obtained by other researchers such as the melting point of a chemical compound.
  • Any sentence or passage that is used verbatim or paraphrased. Caution: do not overuse this option
    (see Case 3 above).
  • Concepts, ideas or conclusions that are not intuitively obvious and are not your own.
  • Drawings, charts, graphs etc. that you copied from elsewhere.
  • Laboratory procedures followed; usually your laboratory manual or an original research article.
  • Almost anything else that is not your own work.

Statements such as "benzene is an aromatic compound" do not need to be footnoted, but something such as "toluene is an aromatic compound that has been shown to be more reactive than benzene in electrophilic aromatic substitution reactions" requires a footnote. In the previous example the phrase "has been shown" should elicit the response "BY WHOM???" Whenever you can ask a question like this, you probably need to footnote.

To summarize: If it isn't your work and/or you aren't sure what to do, footnote it. Ask your instructor BEFORE you turn in the work.


The University clearly defines the procedures that are to be followed when an instructor encounters a case of possible plagiarism. Please note that instructors and Department Chairs are obligated to follow through on such suspicions. Section C of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Mattersshould be consulted for more information.


"How Not To Plagiarize" - Dr. Margaret Procter, Writing at the University of Toronto:

Academic Integrity at the University of Toronto:


Material in this document is taken from the University of Kentucky Chemistry Department web site (www.chem.uky.edu) with written permission of the author (Rob Toreki, rob@ilpi.com).