Samples of Research Papers: To Use Or Not To Use?

Online, there are many sample research papers that can readily be accessed for free or in return for a nominal fee. These papers vary in provenance and quality and are incredibly numerous. The majority of students have come across these sample papers at one time or another in their academic careers, whether intentionally or not, and many students eventually end up using research paper samples in their own assignments.

How Do Other Students Use Sample Papers?

Research paper samples can be used in a number of ways, some of which are perfectly ethical, and some of which are highly suspect and risky. Some students read sample papers to generate ideas or to provide a template for their own writing (this is generally considered acceptable and ethical). Other students cut small passages out of sample papers and insert them in their own works (which qualifies as plagiarism). Some students even copy sample papers entirely and turn them in as their own work (which is also plagiarism).

When Is It OK To Use Sample Papers?

Officially, the line is pretty clear: it is acceptable, under most university policies, to read a sample essay and take inspiration for it. It is also perfectly ethical to read a paper, review its citations, and use those citations in your own work. However, copying any portion of a research paper and turning it in as your own work is considered academically dishonest. It doesn’t matter if you steal a few sentences, a clause, a paragraph, or an entire paper -- if you steal another writer’s ideas and package them as your own, you may be recognized as a plagiarist and punished.

How is Plagiarism Detected?

Most universities now use online scanning software such as TurnItIn to review every paper students submit. These software programs compare the text of each essay against a massive word bank of previously published and previously submitted essays -- including essays turned in by other students in the past. If a portion of your paper is too similar to another paper, you will be flagged by the software and considered guilty of plagiarism by your university’s ethics board or dean of students.

How Is Plagiarism Punished?

Check your own university’s handbook or student code of conduct to be certain about how academic dishonesty is handled. In most cases, your instructor has the right to flunk you on the plagiarized assignment at the very least; often, you can receive a failing grade in the entire course. Severe or repeated incidents are punishable by academic suspension or expulsion. Take all of these factors into account before using a sample paper in one of your classes.