Imagine the following scenario. You are a college student, and it is finals week. You have 2 research papers to write, a speech to prepare, a group project to complete, and a final exam to study for. You are working on everything simultaneously, getting only a few hours of sleep each night, and feeling a bit bleary eyed from staring at a computer monitor for hours each day. In the process of this work, you paraphrase a published article that you used in your research for one of the papers, but you forget to include a citation. You do not catch the omission in your revisions, and you turn in the paper expecting a good grade. A week later, you receive an email from your professor telling you that you have plagiarized your paper. What do you do now?
It is finals time in schools across the U.S., and the above scenario is completely plausible. Although we hope that you have been carefully citing all of your sources and taking ample notes to avoid accidental plagiarism in your papers, this article will give you some advice on how to respond if you are accused of plagiarizing your work. This advice is not intended for cases of intentional plagiarism such as using another student’s paper or purchasing a paper online. Intentional plagiarism is highly unethical and if you are reading this, we hope that it is not something that you will ever consider doing. This advice is intended for cases of true accidental plagiarism.
Unintentional or accidental plagiarism occurs when you do not give proper credit to another author for words or ideas used in your work. This may occur because of sloppy note taking where you do not remember if the notes are quotes, summaries, or your own ideas. It also may occur because you did not fully understand the rules of the citation style you were using. Your best defense against unintentional plagiarism is to have a solid understanding of the citation rules for the style you are using (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.), to take careful notes of direct quotes and summaries, and to consider using an online plagiarism checker such as academicplagiarism.com.
If you are surprised to hear of the plagiarism accusations, you have possibly committed accidental plagiarism. The first thing to remember is to keep calm so that you can respond in a clear-headed manner without getting overly emotional. Request a meeting with the professor in order to look at the paper together or ask to see a copy the paper with the plagiarism highlighted. You can then check the paper against your notes to find the original source. You should also re-read the course syllabus and school handbooks to learn what the institutional plagiarism policies are. These may be found within the policies on academic integrity or there may be a separate plagiarism policy. Educating yourself on the policies will help you to know what your rights are. For a first offense of apparent accidental plagiarism, you may be given an opportunity to correct the mistakes and resubmit the paper, although in this case, the grade may be lowered. However, depending on the policies of the professor or of the school, you may have stricter penalties such as failure of the assignment or class. Typically, in a case such as this, the incident will be resolved between you and your professor. If it is not, you may seek a more formal review process with the chair of the department or other school administrators, such as the academic dean.
A first offense of accidental plagiarism does not typically signal the end of your academic career. However, you must be vigilant moving forward as any subsequent plagiarism accusations will likely come with much steeper penalties. You must educate yourself on proper citation rules, take careful notes so that you do not unintentionally plagiarize again due to sloppy note keeping, and consider using an online plagiarism detector such as academicplagiarism.com. You may wish to read this previous post about selecting a trustworthy plagiarism detector.
Intentional plagiarism is a different situation and will very likely come with more severe penalties. Before making the unwise decision to submit a paper that has been intentionally plagiarized, think of the consequences and consider your alternatives. You can talk to your professor about an extension. Even if turning the paper in late comes with a reduced grade, it is better than failing a class or even getting dismissed from school over intentional plagiarism. If an extension is not an option, failing the assignment is still probably a better choice than the consequences that may come your way if you are caught plagiarizing. Keep in mind that nearly all colleges and universities, even some high schools, use plagiarism checkers, and it is highly unlikely that you will not be caught. Knowingly plagiarizing is risking your academic career as well as your future professional career.