Nowadays, Universities are taking plagiarism - using someone else's words or ideas without giving proper credit to the author of the original - very seriously and are fighting against it. In the best-case scenario, teachers may decide to award a 'zero' mark for a paper or a course; in the worst case, Universities may fail the whole degree or expel the student. This article has been written specifically for those students who have been accused of plagiarism, but who believe that they are not guilty. The article offers some advice to such students on how to defend their position. At the same time, it should be noted that the article is provided for information purposes only, as we do not give legal advice. If you seek legal assistance, you should contact your lawyer who would be in a better position to help you.
There is no doubt that plagiarism is a bad practice which not only endangers your own academic standing, but also hampers the process of scientific discovery. In some cases, plagiarism may even lead to legal proceedings if the authors decide that their work is being misused. In the academic context, however, plagiarism is usually viewed not as a legal infringement but as utterly unethical conduct. For this reason, we have prepared a set of recommendations for you to keep in mind should you face plagiarism accusations.
First and foremost, you must NEVER ADMIT Intentional Plagiarism, as that would be suicidal. If you do admit it, your University or College would be able to do whatever they wish, even fail your degree. Generally, there may be two outcomes of the plagiarism detection process. In half of cases, your University will KNOW and subsequently be able to PROVE that you have committed plagiarism. In the other 50% of cases Universities may SUSPECT that you have plagiarised but would not be able to prove it unless you voluntarily admit having plagiarised.
As a rule, Universities can suspect plagiarism based on the following:
a) The language and style of writing you used in the suspected paper differ from those that you normally employ. This is especially applicable to foreign students for whom English is not the first language. Usually, teachers can easily spot the discrepancies, as the text seems too perfect and 'polished' and rich in academic jargon and specialist phraseology. If this is the case, your strategy of defence can be to say that you asked a native speaker to proofread your work before submitting it in order to make it more professional and reader-friendly. This is absolutely legal, especially taking into account the fact that many Universities would penalise English language mistakes. Some even try to say, when caught, that the friend who proofread the paper amended the work and that he or she included some ideas without referencing them. This, however, is a shaky strategy, so you should be careful about using it.
b) The usage of models or resources, which were not taught by your tutor or not available in your library. In this case, your strategy of defence could be to say that you did some additional reading or research and/or have a friend studying in a different University who kindly gave you the otherwise inaccessible materials, books or articles. However, you should always bear in mind that, should the need arise, your tutor or academic commission will certainly be asking you questions regarding the resources that you used to write your paper. You ought therefore to make sure that you can answer such questions by preparing meticulously for the meetings. At least, you should know all the titles used and the authors and what each author said.
However, if it happens that your University can prove that you have plagiarised, there could be several defence strategies, such as:
1) In the process of work, you had several drafts of the paper and, as it turns out, accidentally submitted an incorrect version of the report. You can claim that while the rough drafts were not properly referenced, as they were only written to help you plan the paper and give you the overall guidance, the final version was indeed fully referenced and prepared in strict accordance with the academic requirements. At the end of the day, you are a human being and have the right to be mistaken.
2) Your computer had crashed and because of that all the information in the file where you kept all your drafts and extracts from various resources was converted into plain text, which prevented you from being able to differentiate between the bits written by yourself and those copied from other sources. For this reason, you were enormously confused and, given the urgency of the situation, may have misused the information contained in the corrupted file.
3) You simply forgot to put "quotes". This may happen if you paraphrased other authors' ideas but forgot to provide the references. In this regard, you should always remember that not only direct quotation but also referencing without giving credit constitutes plagiarism. Similarly, you could say that you had written the text for your own purposes, outside the academic curriculum, a few years ago and later decided to use the material for the assignment, sincerely believing that those were your own words, as the pre-written text, created for your own needs, did not contain any references.
4) If it is a matter of just one or two sentences, you can claim that, having read plenty of information on the topic, you internalised certain ideas and started agreeing with them to the extent that they became your own. Therefore, when writing your paper you made use of the ideas sincerely believing that you were expressing your own thoughts on the subject. Again, you are only a human being and everyone has the right to error. As a variation, you could even say that you have a photographic memory and that some ideas just 'stuck' to you so that you inadvertently used them as your own. However, beware that the commission might wish to test your unique abilities!
5) It may happen that a University has not briefed students properly on what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it. Even if oral instructions may be given, these might not be sufficient, as students overwhelmed by enormous amounts of information can easily forget them. As a rule, Universities will usually distribute any guidelines regarding plagiarism in a written form. However, due to organisational inefficiencies, this may not take place. Should this be the case, you could claim innocence on the basis of ignorance, i.e. not having been informed in due course of the concept and forms of plagiarism and its potential consequences. You should, nevertheless, always double-check if the materials have not indeed been distributed before resorting to this strategy.
6) If you are accused of submitting a paper obtained from an essay bank, a service that provides pre-written papers to students, your best defence would be to admit the fact but claim that you had written the paper yourself and then sold or donated it to the essay bank. In other words, you were not using anyone else's ideas but your own, as the paper found in the essay bank is your creation. In most cases, it would be problematic for Universities to disprove that, as they would have to know the exact date when the coursework was sold to the essay bank, which would require co-operation and good will from the companies. The latter, however, are usually rather cautious in such matters.
Sometimes, you may also realise that you have plagiarised, even before getting the feedback from your tutor. In that case, it would be wise to approach your tutor immediately and tell him that you submitted an incorrect copy of the paper. Try to contact him about it by e-mail so that you have some material evidence in case you might need it to support your position. Finally, you should always remember that, whatever you do, you need to remain cool, calm and collected at the meeting with the tutor or commission. Be confident, determined but always polite, as arrogant behaviour will only do you disservice.
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