Accused of plagiarism? Read How to create your plagiarism defense strategy

Today, universities take plagiarism (using someone else’s words or ideas without giving due credit to the original author) very seriously and are fighting against it. In the best of cases, professors may decide to award a grade of ‘zero’ for a paper or course; in the worst case, the Universities may fail the entire degree or expel the student. This article has been written specifically for those students who have been accused of plagiarism, but who believe they are not guilty. The article offers some advice to these students on how to defend their position. At the same time, it should be noted that the article is provided for informational purposes only, as we do not provide legal advice. If you seek legal assistance, you should contact your attorney, who would be in a better position to help you.

There is no doubt that plagiarism is a bad practice that not only jeopardizes your own academic standing, but also hinders the process of scientific discovery. In some cases, plagiarism can even lead to legal proceedings if the authors decide that their work is being misused. However, in the academic context, plagiarism is generally viewed not as a legal offense but as totally unethical conduct. For this reason, we have prepared a series of recommendations for you to consider in case you face accusations of plagiarism.

First of all, you should NEVER ADMIT to intentional plagiarism, as it would be suicidal. If she admits it, her university or college could do whatever she wants, including failing her degree. Generally, there can be two outcomes of the plagiarism detection process. In half of the cases, your University WILL KNOW and will later be able to PROVE that you have committed plagiarism. In the other 50% of cases, universities may SUSPECT that you have plagiarized, but they will not be able to prove it unless you voluntarily admit to plagiarism.

As a general rule, universities may suspect plagiarism based on the following:

a) The language and style of writing you used in the suspect article differs from what you normally use. This is especially applicable to foreign students for whom English is not the first language. Inconsistencies are usually easy for teachers to spot as the text seems too perfect and ‘polished’ and rich in academic jargon and specialist phraseology. If this is the case, your defense strategy may be to say that you asked a native speaker to review her work before submitting it to make it more professional and readable. This is absolutely legal, especially considering the fact that many universities would penalize English language errors. Some even try to say, when caught, that the friend who reviewed the article modified it and that he or she included some ideas without referencing them. This, however, is an unstable strategy, so you need to be careful when using it.

b) The use of models or resources, which were not taught by your tutor or are not available in your library. In this case, your defense strategy might be to say that you did some additional reading or research and/or that you have a friend studying at another university who kindly gave you the otherwise inaccessible materials, books, or articles. However, you should always keep in mind that, if necessary, your tutor or academic commission will surely be asking you questions about the resources you used to write your work. Therefore, you must ensure that you can answer such questions by preparing thoroughly for meetings. At the very 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 plagiarized, there could be several defense strategies, such as:

1) In the process of working, you had several drafts of the document, and as a result, you accidentally sent the wrong version of the report. He can state that while the drafts were not properly referenced, as they were only written to help you plan the paper and provide general guidance, the final version was fully referenced and prepared in strict accordance with academic requirements. After all, you are a human being and you have the right to be wrong.

2) Your computer had crashed and so all the information in the file where you kept all your drafts and excerpts from various resources turned into plain text, making it impossible for you to tell the difference between the bits you wrote and those copied from other sources. For this reason, you were greatly confused, and given the urgency of the situation, you may have misused the information contained in the corrupted file.

3) You just forgot to put “quotes”. This can happen if you paraphrased other authors’ ideas but forgot to provide the references. In this regard, you should always remember that not only direct citation but also referencing without giving credit constitutes plagiarism. Similarly, you could say that you had written the text for your own purposes, outside of the academic curriculum, some years ago and then decided to use the material for the assignment, sincerely believing that those were your own words, since the prewritten text, created for your own needs, did not contain any references.

4) If it is one or two sentences, you can affirm that, having read a lot of information on the subject, you internalized certain ideas and began to agree with them to the extent that they became yours. Therefore, in writing his article he made use of the ideas sincerely believing that he was expressing his own thoughts on the subject. Again, you are only human and everyone has the right to be wrong. As a variation, you could even say that you have a photographic memory and that some ideas just “rubbed off” on you so that you inadvertently used them as your own. Beware though, the commission might want to put your unique skills to the test!

5) It may happen that a University has not adequately informed students about what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it. Even if oral instructions can be given, these may not be enough, as students overwhelmed by huge amounts of information can easily forget them. As a general rule, universities usually distribute the guidelines regarding plagiarism in writing. However, due to organizational inefficiencies, this may not take place. If so, he could claim innocence due to ignorance, that is, not having been informed in due time of the concept and forms of plagiarism and its possible consequences. However, you should always double check if the materials have not been distributed before resorting to this strategy.

6) If you are accused of submitting work obtained from an essay bank, a service that provides pre-written work to students, your best defense would be to admit the fact but claim that you wrote the work yourself and then sold or donated it to the essay bank. In other words, you weren’t using anyone else’s ideas but your own, since the work on the test bench is your creation. In most cases, it would be problematic for universities to refute that, since they would have to know the exact date the course work was sold to the test bench, which would require the cooperation and goodwill of the companies. The latter, however, are usually quite cautious in these matters.

Sometimes, you may also realize that you have plagiarized, even before you receive feedback from your tutor. In that case, it would be wise to approach your tutor immediately and tell him that he sent the wrong copy of the paper. Try to contact him by email so that he has some material evidence in case she might need it to support her position. Finally, he must always remember that, whatever he does, he must remain cool, calm and collected in the meeting with the tutor or the commission. Be confident, determined, but always courteous, as arrogant behavior will only hurt you.

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