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I’m a Student Accused of Plagiarism: Now What?

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What to do when you're accused of academic plagiarism

I’m a Student Accused of Plagiarism: Now What? University students are often required to perform significant research and write numerous papers as part of their coursework. But what happens when a student fails to give credit to another author’s ideas or work?

What is Plagiarism?

A student plagiarizes when he or she uses someone else’s words or ideas and attempts to pass them off as the student’s own work. Common forms of plagiarism include:

  1. Complete Plagiarism. This is the most severe form of plagiarism and occurs when a student submits another author’s work under the student’s name. For example, a student commits complete plagiarism by downloading an essay online and submitting it to a professor as his or her own work.
  2. Direct Plagiarism. This occurs when a student copies and pastes text directly from another author without designating the text with quotation marks and/or properly crediting the original author.
  3. Paraphrasing Plagiarism. This occurs when a student paraphrases another author’s work without giving credit to the original author. Many students are surprised to learn that they can commit plagiarism when they have not used another author’s exact words. Work must be substantially original to not be considered paraphrasing another’s work.
  4. Mosaic Plagiarism. This involves copying work or ideas from several sources and combing them together to create a new text.
  5. Unintentional Plagiarism. Students often plagiarize without intending to do so. For example, a student may simply forget to include a source or forget that an idea included in his or her paper came from another author’s work. However, students may nevertheless face severe consequences for unintentional plagiarism.

The Real World

Students need to be cognizant of their source materials. Copying from a web page bears the same consequence as copying from a published book under most university policies. With so much content available on the Internet, it is easy to unknowingly commit some form of plagiarism. There are software tools that can assist students to check their work for plagiarism prior to submission.

Show Your Work

In some instances, students accused of plagiarism may be able to show their professors that they did not plagiarize by simply showing their work, including their notes, sources they consulted, etc. However, if the professor is not satisfied with the student’s explanation, the student may be charged with an honor code violation.

What’s at Stake?

Plagiarism is a serious honor code violation. Students accused of plagiarism are potentially at risk of receiving a failing grade, failing the course, being suspended, and even being expelled. Additionally, many academic institutions and licensing authorities require applicants to report whether they have been accused of plagiarism. Thus, a finding that a student committed plagiarism in college may follow the student long after his or her college career ends.

Consult with an Attorney

A student accused of plagiarism should consult with an attorney. Most universities have specific procedures for disputing plagiarism allegations, and there is typically a short time period to do so. An attorney can help the student navigate the university’s policies and help protect the student’s rights.


About the Author: Alden Thomas is an employment and education law attorney at Jaburg Wilk. She assists students accused of committing honor code violations, including plagiarism. She also assists students with petitions to change their residency classifications and appeals of denied petitions.