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What To Do If You're Accused of Plagiarism/Cheating


Let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat. Don’t plagiarize. Don’t cheat.

Seriously, though, don’t do it. Not only does it devalue what you’re supposed to be learning and the hard work your peers are putting in, it’s completely and utterly against all colleges’ policies and rules. Violating a college’s academic honesty policies is no joke – most colleges have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to plagiarism and cheating, which can lead to your probation or expulsion. So again…seriously, do not plagiarize or cheat on any of your work, exams, papers, or projects.

But you wouldn’t be reading this article if you weren’t in some kind of trouble, so whether you did plagiarize/cheat or have been falsely accused of doing so, it’s imperative for you to know how to handle such a situation if it arises in your college career.

What to Do If Accused of Plagiarism?

Plagiarizing is taking someone else’s work and claiming it as your original work. This can take many forms. The most well-known (and easily recognized) way is copying someone’s paper / project or having someone else write your assignment for you. But copying pieces of material without giving credit or citations, using artwork you didn’t create or get permission to use, patchwriting, and paraphrasing ideas that aren’t your own without credit are all forms of plagiarism.

If you’ve been accused of plagiarism there’s a couple of key points to keep in mind:

1. Learn the School/Department’s Policy

Knowing your rights in this type of situation is vital for your defense against it. Are you being accused of direct plagiarism (i.e. directly stealing someone else’s work), self-plagiarism (reusing your own work), paraphrasing/patchwork plagiarism, unintentional plagiarism (poor or lacking citations), or something else? Keep in mind none of these are good, but the severity of what you are accused of matters…a lot. Blatant plagiarism will likely be dealt with very harshly, whereas accidental plagiarism might involve a heartfelt apology and minor punishment. Know what you’re accused of, what your school’s policy details might entail, and what the consequences are before you do anything.

2. Don’t Lie

Your professor has heard every excuse out there. They have software built for detecting plagiarism, instructors spend their entire careers learning this material, and they know from previous interactions how you talk, write, and think. Do you really think you’ll be able to get one by them? Lying about plagiarism is a sure-fire way for people to lose any feelings of leniency towards you. You’ll just tick them off.

3. Talk to Your Professor

Your professor is the first point of contact when being accused of plagiarism. Ask them to explain what they’re accusing you of and why they believe you plagiarized. They are also the ones most likely to grant you mercy (if you deserve it), so pay attention to what they’re saying, try to clarify if you can, and make sure you understand at the end of the conversation what they intent to do next – let you off with a warning, flunk you, report you to a higher authority in the school, etc.

4. References, References, References

Learn to reference and cite your sources. No one has ever gotten in trouble for over citing their sources. It’s perfectly fine if you reference someone else’s work in your papers, but give them proper credit in your project. Make sure you know your references and have them handy if accused of plagiarism. Showing where you got your information and how you accidentally didn’t cite something properly can go a long way in getting all charges cleared. Remember, instructors aren’t looking to bring someone up on academic dishonesty charges for a genuine mistake. If you can show where you made a good faith effort, you’ll likely just be given a warning.

5. Respect the Process & Ask for Mercy

If you get caught, do not (really, don’t do it) get defensive and aggressive. Being upset and defensive can get you into more trouble and create problems. Instead, be calm. Talk with your professor and/or dean calmly about your situation and learn what you need to do to plead your case. If you’ve plagiarized, there may be nothing you can do except accept the consequences of your actions, however, doing so in a calm and adult manner can only help you in the long run.

What to Do If Accused of Cheating?

Cheating on any academic work is unacceptable. Cheating is pretty self-explanatory for most people, but it can include looking at someone’s test/answers during an exam, using outside resources when they’re forbidden, stealing test answers off the internet, plagiarizing (which is a form of cheating), etc. So, what should you do if you are caught cheating?

1. Read and Learn the Policy

Sound familiar? Similar to plagiarism, it’s important to learn your school’s policy on cheating. It will tell you what the school defines as cheating and your rights. This can help you determine if you even have a case against the cheating charge you’re accused of committing.

2. Talk to Your Instructor

Be real—did you cheat? If you did, beg your instructor for mercy. They might not give it but it’s worth a shot. If you really, truly didn’t cheat, explain–calmly and rationally—the situation from your perspective. Try to give evidence in support of why you weren’t cheating. Do not become aggressive, angry, or shout at your instructor. Ask for their help in clearing you of this issue.

3. Ask If Your Score Can Be Thrown Out

Failing a class is better than getting in trouble for your entire academic career. You can ask you professor if they are willing to throw out the score or give you a zero on the test/exam/project you’re accused of cheating on. Keep in mind this might mean you risk failing the class, but that might be the best bad option. It’s easier to re-take a failed class rather than get kicked out of school.

4. Speak with the Administration about It

If this is your first offense and the severity of your cheating isn’t high, you may get a warning. There are many levels to this process – speak to an administrator or dean and understand the steps you’ll need to go through. Plead your case, ask for mercy, and show genuine remorse at your mistake. If you can show how this will never happen again (and mean it!) people will be more likely to give you a second chance.

5. Accept the Consequences

Colleges and universities have zero-tolerance policies for a reason. If you cheated (particularly if this is a 2nd or more offense) you will likely have to accept the consequences of your actions. Try to do so responsibly and with contrition. You’ve come to college to learn and have a successful future, so cheating really isn’t the answer. But start now by making amends and take responsibility for your mistakes. It won’t clear away the problem right this moment, but it can turn things around for you down the road.

Plagiarism and cheating are serious, and the best way to not need any of this advice is to just not do it. College is about learning new things. Cheating your way to graduation is definitely going to harm not only your college career, but it can follow you into your job.