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How to Deal with Plagiarism When You Suspect It

Sometimes plagiarism is malicious; sometimes it is not. Sometimes students don’t understand how and when to appropriately cite language or ideas, which is why it’s important for you to cover citation issues with your class (see Preparing the Students to Write the Assignment). Sometimes they panic because of time pressure or perceived lack of ability, and they plagiarize even though they know it’s wrong. And sometimes they cheat because they can.

Sometimes instructors don’t want to recognize that a student has cheated. That realization can be painful and the potential bureaucratic hassle can loom large. However, it’s important to face a case of suspected plagiarism head-on, even if your faculty instructor treats it leniently.

Here is a quick reference for steps you might go through when you suspect plagiarism in a student essay (although you should still refer to the Dean of Students site):

  • Try to find the source of the plagiarized material to confirm your doubts. Google is a good search tool, as students are sometimes not terribly resourceful in their stealing. You might also ask your instructor to run the paper through, which is available for all courses.
  • Inform your faculty instructor of your findings and decide together what action to take as the situation develops (consulting with the student and/or referral to the Dean of Students). 
  • Ask the student to meet with you outside of class to tell them why you’re having trouble grading their work.
  • Ask the student to explain suspicious concepts or language and to provide their notes, drafts, and sources.
  • Don’t grade the paper until the case is resolved, and retain a photocopy if you give it back to the student.


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