Questions about plagiarizing? Urgent!?

This is something that is actually happening at my school right now, but before I get into it, I have a question first. I know colleges have kicked students out for plagiarizing before. Let's just say you get suspended in high school for plagiarization. Will they refuse to accept you if that happens?

Now, for the urgent part. We had these summer reading projects to do, where we had to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. We were given several options about what we could do for the project and I chose the easiest one: describe at least three of Huck's superstitions and explain how they affected the plot. I did it (I did NOT use any other source except the book and my own head!) and turned it in. A few months later (a couple days ago) our teacher told us that there was an issue with the papers: a majority of the class seems to have plagiarized at one point or another. She told us that if the guilty parties fessed up, she would just give them a zero. If they didn't, she would give them a referral, and a possible suspension. She said she had flagged many papers, and that at least 95% of the class plagiarized (an outrageous number, in my opinion). I knew I hadn't plagiarized, but I was afraid that maybe she thought I did, or that maybe I did it accidentally. We wanted to see if we were flagged, but she wouldn't let us see our papers! That's what angers me the most about this situation.

Today, she handed us cards and told us to write down if we wanted our papers graded or if we wanted the zero. If we said we wanted them graded, and it ended up that she found evidence of plagiarization, we would get the referral and possible suspension. Or, we could play it safe/fess up and take the zero. Once again we asked to see our papers, but once again she refused.

I was confident that I hadn't plagiarized, so I said to grade my paper. However, I had written my paper over the SUMMER--6 or 7 months ago! I didn't remember anything about it! I just went through all the documents on my computer and found my paper, and realized that although I used only information from the book and myself, I didn't put down any page numbers where I found the information. I am being 100% honest here--I didn't mean to plagiarize, and I understand how could you think that it looks like plagiarization. But is it actually plagiarization?

I'm sorry for the novel, but I'm seriously freaking out! Did I accidentally plagiarize? If I didn't, I'm safe, but if I did, I'm screwed! I think what the real problem is is that I didn't remember if I used page numbers or not, BECAUSE SHE WOULDN'T LET US SEE OUR PAPERS TO SEE IF SHE HAD FLAGGED THEM! Once again sorry for the rambling.


Yes, I used only my own words. I explained without a single quote the superstitions. I thought I had plagiarized because I didn't say something like, On page 42, Jim gets bitten by a rattlesnake and Huck thinks that that will bring bad luck. Instead, I just said something like, At one point, Jim gets bitten by a rattlesnake, blah blah blah.

Update 2:

How could I prove I didn't plagiarize? It's kind of hard to prove something that went on in my head without looking like I'm lying.

3 Answers

  • 8 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    Of course she didn't let you see your papers so you'd know whether she flagged them. When something like this happens, you always get some people confessing whom you didn't realize had cheated. So letting people know that they're off the hook means rewarding some people for cheating.

    Did you ever use any kind of commentary on the book? Spark Notes? An essay you found online? A book that discussed Twain's writing in depth?

    If not, I think you're probably safe.

    Plagiarism is

    1. using a direct quote from some other writer without enclosing it in quotation marks or using a block quotation *and* correctly citing it

    2. failing to paraphrase correctly (copying and pasting and then changing words and switching sentences around is not adequate paraphrasing)

    3. using facts or ideas or arguments, etc., that you got from someone else without correctly citing them

    4. using information that is not common knowledge (a good rule of thumb is that if you aren't sure all students at your level who have not taken the class you're taking know it, it's not common knowledge), even if you happened to already know it, without locating and using a reliable source for it, and correctly citing that source

    Many students believe that only the first type is plagiarism (I'm not sure where I got this idea), but they are wrong.

    As far as I can tell, you're worried about there being someone out there who used the same wording as you did, in a case where it would be unlikely that many people would end up with the same wording, or else there being someone out there who wrote an essay you could locate in which they dealt with the same superstitions you did and said much the same things as you did, again in a way that would be unlikely to happen by accident.

    If you didn't even look at other people's work on the same subject, it's unlikely that your work will appear plagiarized. If you did look at someone else's work, though, but just didn't have it in front of you when you were doing your work and didn't go through to make sure you cited anything that the other person used, then there's a decent chance that it will appear plagiarized.

    If your teacher does charge you with plagiarism, you would take a look at whatever it is that's supposedly the same in your work and the source and argue that it was coincidence. After all, if the assignment is to explore 3 of Huck's superstitions, then you're likely to discuss the same superstitions as at least some other writers whose papers also deal with his superstitions, just because there aren't enough superstitions for everyone to come up with completely different ones.

    And if you used the kind of language you use every day (no thesaurus words, for instance), then your phrasing is likely to be enough like the phrasing in your other writings that it would quite possibly be a coincidence.

    As for the 95%, that doesn't surprise me. (Well, I doubt it's exactly 95%, because otherwise you're probably in a 30-person class and the only one who didn't get caught cheating. But 95% in the sense of "an enormous number of you" does not surprise me.) I bet a bunch of your classmates either picked the book up, decided it wasn't going to be fun to read, and put it right back down again or just never picked it up at all. Then a handful of days before the semester started, they remembered that they had this task to do, looked at the book, and decided that they didn't have time to do the assignment. So they logged onto the internet or picked up some easy-to-find discussion of the book and went looking for either something that answered the question so that they could put it into their own words and pretend they had read the book or something they could modify a little -- or not at all -- and submit. A disturbing number of students in your generation say that they have cheated or do cheat when asked on surveys, and another disturbing number of students in your generation don't think things like getting information off the internet instead of figuring it out themselves is cheating, even when it clearly fits the definition being used. And "I would have gotten a bad grade if I didn't cheat" seems to be a reason that many people think justifies cheating.

    But if you never even looked at a source that would give you possible answers (except, of course, for the book itself), I would go ahead and act accordingly. It would be better if you said where in the book your examples came from, especially if you used an example that other people tended not to notice and that surprised your teacher, but not including them is not a form of plagiarism.

    So I think you'll be all right.

  • 8 years ago

    Plagiarism is copying a work word for word and claiming the work as your own. If you used your own words you have nothing to worry about. Yes, universities will likely reject an application from someone who has been disciplined for committing plagiarism.

  • 8 years ago

    Dang, tough situation. I don't think that anyone has come across this before. I would ask the teacher to let you see your paper; If she doesn't let you, then ask her how she knows it is plagiarized. If she somehow answers, then just tell her that you didn't do it and that you can back yourself up with proof that you are innocent.

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