Caught Plagiarizing: 5 Tips to Get Out of Hot Water!

caught plagiarizing

Caught Plagiarizing? Learn What to do!

You have just received a stern email from your professor who is rather upset with you because the paper you submitted several days ago appears to be plagiarized

Attached to the e-mail is a file that shows hard documentation of where you grabbed the information off the Internet, essentially copying and pasting the work of others in a foolish and stupid attempt to pass the material off as your own.

At the end of the electronic message, your professor asks you for an explanation and also threatens to score your essay as a zero. As chills run down your spine and heavy feelings of humiliation begin to settle in, you notice the final sentence of the email from your professor …

“You may have violated the university’s academic honesty policy and I am considering submitting to the school for potential disciplinary action.”

Sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. The truth is many learners [online and ground based] try to take short cuts on writing assignments because they were up against a time clock and stress out. This happens when procrastination on doing an assignment in advance wins out over good time management and planning skills. 

I’ve just been caught plagiarizing – what do I do?

What follows are five specific tips on how to handle a situation where you have intentionally plagiarized the work of others and got busted by your teacher. While there are tons of articles on the Internet about plagiarism prevention, few exist on what students should do when they are caught red handed.

caught plagarizing

Read this carefully and follow these steps to help minimize any potential damage you have inflicted upon yourself. The advice here is primarily aimed towards online students but is also useful for learners who are in ground based programs or a combination of both. 

FYI: I’ve been involved with higher education for many years now as an educator and as a counselor. My hope is that what you read here may be of benefit to you – particularly if you just got busted cheating and are feeling stressed out about college.

Tip 1: Don’t play the “I didn’t know it was plagiarism” game

Folks, I am here to tell you first hand that the most annoying thing your professor can hear as a response to a plagiarism charge is anything that sounds like, “I didn’t know it was plagiarism.” 

Come on now, – let’s get real. If you purposely copied and pasted entire swaths of material from a website and tried to pass it off as your own work, it’s plagiarism, pure and simple.

Somewhere deep down inside, you know this is true, even if you cannot bring yourself to fully admit this. And here is the straight truth on this point – your professor knows this too.

Why you got caught plagiarizing

The plagiarism report that was attached to the email you were sent from your instructor was likely from, Safe Assign or some other outfit that is designed to sniff out unoriginal work. While these applications can sometimes make mistakes, most of the time they do not.

And if you have borrowed a bunch of material from a website and then stuck it into your paper without properly citing, the plagiarism programs pick it up easy!

In fact, many colleges and universities have these programs built into the classroom, which means the moment you click the “submit” button to upload your essay, the plagiarism checkers are on it before your professor ever sees the work!

Tip 2: Don’t pretend you don’t know how to properly cite.

This is another lame excuse that you do not want to give your professor after getting busted for plagiarism. While it is true that you may struggle with basic elements of APA, we both know you are lying when you claim you do not know how to cite.

Common sense should tell you that if you are using the work of others, including synthesizing, you need to demonstrate in some way that you tried to offer credit to the original author.

Some may consider this point a bit murky but I am speaking directly to college students who basically know they stole work from others and tried to pass it off as their own. 

Using this particular excuse will likely cause your professor to take further action and force you to be enrolled in a writing workshop or course specifically focused on avoiding plagiarism.

Do you want to have to deal with this time waster?

If your answer is no, don’t use the “I didn’t know how to properly cite” excuse. It’s lame, old and played out.


Tip 3: Don’t write a defensive response back to your professor

While this point may seem like common sense, I can’t tell you how many students have made matters worse because they got all ticked off and wrote a defensive email in response to their professor’s plagiarism inquiry email.

Keep in mind that this article is specifically designed for online students who have intentionally plagiarized. You know who you are.

Folks, if you knowingly went onto the Internet and snatched somebody else’s writings, do yourself a favor and don’t send your e-instructor a nasty-gram. It will likely cause a bad situation to become worse and pretty much guarantee your paper will be sent to administration.

Please – do not do this. Instead, follow the next tip.

Tip 4: Respond with a gentle, non-defensive tone.

This point is key and one that you will want to read carefully! When you respond to your professor, use a non-defensive, humble tone that speaks from a place of contrition.

While I am not suggesting that you actually admit in writing that you have intentionally plagiarized, I am suggesting that you offer something that demonstrates your awareness of the seriousness of the situation.

I received such an email from a student and it swayed me in a powerful way to effectively make the problem go away for the learner. Here is what the online student wrote (part 1).

Dear Professor: I appreciate you writing me and letting me know about what you discovered with my essay. I want to deeply apologize for causing you to have to take time out of your busy schedule in order to deal with this. I will not give you a bunch of excuses.

Notice that the student immediately came off as genuine and real, offering an awareness of the problem without going into a lot of detail.

This same student also offered an apology, which matters! This kind of approach is helpful to the instructor because they don’t have to play the back and forth game with the student related to points 1-3 above.


Tip 5: Ask to resubmit for partial credit

This particular tip can help you earn at least partial credit for the plagiarized assignment and avoid an official plagiarism report being attached to your academic record.

Going back to the student mentioned in the previous tip, she added language to the end of her email to me that basically begged for forgiveness and a request that she be allowed to resubmit for partial credit.

Because the learner showed integrity, I was persuaded to let her resubmit the essay and earn some kind of points for the paper.

The approach here is simple – after you show contrition, give your professor a way out. What you may not realize that is that writing up plagiarism reports as a faculty member is extremely time-consuming. In fact, it is dreaded by almost all adjuncts and full-time professors, be they web-based or brick and mortar. 

By taking the lead here and showing integrity, plus offering a potential pathway out of the situation for you and your instructor, you are creating a possible “win-win” dynamic.

Who would have thought this was possible, considering where this entire article started out?

FYI: You need to know that this final tip is not guaranteed to work. There are going to be some online faculty members who will throw your ass to the dogs because you cheated.

I will say however that in many cases, they  won’t  provided you take the right approach.

Final Thoughts

Plagiarism with students is nothing new. Most faculty members who teach in the distance learning space have run into this issue many, many times.

The approach you as a student t adopt after getting busted will in large part influence what happens next.

I can tell you from experience that you do not want an official mark on your academic file for plagiarism. If you are in the military, employed with the Federal government or involved with some other type of work where background checks happen frequently, a plagiarism charge placed on your academic record may show up.

Additionally, multiple charges of plagiarism at a school often results in the offender being booted from their college or institution.

Sadly, this means that a learner will have blown thousands of dollars in tuition, only to get a big fat goose-egg for taking short cuts. 

My final point here to any student thinking of plagiarizing is this – please don’t do it! There used to be a time where detecting unoriginal writing was hit or miss at schools.

Now a-days, most of them employ the latest technologies to detect plagiarism. You are far better off being late with an assignment and losing points for tardiness than getting into big time trouble for stealing the work of others.

PS: I’ve recommended a book above that may help you save time with your writing assignments in school.

About John D. Moore 391 Articles
Dr. John Moore is a licensed counselor and Editor-in-Chief of Guy Counseling. A journalist and blogger, he writes about a variety of topics related to wellness. His interests include technology, outdoor activities, science, and men's health. Check out his show --> The Men's Self Help Podcast