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I've contacted a professor who I have taken 2 courses from and who has known me for over a year. I asked him for a recommendation letter and he agreed to write one. The moment I got his letter, I knew it wasn't entirely his words since he doesn't have a good command over English. So I ran a plagiarism check and found he took paragraphs out of this letter that is freely available online: https://www.eduers.com/reference/template/

Now, I'm a bit concerned about this. If the graduate admissions run some plagiarism test on this letter, this would almost certainly be flagged and that might void this letter entirely and reflect poorly on my entire application.

The way I see it, I have 2 options:

  1. Contact another recommender
  2. Somehow let my professor know about his plagiarism and request a new letter. (Not sure how I could address this via email appropriately!)

To address the first point, unfortunately, he is my 3rd (last) recommender so I have no one else to go to. Regarding the second point, he does not have a good command of English, so I'm not sure if he would be able to express his thoughts concise and precisely. And finally, I cannot have a face to face discussion since I'm not in the same country as him now, so the only practical interaction is via email.

That's my current situation, any ideas or suggestions are greatly appreciated!

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    While this is not ideal, I really doubt they will run a plagiarism check on a recommendation letter. If asked by the committee directly, I assume the professor will say that they think that of you and that its a genuine letter(as in, its what they want to say about you). I assume that if they discover its plagiarized, it mainly reflects bad on the profesor, not you. Aug 8, 2018 at 9:56
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    Do LORs have expectations of originality? Aug 8, 2018 at 16:33

4 Answers 4

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The problem isn't so much the plagiarism, but that the letter is generic. The best letters include examples of interactions between the student and letter writer. Consider this paragraph

At a personal level, Jane is a well disciplined, industrious student with a pleasant personality. She went well beyond the course requirements in the quantity and quality of her project, putting in a lot of extra research and attending office hours every week. Throughout the course, Jane demonstrated great perseverance and initiative. She was not only interested in and motivated to learn the material, but put great work into assimilating it to her own experience and developing her own ideas about each ethical topic that we discussed.

Were are the personal details. How did Jane show that perseverance and initiative? Did she just come to office hours, or was their a memorable interaction about Ethical Relativism? The best letters are personal. The template is nice in that it touches upon the important topics for a letter, but it still lacks the details that readers want to see.

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You overthought. I would just let it go and submit the letter as is. Most of the recommendation letters for PhD admission should be blinded to the applicants. You can apparently see the letter in your case, which actually is a bigger concern than the letter's originality.

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Ok,

The problem is your Professors not yours.

If it was me, I would 100% send the letter.

You cannot be penalised for plagiarism if it wasn't you.

Also, there is absolutely no incentive for the school to run a plagiarism check on the email.

One piece of advice I can give you is DO NOT mention this to the professor that gave you the letter, they're probably very busy and they still got their point across.

Best of luck with the application!

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Unfortunately, I've found when asking my supervisors for reference letters and similar they're often very generic (to the point where I once had a letter where my name was not swapped out for whoever it had been written for previously!). I wouldn't be too concerned, the recipient will no doubt be expecting a fairly generic template anyway. Academics are asked to write hundreds of letters of recommendation, references, etc., so it stands to reason they'd use a generic template. I very much doubt as others have said that a plagiarism check will be run on this letter, all they want is confirmation that X Prof/Doctor recommends you. Having worked in higher ed admin this is usually little more than a box ticking exercise.

Good luck with your application! :)

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