I teach psychology to undergraduate students while I am studying in my PhD. The module's assignment is a research report on a subject of the students' choice (the report has to be written in English). Before the data collection the students had to send me their research proposal and their ethics form for approval. I have given approval to all the students and they have already started to collect their data.

However, yesterday I was searching some studies about my PhD and Ι found out that a student had copied and pasted whole parts of a Greek thesis in her research proposal (actually she has "stolen" the subject and research questions as well as many parts of the introduction) and translated them verbatim in English.

I am very confused on what to do. I am pretty sure that her report will constitute a complete copy of the other students' thesis. However, due to the fact that the text will be translated, the Turnitin score will possibly come out low. Should I inform the university's principal or wait to see what will happen?

Update: Thank you all for your answers. You helped me a lot! Just to explain why I asked about how to deal with plagiarism: I am quite new in this job (lecturing)and additionally the college I am working for belongs to the private sector in Greece (i.e. students pay to study in the specific college smth that is not the prevailing way of studying here. All the universities are free of charge). So far, I have noticed (due to my experience as a second marker) that there is a silent policy of not failing students unless they are completely incompetent to study in the college. As you can understand, the students' level is quite low. So, I am afraid that if I report a translated plagiarism (smth that cannot be indicated by turnitin score meaning that I deliberately searched for it) I will "accused" of discrimination towards the student. Additionally, despite their low level the students (as well as their parents who pay for their studies) react aggressively when they receive a low grade. So, I am afraid that I will have to deal with this, too. That is why I am very concerned about what to do.

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    You may want to remind your students (without mentioning names) of the university's policies, explicitly mentioning that a translation without attribution is also plagiarism. This reminder is an easy opprtunity for them to add quote signs and attribution. – pts Dec 23 '20 at 13:25
  • Thank you pts for your answer. I am going to do this in our last lecture before the report submission. – Kassiopi Dec 23 '20 at 14:35
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    You're going to have increasing amounts of plagiarism if you don't immediately deal with this. – Daniel R. Collins Dec 24 '20 at 3:45
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    Turnitin is irrelevant. – Anonymous Physicist Dec 24 '20 at 10:21
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    'I am afraid that if I report a translated plagiarism (smth that cannot be indicated by turnitin score meaning that I deliberately searched for it) I will "accused" of discrimination towards the student.' OK. Since you're aware of this risk, make sure you've thought analytically about why you came to examine this particular student's work in detail for plagiarism, so that if anyone challenges you on it, you can provide a coherent explanation. – Daniel Hatton Dec 24 '20 at 15:27

You should follow whatever your university policies say should be done when plagiarism is detected. Typically reporting is the very first thing that must be done. What will happen after that depends on your institution's policies.

In the US, many institutions have a discipline process that is progressive in the sense that the penalty for a first offense is small, but later offenses are penalized much more severely.

In my own experience with this, if you catch plagiarism in an early draft, you can penalize the student's grade on the draft, and then the student has a chance to produce a final product that is free of plagiarism. If the final paper still has plagiarism then you can give the student a failing grade or expel them from the degree program.

This requires checking for plagiarism at the draft stage in addition to checking the final paper. However, if you don't do this additional checking then the student may get away with only a warning or a small grade penalty for plagiarism in a term paper.

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    +1 "You should follow whatever your university policies say should be done when plagiarism is detected.". That is basically the entire answer. Find the official procedure and follow them. Policies differ wildly from university to university. Sample point: If you plagiarize at where I studied, even it is just 10 % of the entire assignment, you fail the course and may try again working honestly next semester. – Hermann Dec 23 '20 at 9:20

Don't rely on Turnitin or other text-matching software scores! They should not be the only way to prove plagiarism. I would proceed with your university proceedures as soon as you discover the plagiarism, first preparing a synopsis with the students work (in English) on the left, the Greek thesis on the right. Anyone who can read Greek and English should be able to see that this is a translation.

Your university procedure may require you to speak with the student first, or it may require that an investigation board be informed. Check with your colleagues to find out where the regulations are documented.

And have the courage to go on with this, even if it is a lot of work. We have to nip plagiarism in the bud. People who are successful with plagiarism tend to be repeat offenders.


However, due to the fact that the text will be translated, the Turnitin score will possibly come out low.

If it walks like a duck and it swims like a duck, it doesn't matter if it quacks like a foreign duck. It is still a duck.

Don't "wait to see what happens". It is better to prevent a murder than catch the murderer after the fact. Give the wannabee plagiarists the chance to abandon the plot, either by communicating directly with them, or at least by a general announcement to the class that some research proposals are already flagged for plagiarism (explain/remind/stress that plagiarism applies to research proposals also).

The ideal for me would be a combination: namely a general announcement with no names and a confidential communication with the student, but your exact actions may depend on the specific circumstances, university policies and culture, relations with the class, etc.

But in any case, don't let this unfold without trying to stop it before it happens. Teachers are first and foremost guides, not judges.


While I agree with Brian's answer, sometimes University procedures are more onerous and are, quite frankly, not worth your time.

The approach I take is to zero out the grade for any piece of assessment that plagiarized work, showing my evidence of plagiarism to the student when doing so.

If they complain, then the usual procedure can be followed. If not, they take a hit on their grades, but it wastes less of your time on the legal procedures that many universities require.

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    While I get the desire to avoid the paperwork, the danger of this approach is that it allows a student to repeatedly attempt the same behaviour in other classes. If you report it, it helps to establish a pattern of behaviour. – Xander Henderson Dec 23 '20 at 20:29
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    @XanderHenderson Understood. The processes I've seen at various places involve more time and legal costs than it's worth. I'd be less inclined to use this approach for a Junior or Senior than for a Freshman or Sophomore. YMMV. – Peter K. Dec 23 '20 at 20:38
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    @XanderHenderson: FWIW, my approach has been to give an assignment-zero on the first offense, formal filing on the 2nd, and officially request disciplinary proceedings on the 3rd (or particularly egregious violations). – Daniel R. Collins Dec 24 '20 at 3:42
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    If you do not follow university procedure, you may be violating university policy, which might lead to punishment. Further, if you do not apply procedure consistently, it may be discrimination. – Anonymous Physicist Dec 24 '20 at 10:18
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    @AnonymousPhysicist In America, rules are only to be followed when someone complains. At least that’s been my experience. Everyone breaks the rules, but it’s only when someone gets sued that the rules are actually applied. – Peter K. Dec 26 '20 at 16:31

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