23

So I did a ppt poster presentation. In one of the sections of my PowerPoint, the entire section was highlighted as having a 10% similarity to a website, which is already cited in my PowerPoint and paraphrased. Now on looking at the word version of my PowerPoint it highlighted generalized statements and common examples. Now I contacted the student union advice team and they said I plagiarized because I didn't put the statements in quotes.

I have been accused of this same thing before and took the fall, however I don't want to go through that again and I am truly confused about what to do. I have inserted a picture of the word version of the PowerPoint:

word version of the PowerPoint

The hearing is in five days. What should I do?

the original article cited the original text

13
  • 34
    Ugh.. 10% should really not be above the threshold for a plagiarism charge. That is low enough to be incidental, especially because there are often-repeated phrases or thoughts between different sources. I've served on an academic honesty panel before. The student in question very clearly fabricated data, and we gave them an F in the course. The student typically has the right to appeal decisions in academic honesty panels. If it does not go your way and if this impacts your status with the university, I would consider hiring a lawyer. What you have shown here should not be used against you. Jun 1, 2022 at 18:19
  • 6
    Is the highlights supposed to be what the plagiarism checker found? Jun 1, 2022 at 19:44
  • 10
    You already got your answer, but could you please clarify for future readers what exactly happened? Is this hearing in court due to a violation of copyright law or something like that? Or is it just your university's org? What is the punishment if you are found guilty?
    – Jessica
    Jun 2, 2022 at 2:46
  • 2
    Related question: Is changing some words plagiarism? Jun 2, 2022 at 3:54
  • 9
    This is a great example of why automatic plagiarism checkers should never be used on their own. They are a good tool to help search for possible plagiarism, but not to make a decision without carefully studying what the tool has marked.
    – vsz
    Jun 2, 2022 at 8:38

3 Answers 3

129

I agree that this seems at most to be a borderline case on its face, and 10% is not an unusual percentage similarity for non-plagiarized work.

However, there are some things counting against you:

First, I suspect that your work here may not be meeting the learning goals of the course. Typically, you should be able to synthesize multiple sources for a college-level presentation. Relying so much on one source suggests that you haven't made a unique presentation, rather, you've found someone else's presentation and summarized it. Possibly the topic you've chosen is too generic.

Second, it does seem that you've directly copied from the source rather than internalizing the concepts and generating text in your own words. For example, the source states "MRI is relatively expensive, requires longer imaging times than CT and may not be immediately available in all areas"; you transformed this into two bullet points "MRI is relatively expensive/requires longer imaging times than CT". It seems likely to me that you did in fact copy these phrases directly, or perhaps wrote them down verbatim in your notes as bullet points and then copied those into your writing. If, instead, you read this article, internalized it, and then reproduced it, your bullet points might have been "Cost" and "Long imaging times". These are not concepts that can only be expressed one way. The more times you choose exactly the same wording, the more it appears that you've taken the source verbatim and then tried to adjust the language to evade plagiarism detection. I still think you're in a sufficiently grey area where I'd have trouble arguing you should see a substantial penalty for this, but it might be worth a warning to be more careful in the future.

Finally, and this is I think the most damning, your words come in exactly the same order as the source. All of them. You have taken the exact order and structure of the original source. This is not merely a reproduction of selected phrases from another article, all of the words bolded in red occur in exactly the same order in the source as in your work. There is no reasonable way this would occur in exactly the same sequence if you did not copy from the article. Further, even more of the content is substantially identical than was directly flagged. You write "MRI machines have enclosed, tight spaces that can trigger claustrophobia in people without anxiety or phobias". The original source sentence is "...MRI machine is a tight, enclosed space that can trigger claustrophobia even in patients without preexisting phobias or anxiety". All you have done is changed verbs (machine is -> machines have), rotated some words (tight, enclosed -> enclosed, tight; phobias or anxiety -> anxiety or phobias), and used synonyms in context (patients -> people). This is not acceptable, it looks like you're just trying to beat a plagiarism checker.

I think what you did is to copy the article you are citing and then go through, line by line, remove some of the words and insert your own. Some may argue it does not represent plagiarism in the worst form, but to me it is a dishonest representation of original work. This is not an acceptable way to write an academic paper. You can avoid this in the future by first reading from multiple sources and learning about your topic, then writing from your own memory about the subject, supporting your work with citations and quotes from what you've read. One way I was taught to do this in grade school was to use note cards where you express a concept and a source on each card, and then use those cards independently of your references to compose an essay.

I don't know whether you intentionally plagiarized to make your assignment easier, or if you've learned incorrectly what the academic standards for plagiarism are. It is important that you recognize that you are not being accused because there is some 10% overlap detected by an automatic plagiarism detector, which may be perfectly defensible, but because you've lifted an entire article on the subject and merely modified it to appear like it's different. I'm also wary to advise what you should do about this accusation, because it depends a lot on how your instructor and institution will behave. I think in the best case, you will admit how you have crafted this work, recognize that what you thought was acceptable behavior is not, and re-do the assignment or an equivalent the correct way and be assessed on that assignment. If this is the first time you've been sanctioned for plagiarism, I think it would be fair to let this additional work be your primary punishment, and not have your final grade be affected. I don't know how consistent this outcome will be with the policies at your institution.


I've thought about this some more, and I really think the evidence is strong enough that you've plagiarized that I think your best option is to admit you've closely paraphrased your work from one source, to make a case that you did not previously understand this action was plagiarism, and that you now understand this is not acceptable and that you will correct this in the future. The best way to demonstrate this would be to redo the assignment appropriately, clearly explain what it is that you did wrong (without excuses or "to be honest I didn't plagiarize"), and ask offer additional work to demonstrate meeting the learning objectives of the course. I think the hardest part will be re-learning your understanding of plagiarism. Here are some references that may help you:

https://www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/exercises/referencing/page_05.htm

https://integrity.mit.edu/handbook/academic-writing/avoiding-plagiarism-paraphrasing (see "unacceptable paraphrase" example #5)

https://writing.wisc.edu/handbook/assignments/quotingsources/ (see the "Word-for-Word Plagiarism" and "A Patchwork Paraphrase" sections)

If I were involved in this hearing, I would be least likely to advise strong penalties against you if you:

  • Completely re-did the assignment correctly before the hearing, and submitted this version to your instructor

  • Explain coherently the issue of close paraphrasing and how you have learned that it is plagiarism to reuse the sentences and structure of someone else's work even if you substitute words. Your best option may be to write an additional essay on what close paraphrasing is, in your own words, citing sources appropriately.

  • Promise that you've learned from this and won't do it again

Frankly, if you use the excuses you've tried to use here in the comments and chat, I would have very little sympathy, especially as you have had previous accusations of plagiarism and seem to have made little effort since then to learn what you've done wrong.

8
  • 26
    Interestingly, this answer ties very closely to a question I posed a few months ago: Is changing some words plagiarism?. E.g., I get about half of plagiarizing students saying, "Ah yes, when I took that file I didn't change enough of the words because I was rushed for time. I'm sorry, next time I'll change more of the words." Surprisingly, I thought, most people interacting with that other question of mine do not seem willing to say that copying and changing some words around is plagiarizing. Jun 2, 2022 at 3:58
  • 2
    In the US, at least, “to copy the article you are citing and then go through, line by line, remove some of the words and insert your own,” is copyright infringement. Taking the original work and changing it makes yours “derived work,” and copyright includes an exclusive right to make works derived from the copyrighted work. I believe this to also be true in the vast majority of other countries, since copyright is fairly consistent internationally (in broad strokes) thanks to the Berne Convention.
    – KRyan
    Jun 2, 2022 at 19:27
  • 20
    I bristle at any mention of copyright in a discussion of plagiarism, They are two largely different things. Jun 2, 2022 at 21:25
  • 2
    You can certainly plagiarize from the public domain. Jun 2, 2022 at 21:27
  • 3
    @ScottSeidman Indeed, I intended the mention to convey "copyright isn't the relevant concept here" but even mentioning it brings it to the discussion and these concepts should be thought of separately, so I've removed it entirely.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 2, 2022 at 21:34
5

In examining the image, my judgement would be that you have not plagiarized anything. You include only short phrases that were marked, but those phrases are also just about the only way to express the ideas. Moreover, the citations (assuming correct) are listed for each of your paragraphs, indicating that you are attributing the ideas to the authors not yourself.

If they penalize you then you are being abused. Speaking for myself, there is no plagiarism here at all. Missing quotes for the phrases might be a minor infraction of some local rules, but it isn't plagiarism. It is clear, to me, at least, that you have paraphrased a cited source including key essential phrases.

Unfortunately, I'm not on the board of judges here, so can't guess what will happen, but I'd complain up the hierarchy if you get any sanction.

Especially since this is a poster, not a paper, where some stylistic flexibility should be allowed. Quoting each of the "offending" phrases makes it less useful as a poster.

Some of the words marked as offending are just facts. I doubt that there would have been any way to produce the report had you not actually listed the source since those facts will appear as phrasing in many similar sources.

As to what you should do, insist that everything you said is cited. There is no attribution of any of the ideas to yourself. It is not plagiarism.

16
  • 8
    If I'm going to get in trouble every time I write "MRI is relatively expensive", it might be time to quit.
    – Ian
    Jun 1, 2022 at 18:51
  • 33
    @Ian That does not seem to be an accurate assessment of what has happened here. The OP has taken a verbatim format from a source and removed sentences and substituted some words as filler, while retaining the structure and content of the original source.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 1, 2022 at 20:02
  • 10
    @ZizyArcher I recommend comparing closely the OP's writing and the source linked in my answer. It's not just the general structure, every single sentence is directly lifted from the source and then merely modified to appear different.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 2, 2022 at 11:03
  • 12
    @ZizyArcher I think you should raise your expectations of students at the university level. It's a lot of trouble and work to identify this type of plagiarism, and there is no way this type of plagiarism is accidental, so it's reasonable to have high penalties when discovered to discourage students doing it as a habit. If the only consequence is having to make a few more changes, that is both completely missing the point of original work and encouraging the behavior to continue, since the student simply gets away with low-effort all the times they are not caught.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 2, 2022 at 13:11
  • 9
    @ZizyArcher "Change more" is exactly the wrong advice here because it completely ignores the basic problem: he's not understanding his source, he's simply regurgitating it. I would probably approach this by asking him to write up notes not on the content of his source (or sources) but the organisation of his source, explaining the benefits and downsides of that particular way of organising the facts, and then ask him to propose and write up an organisation of the data different from the source and better suited to the audience for his poster.
    – cjs
    Jun 3, 2022 at 0:56
0
  • Plagiarism checking software should have rules for entering text that should be excused. For example, my university used Turnitin for plagiarism checks. Our professors told us that if we were citing text from anywhere, we could include the text in double quotes, and Turnitin would ignore it. At my university, 20% was the plagiarism threshold.

  • The alternative is to write the text in your own words, instead of copy-pasting it.

  • If you've already submitted it, it's just a matter of providing proof of innocence to your professor by mentioning that you've cited the text.

14
  • 11
    I am bothered by the idea of having a "plagiarism threshold." Similarity detection software might flag cases for review, but it is the professor who should make the determination of whether plagiarism occurred.
    – Bob Brown
    Jun 2, 2022 at 15:35
  • 15
    I'd recommend reading this answer to a recent separate question academia.stackexchange.com/a/185810/63475 (this has also come up elsewhere here but this particular example is the most recent) and thinking more about what this software is and is not. I think the thought patterns in this answer, that plagiarism = the "% plagiarism" detected by this sort of software, helps contribute to exactly the issue the OP has, which is that they don't actually understand what plagiarism is and think that if they can beat the software they have behaved ethically. This is wrong and counterproductive.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 2, 2022 at 16:14
  • 9
    One very good piece of evidence that a student is doing it wrong is if they have reason to submit their work to a plagiarism detector. Doing so is only testing for whether your work could evade your instructor's ability to identify your plagiarism. If you haven't plagiarized, you don't need to check it. OP's specific offense is not failing to cite their source, but failing to recognize that lifting the entire sentence structure and language of the source is also plagiarism; mentioning they have cited is not a defense.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 2, 2022 at 16:18
  • 6
    @Nav I'll say it again - if a student hasn't plagiarized, they don't need to submit their work to a plagiarism detector. Their instructors might have a reason to, but not the student. Phrases that software finds to match are not plagiarism themselves, and plagiarism that software fails to detect is still plagiarism. These are tools to possibly assist in detecting plagiarism; they do not measure plagiarism itself.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 2, 2022 at 18:42
  • 3
    @BryanKrause: I'm aware of what you are saying and I agree with it. But shoover and I are trying to make a point that the software and the methods used by universities and students are done out of helplessness. Somebody in the university makes a rule, and everyone has to follow it. So people try to find workarounds. Not for the sake of sneaking in plagiarized text, but for the sake of getting around some silly rule or flawed software process. That's the objective of my first point about using double quotes for text that's cited from somewhere.
    – Nav
    Jun 3, 2022 at 4:32

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .