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A month ago I submitted a piece of coursework which still hasn't been marked. When I wrote it for some sections, I made notes with ChatGPT, which I was supposed to rewrite in my own words, but I forgot to. Just yesterday I reread through it and I realized I plagiarized.

The essay is 3k words long, and 300 words are from ChatGPT.

I want to email my lecturer and explain this to them. Because the coursework hasn't been marked yet, I want to ask if they can mark me down by ignoring all plagiarized sections. I also want to apologize to them for wasting their time and being dishonest about my work. What should I do?

I don't know if those sections will necessarily be flagged as plagiarized, but I want to avoid that happening. I'm not here to ask for sympathy nor scorn; I'm already very ashamed of myself.

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    Related: Is changing some words plagiarism? May 27, 2023 at 23:10
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    FWIW don't use generative AI to try to write anything. To know whether it's writing nonsense or not you have to know the field, and to claim that you have to be able to articulate it. Getting stuff out on paper can be hard, particularly at the beginning---but articulating is part of the learning experience. There are other techniques which can help if you're using GPT to solve the 'how do I say X?' problem. If you're using it to solve the 'what should I say about X problem'... don't. It will mislead you heavily one of these days.
    – 2e0byo
    May 29, 2023 at 8:40
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    Note that one of the biggest issue with ChatGPT is that it can just make up things (and appear extremely confident about it). So it's not a question of re-writing what ChatGPT writes, but of actually checking what it says, understanding it, verifying that it's not all made up, and that it actually answers the question.
    – jcaron
    May 29, 2023 at 17:13
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    In some sense it makes everything up—it just gets lucky often of the time in that what it “makes up” is actually true. What I mean is that GPT doesn’t actually know anything or have any concept of facts—it’s a language model, and its only expertise is in stringing words together in convincing fashion.
    – bob
    May 29, 2023 at 19:02
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    I applaud your honesty, but you're asking us how to cheat the hangman. You didn't explain to us how much of the other 90% was ChatGPT-generated and then rewritten by you. Future employers are evaluating and paying you based on their expectations of what skills you learned in school. By not doing the work yourself, you're failing to gain those skills. In short, you cheated, and that will catch up to you. If you think rewriting ChatGPT is a legitimate way to pass your classes, then this lecturer's marks on this essay are irrelevant. Frankly, don't use ChatGPT again.
    – JBH
    May 30, 2023 at 2:35

5 Answers 5

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Paraphrasing doesn't absolve you from plagiarism. You can plagiarize using none of the original words. Even if you had re written "in your own words" you would still be plagiarizing.

If you weren't supposed to use something like chatGPT but did, then you have a violation already. If you paraphrased and submitted you would have two violations.

You can ask for mercy but you have things to learn, I'm afraid.

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    Whether or not a complete rewrite constitutes plagiarism is significantly more nuanced than this answer makes it seem. If the only contribution from ChatGPT is structure, not content (in the sense that OP critically reviewed and verified everything, if not adding it themselves), then it's not plagiarism - assuming that the assignment itself is not about the writing skill itself (such as an English essay where the topic is not the focus of the exercise). On the other end, if OP did a word-by-word rewrite without revisiting the core message being conveyed, yeah that's plain plagiarism.
    – Flater
    May 29, 2023 at 3:35
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    I disagree with @Flater. From the perspective of an education, where both the content and the process of writing the essay are part of the experience, there's no practical difference between rewriting something ChatGPT wrote and what your friend wrote in the same class last year. Even if using ChatGPT, as suggested, to simply do the legwork that the student then verifies later, it's still not original research by the student. Maybe "plagiarism" is too specific a word to express the totality of the failure - but fail the student did, by contriving to have someone/something else do the work.
    – JBH
    May 30, 2023 at 2:17
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    @JBH: That's not what I meant by the structure/content distinction in my comment. You're talking about ChatGPT still generating the substantive content and the student merely doublechecking it. I'm saying that there's a difference in rewriting the content of the output versus slightly tweaking the phrasing to make it look more original than it is, they're not the same w.r.t. plagiarism. Additionally, this whole "ChatGPT is inherently plagiarism" thread is pointless, as pre-ChatGPT I could take any other work and replicate its structure and there was no meaningful protection against that.
    – Flater
    May 30, 2023 at 2:44
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    @JBH Unless the focus of the exercise is to learn to write (which a native language class often entails), the focus should be on the content and arguments, not the originality of the grammar. The student should be confident in what is written, understand it, and be able to back it up and elaborate on it - but this argument is not related to ChatGPT, it's related to literally any form of cheating, whether it is a parent doing their kid's homework, plagiarizing existing works on the subject, or asking ChatGPT. ChatGPT did not create a new problem, it created a new scenario of an existing problem
    – Flater
    May 30, 2023 at 2:47
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    @JBH: While I absolutely agree that blind reliance on ChatGPT is as much cheating as blindly relying on any other resource would be, that's not the point I'm making. What if they asked a parent for a better way to phrase a sentence and they provided it? If a student used a thesaurus for more elegant synonyms, would you consider them to not be original? What if they had a friend or parent proofread it and provide feedback? What if a student heard someone phrase something eloquently and applied a similar rhetoric in their own speech structure? Where do you draw the line on originality?
    – Flater
    May 30, 2023 at 2:50
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Although you seem to have shown some remorse for your actions, simply owning up to a dishonest act doesn't really give you the right to request how your assignment should be marked.

Admitting fault to the lecturer would be the ethically correct thing to do, but how this act is punished is up to the lecturer. If you admit fault and appologize you might earn a lighter sentence than otherwise, but again, that is for someone else to decide.

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  • > how this act is punished is up to the lecturer --- In some places (e.g. UK) it is not up to the lecturer. Plagiarism cases are dealt with by Academic Panels, following strict guidelines, and the lecturer is not involved in decision making. May 30, 2023 at 23:31
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Imagine that you commit a crime; not a hanging offense or felony, but at least a misdemeanor. You intended to commit the act. Should you now confess? To me, your scenario seems much the same as this scenario.

If you intend a life of crime, confessing is clearly a foolish thing to do. If you do not intend a life of crime, and regret the error of having committed the crime, what good comes of confession. I find it difficult to see how the obvious public interest in punishing crimes, which here equates to university interest in punishing either plagiarism or the use of ChatGPT, is advanced by your confession. Clearly others disagree.

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First things first, I appreciate your honesty and willingness to take responsibility for your mistake.

There is no denying that you have made a mistake and you have been sitting on it for a month. The most advisable course of action is to acknowledge it before the assignment gets marked, which will help you get ahead of the situation. In the perception of your lecturer, your admission of guilt will be interpreted in one of two contexts: in relation to the plagiarized sections (implicating 300 words / 10% of the assignments) or in relation to the plagiarizer (implicating your entire assignment). There is no telling which way his/her/their judgment will lean.

No matter what, my advice will be not to ask or propose how you think the assignment should get marked for the following reasons:

  1. It may appear as hubris on your part. Any marker who is aware that they have to examine a dishonest work will most likely NOT appreciate being instructed by the guilty party how to perform their duty and how many marks to allocate. If you attempt to influence your marker into giving you less penalty, you will seem like an entitled person. Therefore, you should allow your lecturer to determine how they want to deal with your assignment.
  2. You should consider yourself very fortunate if the lecturer merely penalizes your entire assignment (by assigning it a 0) and refrains from taking any further administrative action(s). If your lecturer marks very generously by penalizing you only for 10% of the plagiarized assignment, I think you should express your gratitude to your lecturer at the end of the semester and pledge to never repeat your mistake. The latter scenario is highly improbable, given that the assignments are randomly subjected to double-checks for quality control at the end of the semester in most of the prestigious institutions and the instructors are reluctant to incur the responsibility of erroneous judgments by showing undue leniency to the students.
  3. It is generally accepted that, within any academic system, voluntary acknowledgment of plagiarism can mitigate the severity of the penalty, but the assessor (in this case, the marker) retains the discretion to impose a harsher punishment. So, I think you should hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
  4. Sometimes, the markers are legally compelled to report cases of plagiarism to a higher authority. It will considerably help your case if you disclose first, admit your error, and save some time and effort for the marker. But it will inflict more damage than benefit if your admission is accompanied by an unwarranted request to grant you partial marks for the satisfactory sections of the assignments.

Having said that, when it comes to ChatGPT and other generative models, we should have a separate discussion. Most of my students who consulted ChatGPT typically regarded it as a semi-conscience being, a consultant who they thought searched the internet and formulated its own decision by gathering search knowledge. Most students thought that ChatGPT was a purely generative model that can be distinctly driven by students' individual prompts (the process they 'proudly' denoted as their own "creative directions") and therefore its outputs can be construed as the students' own thoughts. A lot of prestigious schools even embraced the students' use of ChatGPT, in its early stages, for helping them out with their assignments. But as it turned out that they were completely wrong and ChatGPT merely stitched some information (verbatim) from the internet in a fluent manner, which can NOT be interpreted as the user's own thought and will be regarded as plagiarism. If you belong to this misguided cluster, you should present your case to your lecturer accordingly and indicate that you had an impeccable record up to this point (I am hoping so judging by how ashamed you are for this), which should act in your favor.

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Your writing style is relatively distinctive. I've spotted a couple of common grammatical errors (a missed space after a full stop, for example) and some variations in capitalisation (chatgpt vs. ChatGPT). If your lecturer is paying reasonable attention to your writing rather than just skimming it for keywords then they'll almost certainly notice that the bot-written section is not your own writing.

Most universities are also using plagiarism detection software precisely to root out people who use bots and internet sources to get around having to do the work themselves.

Given the high likelihood that you'll be detected, my advice is to get ahead of this by rewriting that section comprehensively (e.g. not just by paraphrasing the bot-written text) and then submit the entire thing again with a sincere apology explaining that you've accidentally copied some text in from a source that you were reading online. There's a solid chance that your lecturer will simply take the old version of the essay and throw it in the bin.

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    "There's a solid chance that your lecturer will simply take the old version of the essay and throw it in the bin." Really? I would never take an assignment a month late from someone and just be like "Sure, I'll grade that assignment you took an extra month on" ... May 28, 2023 at 20:07
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    Doesn't feel very fair to all the other students in the class to take someone's revisions a month later, no matter the reason, does it? If a student emailed and said "Hey, I wrote a better paper," would you just take it? May 28, 2023 at 22:10
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    Suppose it depends how much value you attach to deadlines. If your students know they're permeable, and you can just turn in a better paper whenever you like, your approach would be acceptable. May 28, 2023 at 22:16
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    @Valorum: The issue isn't with it being graded or not, the issue is with this student getting a significantly later deadline than anyone else without prior approval. They effectively forced the situation by submitting plagiarized work and then asking for leniency in fixing that. Even if the leniency itself were accepted, the extra reworking time that it entails remains an ethical obstacle. Your graph example does not entail you making the graphs after the deadline, but OP would effectively admit to doing the rewrite after the deadline, that's a big difference (albeit on trust by the lecturer)
    – Flater
    May 29, 2023 at 3:40
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    @Valorum: There is a vast difference between "try this long shot since you've got nothing to lose" and "this is a reasonable request that would generally be accepted". Your answer didn't quite make it clear that it was a "ballsy nothing to lose" attempt rather than what is considered good practice. The long shot is still not risk-free either, in the sense that it may damage the chances of getting marked down by some arbitrary amount but not to a failing grade if the OP just admits to the mistake and does not try to shoehorn some extra material that was written past the deadline.
    – Flater
    May 29, 2023 at 23:26

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