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I am a U.S. grad student about to wrap up my first semester of my program. In one of my classes, we had a relatively large group project that ended a few days ago. Group leaders were not assigned, but I ended up more or less becoming the de facto leader for my group. One of my self-assigned tasks before submitting the project was checking the text on slides against the sources given by my groupmates, making sure the sources were relevant, making sure direct quotes were marked accordingly, etc.

Today I happened to be perusing one of the sources just out of personal interest, and I realized that part of one slide in a groupmate's section was extremely similar to a specific section within this source. I discovered that this text (we'll call it Source A) was a paraphrase of another document (Source B). My groupmate included text from Source A without quotation marks but attributed it to Source B, and I didn't catch it because I was comparing the text on this slide with Source B as that is what was provided for this slide.

Once I realized this, I pretty much immediately wrote an email to our professor, not to name names but just to explain the situation and why I didn't catch the issue and to ask if I can/should edit and resubmit our file; I haven't gotten a response yet. Does anyone more familiar with academic conduct procedures have any insight (or consolation) since I caught the error after submission but before grading/feedback? I've honestly just been freaking out about this all day and feel like I'm in limbo.

Thanks!

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  • Relax. Your group made a citation mistake, caught it, and alerted the professor. Mistakes like that happen sometimes, even in published research. It's not ideal, but it's unlikely to be a big deal. Maybe you lose a few points on the grade, maybe not—but I don't think there is a ton of cause for worry.
    – Buzz
    Jul 28, 2023 at 3:13

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You are asking to predict the future, which is difficult to do. What we think is mostly irrelevant; this is in your professor's hands now.

Still, let's consider:

  1. This is mostly a bookkeeping mistake. Your group had cited a source (i.e., you were not passing this off as an original insight); your colleague just mixed up the source.
  2. Once you discovered the error, you immediately reported it. I doubt anyone would blame you for not personally double-checking every source.
  3. This error probably would never have been caught if you hadn't reported it.

Given the above, I strongly doubt there is any need to "freak out." You behaved in pretty much the optimal way, and your colleague made a mistake, but not a career-ending one. Personally, I would have given your colleague a warning and you a "thanks for letting me know" message. But as I said, this is in your professor's hands now.

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I'm a little confused about what exactly happened. Correct me if I'm wrong, someone copied source A exactly and source A was a summary of source B. Then they cited source B and not source A?

This seems like such a strange thing to do purposely. Perhaps it was laziness, or a misunderstanding, or an oversight. Without any other information or evidence I think it's worth giving the benefit of the doubt. This sounds like a mistake. Maybe the other student doesn't know/understand how to cite properly and was confused since source B is summarizing material from source A - though they should not be copy-pasting without indicating it was a direct quote.

In any case, I think you did the right thing. You noticed an error in your presentation and so you contacted the professor. Just wait to hear back. I doubt this will lead to any negative repercussions for you. Maybe a discussion with your group about how to properly cite/quote/etc... though it sounds like it was just one person and in just one place and so I doubt this would warrant any serious follow-up (for you).

If you're concerned that a group-mate did this on purpose then maybe mention that to your professor and let them handle it however they see fit.

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