How to Cope with Having Accidentally Plagiarized

Hopefully, it never happens to you that you plagiarize unintentionally, because you read up on what constitutes plagiarism, and you took great care to cite your sources. However, sometimes it does happen that a student writes what they're convinced is an A-paper for school, only to be shocked and horrified when they get it back to find a "0" and a "Please see me after class" written on it. If you accidentally plagiarized, start with step one, below, for some steps you can take to deal with the situation and learn from the incident.


  1. Image titled Meditate for Health Step 17
    Calm yourself. At this stage, you will inevitably feel not only shocked, but also confused and bewildered. You know yourself as an honest student who would never dream of taking another's work and passing it off as your own. However, if your teacher is claiming you did in fact do this, there's almost certainly some subtle way in which you did that you weren't aware of. You can take a few deep breaths or ask your teacher for a minute or so of silence to calm yourself and reflect on your feelings.
  2. Image titled Teach Literature to College Students Step 17
    Ask your teacher what you did that got you accused of plagiarism. Your teacher may have indicated on your paper what constituted plagiarism, but if not, be sure to ask your teacher what went wrong:[1]
    • Did you forget to cite a source?
    • Did you cite a source, or all your sources, improperly or inadequately?
    • Did you forget to write quotation marks around a direct quote?
    • Was your paraphrasing too close to the original?
    • Did you leave something un-cited because you thought it was common knowledge, but your teacher didn't think it was?
    • These are common pitfalls of accidental plagiarism that all students should learn to avoid. In addition to clarifying with your teacher how you plagiarized in this particular incident, also ask your teacher to go over with you the complete definition of what constitutes plagiarism so that you don't plagiarize again in the future. The punishment for a second bout of plagiarism is often much more severe than the first, and the second time around, you may be given an automatic F in the course, not the assignment.
  3. Image titled Interact With Someone Who Has a Mental Illness Step 6
    Apologize. Tell your teacher (and also mean it) that you are sorry you plagiarized your paper, albeit unintentionally. Inform your teacher that you know that plagiarism is wrong, that you are really an honest student, and that you didn't mean to plagiarize. If this is the case, and your teacher believes you are being sincere, (s)he may deal with your case more leniently, such as allowing you to redo the paper, letting you off with a warning, or taking a certain percentage of marks off.
    • However, do not hope or expect your teacher to be lenient on you. Your teacher still has authority over you, and your school probably has a strict set of rules on how to deal with cases (even accidental ones) of plagiarism.
  4. Image titled Accept Criticism Step 10
    Recognize that the fault is your own. Do not blame your teacher for being "uptight" or blame your school for having "overly strict rules." Recognize that you, and only you, are to blame for this incident. You did plagiarize. You were expected to know better, but you ended up plagiarizing anyway. Don't stay mad at yourself forever over this incident, or go on kicking yourself, but be prepared to take the blame and admit that you are in the wrong.
  5. Image titled Forgive Someone Who Lied to You Step 2
    Try to ask your teacher for leniency. Emphasis on "try" and do not beg your teacher either. Simply ask your teacher if, just this once, you might be allowed to redo the paper in a fully non-plagiarized way, now that you've clarified where you went wrong. If your teacher says 'no' you must accept that. Ultimately, you must accept whatever position your teacher gives. If your teacher insists that you must receive a '0' or an 'F' on this paper for the plagiarism, you must accept that. Try to improve your overall grade at the end of the course by doing well on assignments and tests in the future to make up for the '0'.
  6. Image titled Help Someone With Chronic Back Pain Step 1
    Do a thorough read-up on plagiarism. Either ask your teacher for a complete, thorough analysis of what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it, or ask for any book or online resources on the subject. The more knowledge you have, the more readily you will be able to write original work, and cite what needs to be cited, and the less likely you will be to accidentally plagiarize in the future.
  7. Image titled Study Contract Law Step 2
    Cite all future assignments properly. Use your new knowledge whenever you do an assignment or paper in the future to not plagiarize again.


  • There are two common factors that cause accidental plagiarism in schools: ignorance and forgetfulness. Either the student doesn't know the complete scope of what constitutes plagiarism,[2] or the student forgets to cite a source or include quotation marks etc.[3] Neither of these excuses are perceived as valid by any schools, and will not get students off the hook. Therefore, a complete understanding of what constitutes plagiarism, and always remembering to make a citation will help you greatly.
  • An effective way to not forget to cite any source is to fully cite (both as an in-text citation and footnote) every source immediately when you use it in your paper. Leaving citations for later or after having written the body of your paper might make you forget to cite a source.[4]


  • Do not get mad at yourself or any other person over this. You may feel guilty that you plagiarized and you may feel cheated out of what could have been a good grade, but anger will not accomplish anything and will not help you in the future.

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Categories: Writing