Should I let a student rewrite a plagiarized paper?
Dr. Tamara Fudge, Professor in the School of IT
I didn’t mean to plagiarize! Can I rewrite this paper?
In a previous post, plagiarizing was compared to running a stop sign. Backing up and trying again cannot erase the fact the sign was ignored the first time! (You can’t undo a crash, either.) It’s up to the police officer to give a verbal warning, a written warning, or a ticket. The severity of the crime is considered in making that choice.
Similarly, when a student is caught plagiarizing an assignment and then asks to redo it, the severity of the crime is considered. A very high percentage of copied content may warrant a report sent to the Provost’s Office. In that case, university policies state that the student receives a zero in the gradebook, and you wait for the outcome of the Provost’s investigation.
If a report is sent up and you follow rules, a revision is not an option.
However, sometimes the plagiarized portion isn’t “high-percentage” and your decision is to issue a warning instead. The problem might have stemmed from poor paraphrasing techniques, misunderstanding of how to handle quotes, or poor pre-college preparation (a consideration for first-term students). On the other hand, it could be a lack of ethics, a lack of caring, or a lack of having previously been caught.
Some students will beg to be allowed to rewrite the paper. Excuses vary but often point to “I didn’t mean to plagiarize.” Maybe the transgression was on purpose, maybe not, and we will never truly know. We already know that intention is not a consideration in terms of plagiarism because intention cannot be proven.
Setting aside student intention, then, should a revision be allowed? On one hand, the student can practice writing correctly and has another chance to prove an understanding of the unit’s topics. Maybe this can be justified if you can be sure that the student has not had the opportunity to learn how to write properly before signing up for your class. On the other hand, the lesson about plagiarism might not be learned if there is no real penalty. A late penalty to a resubmission could be applied, but is the act of plagiarism only worth a 10% penalty, perhaps only 5 points out of a course’s 1000? There is a lot to consider, including whether or not the student has heeded any previous instruction or warnings from you about plagiarism.
I wish there was an easy answer, but I have not yet found it. The best recommendation I can offer is to look at the offending assignment again and reassess the damage caused by running that stop sign. Consider the pros and cons of allowing a revision and remember that our purpose is to educate. Will the student best be served by rewriting, or best be served by a strong reminder that honesty is important? Every situation must be evaluated on its own merits as you consider whether or not to allow a plagiarized paper to be rewritten.