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How to Prove You didn’t Plagiarize? If you did or if you didn’t

 Did someone accuse you of plagiarising your content? No worries. Everyone can be in such a situation and there is no need to give up. There might be two main situations for a student. The first one is when you didn’t plagiarise, and you should prove you didn’t plagiarise, or the second one – when you really did and need to find a way to prove you didn’t. Let us discuss what should you do then.

Important, you should know that it is rare for a student to get accused of plagiarism without evidence. If you have been falsely accused of plagiarism, below are a couple of things you can do to prove you didn’t plagiarize:

  1. Request for a plagiarism test.
  2. Provide drafts of your work.
  3. Provide objective and reputable witnesses.
  4. Apply for a review process.
  5. Make a case at the Student Affairs Division of your school.
  6. Follow the guidelines of sanction.
  7. Have a talk with your lecturer.
  8. Demand oral defence.

Now let’s get deeper and let me help you to figure out how to prove you didn’t plagiarize. I’m going to start from the very beginning going deeper into the topic.

To simplify your navigation below you can find a table of contents:

Table of Content

  • Plagiarism
  • Types of plagiarism
  • Example
  • Consequences of Plagiarism
  • How to prove you didn’t plagiarize
  • Request for a plagiarism test.
  • Provide drafts of your work.
  • Provide objective and reputable witnesses.
  • Apply for a review process.
  • Make a case at Student Affairs.
  • Follow the guidelines of sanction.
  • Have a talk with your lecturer.
  • Demand oral defence.

Okay, let’s go!



According to RIT’s Student Academic Integrity Policy, “plagiarism is the representation of others’ ideas as one’s own without giving proper attribution to the original author or authors”.

An all too familiar definition right? Wait till you copy from one of your past works and still get accused of plagiarism.

Types of Plagiarism

“I thought plagiarism is plagiarism. There are types?!” Yes. The first time I discovered this, I was shocked too.

Students all over the world plagiarize without knowing. Many are punished for plagiarism with low grades, leaving them confused, not knowing what exactly they are doing wrong. Most times, they don’t even understand the proper methods of citation. Some don’t know that paraphrasing an author’s idea and communicating it as yours without any form of reference or proper quotation is plagiarism. Something they often see others do.

Now, there are generally four (4) main types of plagiarism:

  • Direct plagiarism. Here, you copy or pose the work/idea of another as yours with no attribution to the original author. This is what most people know to be plagiarism.
  • Self plagiarism. Here, you submit your previous work or portions of it in a new assignment without permission from the professors or lecturers involved. Most people don’t know this is plagiarism and “…wonder why I didn’t do well in that course”. This doesn’t suffice in the arts except in cases where the works are submitted for competitions and awards.
  • Mosaic plagiarism. Here, you take portions of the works/ideas of various authors and compile them into a piece which you will call yours. This is very popular amongst students who do not want to plagiarize but end up plagiarizing unknowingly. Paraphrasing without giving due attribution to the author is also a case of mosaic plagiarism.
  • Accidental plagiarism. Here you simply forgot to cite a source or you carried out your citation wrongly.

Examples of what Plagiarism is

Plagiarism is:

  • Not citing a quoted source.
  • Paraphrasing an idea without giving reference to its source.
  • Copying part of a sentence, a sentence, part of a paragraph or a paragraph without citing its author.
  • Copying a complete work and posing it as yours.
  • Quoting a sentence or paragraph, omitting certain parts and not using an ellipsis to indicate deletion.
  • Making a citation wrongly. Your lecturer would have given you a clear citation method before you begin work on your essay. Not adhering to this citation style would mean that you have made no citation. No citation is plagiarism.
  • Submitting findings from an interview without quoting your source.

Plagiarism is Not:

  • Did you read a paper, article or book and explained what you had learnt in written form? You didn’t plagiarize.
  • Learning and using general information like popular definitions, historical dates, famous historical events, etc. in your work.

Consequences of Plagiarism

Plagiarism is considered unethical and as serious as theft. If you are caught plagiarizing, chances are you will face the following consequences:

  • Fail the paper;
  • Have a certain percentage or mark removed from your overall course grade;
  • Fail the course;
  • Suspension;
  • Expulsion; and in some cases
  • Incarceration.

As a more proper definition, plagiarism in academia is using old work to produce a new work without stating so with appropriate citations, quotations, attributions etc. The popular definition that “Plagiarism is the representation of another author’s language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions as one’s own original work” is obviously a rather limiting definition of plagiarism for academia. In academia, you can be accused of plagiarism when you copy from yourself.

How to Prove You didn’t Plagiarize (Deliberately)

its not plagiarism

Take A Plagiarism Test

You can request that your work is taken through a plagiarism test if your lecturer has not already done so.  Most professors in the United Kingdom use Turnitin to check plagiarism in a student’s work. If you don’t go to school in the UK, you can request that your work is passed through online plagiarism checker software like SafeAssign, Grammarly, CopyScape PlagScan, Copy Leaks, iThenticate etc. However, the result of the plagiarism checker cannot be taken at face value. It needs to be interpreted by the professor. This is because:

  • These software can identify similar strings of words but cannot fully understand usage, meaning or fully assess originality, like in a five-paragraph essay.
  • Beware of false positives. The ‘Similarity’ feature of these checkers could pick up short phrases in a paper covering a totally different topic from the ones you have used in your paper. A plagiarism checker could calculate this into a percentage as proof that you plagiarized even when both reports cover two very different topics. This kind of result is a false positive.
  • You could prove you didn’t plagiarize by simply running the plagiarism test yourself. Take the report to your lecturer and explain the result to him. You may even explain how it works to him. This step should be enough to prove you didn’t plagiarize.

If you run your work through two or three plagiarism checkers and discover that you indeed plagiarized, though unintentionally, you have to prove it and convince your lecturer. You should show him proof that you did the work by yourself.

Show Your Work

If you were writing a thesis, high chance that your work was handwritten first, and your rough written drafts will save you. Collect and compile the drafts, notes and outlines that you made as you worked on the assignment and the list of sources you didn’t cite. Make photocopies or scan them and send copies to your lecturer. This will help prove that you made efforts to do the paper yourself.

You may have plagiarized unintentionally. If you provide proof that the plagiarism was unintentional, your professor may give you the benefit of the doubt that you did the work yourself.

If you worked on a computer from start to finish:

  • Look for date tags of your work as you progressed in your assignment on the app you used. Take a screenshot and send copies to your lecturer.
  • Compile all the files you used and abandoned as you worked. This could include interviews, recordings, jottings, etc.

It might be too late to get such files if you delete files as you work.

If you started your assignment a while before the deadline, you may use your search engine history as proof of your research efforts. Screenshots of conversations with people you discussed the assignment with via email, chat, or text will prove handy. After you’ve submitted drafts of your work in progress, your lecturer must be able to decide based on your evidence that you really did not plagiarize intentionally.

Provide Objective and Reputable Witnesses

plagiarism garfield

Sometimes, your professor or lecturer may accuse you of plagiarism simply because he doesn’t think the writing style and thinking pattern is yours. Here you have to prove that the work is yours, even after a plagiarism test has proven your work “plagiarism free”.

Who saw your work?

  • If you had interviewed one or two people during your research work, ask that they stand as witness to your lecturer that you most likely didn’t plagiarize your work.
  • Request to have a lecturer who is acquainted with your writing style read your work and make a statement on it.
  • If you did your work in a public place, such as the library, a common room, and a regular face at the place saw your frequent visits and activities, you are in luck. You could get them to give evidence for your case against plagiarism.

This will usually succeed when you have plagiarized unintentionally, your lecturer is only accusing you based on a hunch, or your work has been stolen and submitted by another student.

How to Prove Your Work was Stolen

If the case is that you have been writing your IB extended essay and another student had stolen your work, and submitted it as theirs, then your instructor needs to know that, and fast. In such a case, the thief can prove that his work is the original via oral defense but you still have an advantage over him if you act fast.

Here are ways to prove that your work is original:

  • Be the first to request for an oral defense of your work. A guilty student will most likely not make this move at all.
  • Send drafts of your work to your lecturer/predecessors.
  • Discuss the topic with your lecturer so that he can decide if you have followed the due process to understand the work.

Check the Standard of Plagiarism in Your School

What counts as plagiarism in one context will differ from what counts as plagiarism in another context.

“In legal, scientific, and academic writing, proper attribution is essential – if the ideas are original. But lawyers, judges, scientists, and scholars have written the same things so many times that the wording, refined over many years, may be regarded as the optimal way to express the idea in question. In legal writing especially, authors tend not to stray far from established wording, especially if it has precedential value. Similarly, expression of the provisions of a particular law, regulation, or court decision may, over time, become so fixed as to approach boilerplate. Attribution, except in the most general terms, can be difficult, impractical, or impossible.” Dr. Alan Perlman

Find out what counts as plagiarism in your school and in the course that you are having issues in.

If your work falls short of the standard, politely apologize and request for a rewrite to rectify the errors and submit a new paper.

Present Your Track Record as Evidence

If you have a clean track record academically, and have had no incident of academic malpractice in the past, pleading your innocence, or mistake in a plagiarism case becomes a lot easier. Send an email to the professor:

  • Highlighting your skills and knowledge as it relates to the course;
  • Referencing your previous works; and
  • Emphasizing that you didn’t plagiarize in the past and never intend to in future.

Have A Talk with Your Lecturer

Arrange for a meeting with your lecturer so you can explain yourself. It is rare for a professor to accuse you of plagiarism without evidence to prove that you did plagiarize. Most students plagiarize unintentionally. As I stated earlier, something seemingly small like not citing your sources could lead to your being accused of plagiarism. If the plagiarism was unintentional in your case, then I recommend that you have a meeting with your professor and admit your mistake. Don’t fight further. Also:

  • Share your sources and explain your mistake.
  • Cite your previous track record to convince your teacher that you had not copied your work.
  • Offer to hold a discussion on the topic with him and give him your opinion on the matter drawing reference from what you wrote in your paper.
  • Inform him of plans you have put in place to sure that it does not happen again.

If your professor believes that the plagiarism was unintentional, you’re in luck. If your lecturer doesn’t budge and still accuses you of deliberate plagiarism, then you should politely demand an oral defence of your work.

Demand Oral Defence

When you are falsely accused of plagiarism, you have a right to demand an oral defence. This is somehow similar to having a conversation with your professor or lecturer, but in a more formal way. Here, you will give your professor an oral presentation of your work. The aim of this defence is to exhibit your knowledge and understanding of the topic and to prove that you did not “copy” the work.


Before or after an oral defence of your work takes place, you could get the Dean of the department or someone who has higher authority to sit with your lecturer on the matter. Explain yourself to this person and inform him of your request for a rewrite to correct your errors. This is if you had plagiarized unintentionally.

Approach your meeting with this person with the facts that you presented to your lecturer. You are not necessarily proving anything here. You are simply going the extra mile.

plagiarism academic dishonesty
Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Plagiarism thrives because many don’t know the full scope of its application. Now that you know the various types of plagiarism, you may find out that you are being or have been falsely accused of plagiarism. On the other hand, you may have discovered that you are indeed guilty of plagiarism. Either way, you know what to do. Apply the principles that have been outlined in this article.

I wish you success in all your endeavors.

Vasy Kafidoff

Vasy specializes in education, technology, and marketing strategies and follows all the newest updates in these fields. He is also interested in SEO and digital marketing and the ways it influences businesses and start-ups. Vasy likes to share his personal experience through his personal blog: Kafidoff.com and on other blogs. What good is knowledge if you cannot share it with others?

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