6 Bad Excuses for Committing Plagiarism

A failing grade is the best possible outcome of plagiarism!
A failing grade is the best possible outcome of plagiarism!. Ann Cutting/Stockbyte/Getty Images


Plagiarism is a serious offense that can cause permanent damage to a student’s academic career. Few students realize the seriousness of this crime – and crime is exactly what plagiarism amounts to. It is an act of theft.

Because many students fail to understand the potential consequences of committing plagiarism, they don’t necessarily take the time to understand what types of behavior constitute plagiarism.

This gets too many students into trouble – and that trouble can be anything from embarrassment to heartbreak.

In college, plagiarism is taken very seriously.

Many colleges will expel students on the very first event. While students are given the opportunity to have their case or situation reviewed by a panel or a student court, they should understand that excuses just do not work.

The most common excuse that school officials hear appears as number one on the list:

1. I didn’t know it was wrong.  Your first job as a student is to know what behavior is considered plagiarism. You should stay far away from these common types of plagiarism:

  • Submitting the work of another. If you ever turn in a paper that was written by someone else, especially if you pay money for it, then you are guilty of plagiarism and you are risking your future. It is plagiarism to claim the work of another or even the ideas of another. While most students in middle and high school don’t have to worry about stealing ideas when it comes to a paper or a science project, students in college do run the risk of plagiarism charges when they write a paper based on another person’s thesis.
  • Submitting a paper you’ve written for another class. Yes, you can get into trouble if you use your own original work for two different assignments. There is a difference between submitting the same paper twice and building upon your own research and adding to an old paper. Check with your instructor or advisor if you have any questions or doubts about this.
  • Copying too much text and using it as a block quote. Let’s face it. Sometimes students try to pull the wool over their instructors’ eyes. Instructors are not dummies, and they see this one all the time. They don’t fall for it. There is a limit to the amount of text you should put into a block quote.
  • Rewording a source or several sources. Sometimes student will submit a research paper with correct citations, but the paper is really a reworded version of one source or several sources pieced together.  The paper you write should contain your own original ideas, theories, and conclusions.  You must draw conclusions from the evidence you find in other work.

While “I didn’t know it was wrong” is the most common excuse, there are others that instructors hear often. Be warned that excuses don’t get you off the hook!

2. I didn’t mean to.

Everyone knows that it is tedious work, putting in all those precise citations. One common problem that instructors see is the omission of a citation. If you use a quote from a source and you don’t indicate that it’s a quote and cite your source, you have committed a theft!

Be very careful to proofread and make sure you’ve indicated every quote with quotation marks and cited the source.

3. I didn’t know how to do the assignment.

Sometimes students receive unique assignments that are so different from previous tasks that they just don’t know how the completed task should look. It’s perfectly fine to look up examples when you are expected to do something new like write an annotated bibliography or create a poster presentation.

But sometimes, students who procrastinate can wait too long to look up these examples, and they realize that they have waited too long to complete the work. When that happens, they may be tempted to borrow from those examples.

The solution? Don’t procrastinate! That also leads to trouble.

4. I was just helping a friend.

You know perfectly well that you’re guilty of plagiarism if you use work that wasn’t written by you. But did you realize that you are also guilty if you write a piece for another student to use?

You are both guilty! It’s still plagiarism, on both sides of this coin.

5. It was my first time.

Really? That might have worked when you were five, but it won’t work on instructors when it comes to stealing.  Many students are expelled after the first time committing plagiarism.

6. I was in a rush.

Politicians and journalists who have quick deadlines for speeches and reports have tried this one, and it is unfortunate that such high-profile personalities have to be such awful role models.

Again, this excuse for stealing the work of another is not going to get you anywhere. You are not likely to gain sympathy because you didn’t give yourself enough time to finish an assignment! Learn to use a color-coded calendar to you have plenty of warning time when an assignment is due.