The charge of plagiarism, the accusation that a writer presents someone else’s work as his own, is a serious one that demands a serious response. Every institution of higher learning in the U.S. prohibits plagiarism and considers it a form of academic dishonesty. Many universities consider plagiarism proper grounds for expulsion. Given the gravity of plagiarism, a person should craft a rebuttal carefully and meticulously.
Point by Point Defense
Plagiarism charges are rarely, if ever, vague. The teacher in question will highlight specific sentences, passages or words that he considers lifted from a pre-existing source without proper attribution. Your rebuttal letter should be similarly specific, responding to the charge point by point. Make a list of every part of your essay the teacher considered plagiarized and respond to the accusations in succession.
Plagiarism charges typically come down to the claim that the author presents some phrasing or idea without clear attribution. According to the “Chicago Manual of Style,” it is traditionally considered the author’s responsibility to check scrupulously his own writing to ensure that all borrowed material includes citation. Still, there is often room for interpretation, confusion and debate regarding what does and doesn’t count as plagiarism. In your rebuttal, consider the possibility that the teacher is misinterpreting the text in question. Could he be wrong?
An author might use a formulation or phrase that has become part of everyday discourse. For example, it’s now commonplace to refer to subconscious motives or mention an Oedipus complex. One can use these terms without attributing the psychologist Sigmund Freud who originally coined them. When writing your rebuttal, look at the possibility that the text in question did not require attribution.
Everyone is capable of making an unintended error of omission. Keep in mind that the charge of plagiarism presupposes intentional dishonesty; the point is that the writer in question willfully and deceitfully presented the work of others as his own. Is it possible that you did, in fact, leave out a necessary citation but as a matter of simple oversight? If this is an isolated mistake, point out how carefully the remainder of the essay lists attributions.
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- Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition; section 4.66
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