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A Plagiarism Rubric

Evaluating the speech.

July 20, 2016

In light of recent accusations of plagiarism within portions of speeches delivered at the Republican National Convention this week, I thought it would be helpful for me to offer a perspective from the ivory towers of academia. Of course, political speeches are different than student papers, but it’s remarkable how similar defenses can be. From outright denial to deflecting blame (this is all Hillary’s fault) to questioning the amount that was actually plagiarized (Governor Chris Christie argued that “93% of the speech is completely different"), the various responses gave me flashbacks to sitting in my office, patiently listening to students’ attempts to wriggle out of the traps they had laid for themselves. In that spirit, I present my rubric for ranking the egregiousness of plagiarized work. I imagine this scoring system will be about as useful as the defenses themselves.



  • Paper completely taken from Wikipedia, but lists Wikipedia references at the bottom.
  • Paper seems otherwise legit, but is written with British phrasing and spelling, when the student is from Texas.
  • Student outright admits that the paper was co-written with his mother.
  • Paper is completely plagiarized from other sources, but the class was not in the student’s major, and he only took it as requirement “so it won’t affect my future anyway.”


  • Paper is clearly written by someone else, because writer sounds like an expert in American political parties, and this student couldn’t name the three branches of government, but you can’t find the original sources as evidence, and you have 50 other papers to grade and three kids of your own.
  • Paper was so good that you bragged about the sophisticated nature and quality of your student’s writing to a colleague and discovered that the student turned in same paper to their class as well.
  • Paper is plagiarized, but student asserts that you did not make your assignment clear enough and you are the hardest teacher and don’t recognize that she has other classes besides yours.



  • Paper is plagiarized, but student is a Senior, and her grandmother died (again), and her scholarship is running out, and she may even be deported because she’s an International Student, so there is no way you should even consider doing anything about this because you will totally destroy her life, and you wouldn’t want that on your conscience.
  • While paper is plagiarized, it’s only because the student forgot to turn in the correct version of the paper that had the quote marks and the works cited page attached.
  • The student did not knowingly plagiarize. He borrowed the paper from his roommate, who had plagiarized when he wrote this paper. So the roommate needs to be in this meeting, not the student. Don’t persecute the wrong person!
  • The paper may, on first look, seem plagiarized to the instructor, but the student insists that what’s inside the paper is just “knowledge everyone already has.”

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Laura Tropp

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