Avoiding Plagiarism

Published on 1 March 17

Even though you've submitted dozens of assignments and might never have worried about plagiarism, it’s worth revisiting the basics as you write up your dissertation or extended project and double checking your work.

Understand the definition of plagiarism

The University defines plagiarism as “presenting the ideas, work or words of other people without proper clear and unambiguous acknowledgement.” This means that whoever is assessing your work must be able to see any parts of your work which are not your own ideas, work or words.

This also includes ‘self-plagiarism’ which occurs where, for example, you submit work that you have presented for assessment on a previous occasion.

Attribute your sources properly

It goes without saying that you must reference! Of course, you don’t need to reference things that are common knowledge (for example that Rome is in Italy) but any view you write about that’s not your own needs to be attributed to the place you got it from.

For help with referencing properly, see the My Learning Essentials guide to referencing.

Be especially careful when paraphrasing - re-writing passages of text in your own words, or compressing the original text. Paraphrasing is great as it illustrates you’ve understood the topic and blends academic voices in with your own writing. You’ll boost your marks this way too as again, it shows you’ve understood what you’re reading. But when paraphrasing, you do of course still need to reference properly, and in as much detail as you would for a direct quote.

Make your voice heard

It’s absolutely essential that your marker can distinguish between your own voice and that of your sources. This is essential for general academic purposes as well because you’re often marked on the level of understanding and engagement you demonstrate.  Remember you’re contributing to the academic discussion – you need to include your own, independent, critical voice and thoughts alongside those you’re reading. So make it clear where your voice starts and your sources end.

If you think it’s likely that, in the haze of note taking and researching, you might lose track of what’s you’ve interpreted and what you’ve written yourself, it’s a good idea to use different coloured pens or text for each and set yourself a key.

If you keep this in place for when you’re writing, it’s also a great way to make sure you’ve got a good balance between your own thoughts and your sources. Be sure to change the text to black before you submit however!

Understand the difference between 'collaboration' and 'collusion'

If you’re working on a group assignment then it is assumed you will share ideas and collaborate, and the mark you receive will reflect this.

It’s often helpful to discuss things with your course mates. But if you’re working on an individual assessment and you copy ideas from a friend, this can be counted as a form of plagiarism called ‘collusion’ and often means you’ll both be penalised.

A good way to avoid ‘collusion’ is to stay away from reading your peers’ work in too much depth. It’s fine to have a bit of a debate or discuss problems with others doing your assessment, but keep asking yourself at all times – is your work is original and does it reflect how you see the question you’re answering?

Stay away from fabricating research results

If you’re assignment is lab or primary-research based, falsifying or copying results can also count as a form of plagiarism.

Whether you’re working by yourself or as part of a group, stay away from exaggerating the reporting of results or other data and document fully any research programme or survey that you undertake. Remember, you must be able to verify the results or data that you submit so anything you report must be true!

Further guidance

For further help with plagiarism, see the My Learning Essentials guide.

These tips are only intended as a basic guide and you should always consult University policy, or your academic advisor if you're unsure about plagiarism. You can find the guidelines on the Teaching and Learning Support Office website. 

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