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Academic Skills


Plagiarism occurs when somebody presents the work of another person as their own, intentionally or not. When this is done with intent to gain advantage, for example in a piece of assessed work, it is seen as a dishonest practice. This is a serious academic offence and in the most serious cases the penalties applied under the University Regulations can be severe, including expulsion from the University. Even in less serious cases, a first offence can result in zero marks for the module.

When does plagiarism occur?

Plagiarism is word-for-word copying, or very close paraphrasing, of the work of another writer without adequate acknowledgement of the source. It occurs:

  • when passages, however short, are copied from a published source in an essay without providing a reference
  • when material is taken from a website in a simple ‘cut and paste’ operation, again without a reference to the source and appropriate quotation marks
  • when one student copies assessment work written by another student (in such cases both students may be found guilty of plagiarism through collusion)
  • when assessed work is written by a third party (for example, by paying another student or buying an essay from an on-line agency)
  • other cases where work created by one person (designs, creative writing, specific theories and ideas) is passed off as original by another person

There are varying levels of plagiarism, from the inadvertent omission of a reference, to the ‘patchwork quilt’ of short passages from a number of sources, to the most blatant cases where the entire assignment is copied, or actually completed by another person.

How to avoid plagiarism

Quite simply, you need to produce work which reflects your own individual ideas, even though it may based on the ideas of others. Copying a passage or a page from a book or a ‘cut and paste’ from the Web might seem like a short-cut on a testing assignment, but this sort of plagiarism is very easy to detect. Sophisticated software such as the Turnitin program can compare a suspect text against thousands of potential sources. Changing verb tenses and making other minor adjustments is not 'original writing'.

In the course of writing your essays you will, of course, have to use published material from which you may want to quote. As long as you correctly identify and reference the passage it is quite legitimate to do this - indeed an essay requires you to support your ideas with quotes and show evidence of reading. You can't go far wrong if you always acknowledge the source of your quotation, using the appropriate referencing system explained in the Referencing section of this Study Guide. The same procedure should be followed if you paraphrase or summarise someone else's ideas, as well as their writing.

Finding and using appropriate quotations is an acquired skill: you need to use them to support your own analysis and judgements, but every quote needs to be put in context and its relevance explained by you, in your own words. In your reading look at the way academic authors use quotations and try to emulate them in your essays. (For a full guide on how to avoid plagiarism, visit Leeds University - Plagiarism Guide. To check your knowledge, try the interactive tutorial on - Plagiarism interactive tutorial).

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