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Plagiarism

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the copying or paraphrasing of other people’s work or ideas into your own work without full acknowledgement. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition.

Collusion is another form of plagiarism involving the unauthorised collaboration of students (or others) in a piece of work.

Cases of suspected plagiarism are investigated under the University's disciplinary regulations concerning conduct in examinations.  Intentional or reckless plagiarism may incur severe penalties including failure of your degree or explusion from the University.

What forms can plagiarism take?

• Verbatim quotation of other people’s intellectual work without clear acknowledgement. Quotations must always be identified as such by the use of either quotation marks or indentation, with adequate citation. It must always be apparent to the reader which parts are your own independent work and where you have drawn on someone else’s ideas and language.

• Paraphrasing the work of others by altering a few words and changing their order, or by closely following the structure of their argument, is plagiarism because you are deriving your words and ideas from their work without giving due acknowledgement. Even if you include a reference to the original author in your own text you are still creating a misleading impression that the paraphrased wording is entirely your own.  You must also properly attribute all material you derive from lectures.

• Cutting and pasting from the Internet. Information derived from the Internet must be adequately referenced and included in the bibliography. It is important to evaluate carefully all material found on the Internet, as it is less likely to have been through the same process of scholarly peer review as published sources.

• Collusion. This can involve unauthorised collaboration between students, failure to attribute assistance received, or failure to follow precisely regulations on group work projects. It is your responsibility to ensure that you are entirely clear about the extent of collaboration permitted, and which parts of the work must be your own.

• Inaccurate citation. It is important to cite correctly, according to the conventions of your discipline. Additionally, you should not include anything in a footnote or bibliography that you have not actually consulted. If you cannot gain access to a primary source you must make it clear in your citation that your knowledge of the work has been derived from a secondary text (e.g. Bradshaw, D. Name of Book, discussed in Wilson, E., Name of Book (London, 2004), p. 189).

• Failure to acknowledge. You must clearly acknowledge all assistance which has contributed to the production of your work, such as advice from fellow students, laboratory technicians, and other external sources. This need not apply to the assistance provided by your tutor or supervisor, nor to ordinary proofreading, but it is necessary to acknowledge other guidance which leads to substantive changes of content or approach.

• Professional agencies. You should neither make use of professional agencies in the production of your work nor submit material which has been written for you. It is vital to your intellectual training and development that you should undertake the research process unaided.

• Autoplagiarism. You must not submit work for assessment which has already been submitted (partially or in full) to fulfil the requirements of another degree course or examination.

Does this mean that I shouldn’t use the work of other authors?
On the contrary, it is vital that you situate your writing within the intellectual debates of your discipline. Academic essays almost always involve the use and discussion of material written by others, and, with due acknowledgement and proper referencing, this is clearly distinguishable from plagiarism. The knowledge in your discipline has developed cumulatively as a result of years of research, innovation and debate. You need to give credit to the authors of the ideas and observations you cite. Not only does this accord recognition to their labours, it also helps you to strengthen your argument by making clear the basis on which you make it. It also gives your reader the opportunity to follow up your references, or check the validity of your interpretation.

Does every statement in my essay have to be backed up with references?

You may feel that including the citation for every point you make will interrupt the flow of your essay and make it look very unoriginal. At least initially, this may sometimes be inevitable. However, by employing good citation practice from the start, you will learn to avoid errors such as sloppy paraphrasing or unreferenced quotation. It is important to understand the reasons behind the need for transparency of source use. All academic texts, even student essays, are multi-voiced, which means they are filled with references to other texts. Rather than attempting to synthesise these voices into one narrative account, you should make it clear whose interpretation or argument you are employing at any one time (whose ‘voice’ is speaking). If you are substantially indebted to a particular argument in the formulation of your own, you should make this clear both in footnotes and in the body of your text, before going on to describe how your own views develop or diverge from this influence. On the other hand, it is not necessary to give references for facts that are common knowledge in your discipline. If you are unsure as to whether something is considered to be common knowledge or not, it is safer to cite it anyway and seek clarification. You do need to document facts that are not generally known and ideas that are interpretations of facts.

Does this only matter in exams?

Although plagiarism in weekly essays does not constitute a University disciplinary offence, it may well lead to College disciplinary measures. Persistent academic under-performance can even result in your being sent down from the University. Many tutors will ask that you do employ a formal citation style early on, and you will find that this is good preparation for later project and dissertation work. In any case, your work will benefit considerably if you adopt good scholarly habits from the start, together with the techniques of critical thinking and writing described above. As junior members of the academic community, students need to learn how to read academic literature and how to write in a style appropriate to their discipline. This does not mean that you must become masters of jargon and obfuscation; however the process is akin to learning a new language. It is necessary not only to learn new terminology, but the practical study skills and other techniques which will help you to learn effectively. Developing these skills throughout your time at university will not only help you to produce better coursework, dissertations, projects and exam papers, but will lay the intellectual foundations for your future career. Even if you have no intention of becoming an academic, being able to analyse evidence, exercise critical judgement, and write clearly and persuasively are skills that will serve you for life, and which any employer will value.

Unintentional plagiarism

Not all cases of plagiarism arise from a deliberate intention to cheat. Sometimes students may omit to take down citation details when copying and pasting, or they may be genuinely ignorant of referencing conventions. However, these excuses offer no protection against a charge of plagiarism. Even in cases where the plagiarism is found to have been unintentional, there may still be a penalty. It is your responsibility to find out the prevailing referencing conventions in your discipline, to take adequate notes, and to avoid close paraphrasing. If you are offered induction sessions on plagiarism and study skills, you should attend. Together with the advice contained in your subject handbook, these will help you learn how to avoid the common pitfalls. If you are undertaking a project or dissertation you should ensure that you have information on plagiarism and collusion. If ever in doubt about referencing, paraphrasing or plagiarism, you have only to ask your tutor. You will find further advice and useful links in the section entitled ‘Electronic Resources’ below.  All students will benefit from taking the online course which has been developed to provide a useful overview of the issues surrounding plagiarism and practical ways to avoid it. Graduate students who complete this course can include it in their skills training record.
The best way of avoiding inadvertent plagiarism, however, is to learn and employ the principles of good academic practice from the beginning of your university career. Avoiding plagiarism is not simply a matter of making sure your references are all correct, or changing enough words so the examiner will not notice your paraphrase; it is about deploying your academic skills to make your work as good as it can be.
Disciplinary process
Plagiarism in assessed work constitutes a serious breach of the University’s disciplinary regulations and the consequences can be very grave. In some cases it can lead to your expulsion from the University. The regulations on plagiarism are set out in The Examination Regulations.

Plagiarism advice

The University has good advice on Academic Practice.

Princeton University offers comprehensive advice on the avoidance of plagiarism, with some useful examples and guidance on source use and referencing.

Indiana University School of Education has developed a practical tutorial with extensive examples. There is also a formal test by which you can gauge your understanding.

You will also find many examples of good citation practice and source use in the Leeds University online tutorial, especially the section headed ‘How do I not do it?’

The Goucher College ‘Plagiarism-by-Paraphrase Risk Quiz’ usefully covers academic practice in five different disciplines. The referencing conventions of your subject may vary from the examples in use in this and other web sites; however, the principle of transparency of source use remains the same.

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