What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is a serious offence against University discipline.

Plagiarism is the act of copying or including in one's own work, without adequate acknowledgement, intentionally or unintentionally, the work of another (or oneself, in the case of ‘self plagiarism’ see below) for one's own benefit. Inadvertent or very minor plagiarism is dealt within School by the Director of Undergraduate Studies, acting as School Academic Misconduct Officer. Serious and serial plagiarism is dealt with by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The University’s general guidance for students about plagiarism includes the University’s procedures for dealing with different kinds of plagiarism and advice about what to do if you are accused of plagiarism. The topic of plagiarism is also addressed in the School of Divinity Academic Skills course. If you are still unsure about how to avoid plagiarism, you should approach your Course Manager, Director of Undergraduate Studies or Supervisor.

All essays and dissertations are automatically passed through a university-approved plagiarism detection software programme called Turnitin. If Turnitin detects more than a designated percentage of material which has already appeared elsewhere (eg. as citations or bibliographical references), the assignment will be examined by the Course Manager concerned, and a report may be made to the School Academic Misconduct Officer.

How to avoid plagiarism

The key to avoiding plagiarism is to make sure that you give correct references in your work for anything that you have taken from other sources: eg. ideas, theories, findings, images, diagrams or direct quotations.

Proper referencing is essential: see the advice given on Citations and Bibliographies in the UG and PG handbooks.

You must use a consistent referencing system to signal within your text the origins of material taken from another source, even if you have put it into your own words.

If you take material from another source, change a few words, and then include it without referencing, you have still committed a plagiarism offence because you have not made it clear to your reader that you have essentially reproduced the original source. You should either express the ideas fully in your own words and give the reference, or else use clearly labelled direct quotes. (But note that if you include too many direct quotes in your work this may reduce your grade, as the marker will find it difficult to see evidence of your own understanding of the topic).

The process of referencing may seem rather complicated. However, in order to assess your work and give you helpful feedback, your marker needs a clear sense of what ideas you have developed for yourself, and what comes from other sources. As you learn to produce university-level work, you are developing the skills to allow you to participate within wider communities of scholars. Here, new knowledge and understanding is partly developed by building on the work of others. By properly acknowledging earlier work, you give credit where it’s due and help to maintain the integrity and credibility of academic research in your particular area. Clear referencing also allows readers to learn about the wider literature through your work. Understanding how previous scholars have contributed to the literature makes it much easier to make sense of the current state of play.

Sometimes even when students know what plagiarism is, they find it hard to know what to do instead. You may wonder what you can add to the debate on a topic when the authors whose work you are reading seem to know much more than you. One way to learn how to deal with this is to pay close attention to the ways in which your lecturers generate arguments or support their points.

Students sometimes wonder where to draw the line between discussing their ideas with their peers (which can be an excellent learning experience) and unacceptable collusion. The time to be particularly careful is when you are preparing work for assessment. You need to be certain that the work you submit represents your own process of engagement with the question set. You may get into difficulty if, for example, reading another students’ plan for their work influences your own. Assisting another student to plagiarise is also an offence.

Accidental plagiarism is sometimes a result of not coming to terms with how to study effectively at university. For example, the ways in which students take notes sometimes makes it difficult to distinguish later between verbatim quotes, paraphrased material, and their own ideas. A student may also plagiarise unintentionally because they have been feeling daunted by an assignment and so have put it off until they have to rush to meet the deadline.

You should also avoid self plagiarism, defined as material that is re-used verbatim in different essays by the same student, whether on the same course or on a different course. In connection with this, essays or portions of essays should not be posted on an individual's website or a similar forum before they have gone through Turnitin and been marked in the usual way.

Useful information on avoiding plagiarism

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