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What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the practice of taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own. The word derives from the Greek word for kidnapping, which describes it well.

More often than not, plagiarism is unintentional and occurs when we leave out a reference or forget where we originally took a phrase from. 

Plagiarism can occur in a whole range of assignments, not just essays. Using someone else’s work and passing it off as your own can occur in reports, presentations, group assignments, designs and even artifacts within portfolios.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Number ThreeThe best way to avoid the risk of plagiarism is to establish good academic habits. Once these practices become routine, you can be confident that your work is your own.

  1. Habit One: reading and note taking
  2. Habit Two: using your own words
  3. Habit Three: referencing


Use the tabs above to review these three good academic habits

Image credit: fragiletender

Habit one: reading and note taking

Every time you make notes from your reading, jot down the page number of the book or article or the URL you got it from. Do this every single time. Without fail.

This will save a great deal of time at the end when you look at your notes, find the perfect phrase you want to use but haven’t recorded where it came from. The temptation to use it without acknowledging the source can be very great when you are under pressure to complete the assignment!

Habit two: using your own words

Students often worry that they may be committing unintentional plagiarism simply because they have read a text book and then want to make the same point in their essay.

The best tip to avoid this is to close the text book and then write down what you remember. This will almost certainly be enough to turn the phrase into your own words. If it still seems very close to the original then it probably means  that this is exactly what you want to say, so you should reference it directly using quote marks. Regardless of whether you have put the information into your own words or done a direct quote, you still need to include a reference to the original source.

Habit three: referencing

Accurate referencing take times to learn. But every minute you spend learning it will be returned to you in spades when it comes to completing an assignment. There is plenty of help available within this guide on the different styles. At UWL we normally use the Harvard referencing system but some academic subjects use different formats. Your course leader will be able to advise you.

The rule of thumb for all referencing is that you need to provide enough information about the source that someone reading your assignment can find their way to the exact quote or point you refer to.

Checking Your Work

Keyboard & NotesOnce you have done your best to acknowledge all sources of your work, there is no harm in double checking. Ask a friend or colleague to read through your final draft and see if they spot a phrase that seems stilted or slightly awkward. This could be a sign that you have unintentionally copied a phrase from someone else’s writing, so it doesn’t sound quite like your own. Then all you have to do is change it into your own words or put speechmarks round it to indicate it is a direct phrase and reference the phrase to its source.

Ask the same friend or colleague to try out one of your references and see if they can locate the exact source.  If they can, well done!  It’s an accurate reference. If they can’t you’ll need to identify what’s missing and add it in.

You can also use Turnitin to review your writing and referencing. 

Image credit: clevrcat