What is Plagiarism?

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According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, to "plagiarise" means:

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
  • to use (another's production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source[2]

Oxford University further describes plagiarism as:

Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition. Plagiarism may be intentional or reckless, or unintentional. Under the regulations for examinations, intentional or reckless plagiarism is a disciplinary offence.[3]

Plain english.png Plagiarism in Plain English

Plagiarism is a form of academic malpractice and is not often deliberate.

In its simplest description, plagiarism is using the words, ideas or other content of another person and not saying where they came from. By not declaring who said the words, who had the original idea or who created the content, you are either deliberately or accidentally saying "this is all of my own work".

Types of Plagiarism

  • Verbatim (word for word) quotation without clear acknowledgement
    • Direct quotations must always be identified by the use of either quotation marks or indentation. Full referencing of the original author/source must be provided. It must always be obvious, to the reader, which parts are your own independent work and which parts or ideas were created by others.
  • Copying and pasting without clear acknowledgement
    • Information taken or "borrowed" from any source must be correctly referenced and included in the bibliography. This might be copying and pasting from the internet or typing out something that you have found in a physical source such as a book in the library. This includes using images, found in a Google or Flickr search, within a poster, essay or presentation.
  • Paraphrasing
    • Paraphrasing the work of others is where you offer the words, arguments or ideas of another person, but rephrase the original using your own words or language. Whilst this is generally good academic practice, it becomes plagiarism if you do not correctly cite/reference the original author.
    • You must not create the impression that the paraphrased wording or the sequence of ideas are entirely your own and the inclusion of a single reference may not be enough. It is better to write a brief summary of the author's overall argument in your own words, indicating that you are doing so, than to paraphrase particular sections of his or her writing. This will ensure you have a genuine grasp of the original argument and will help avoid the possibility of plagiarism through paraphrasing.
  • Collusion
    • This can involve unauthorised sharing of work between students, failure to declare when you have received assistance (help and suggestions from others, beyond basic proofreading), or failure to follow the rules and regulations on group work projects. It is your responsibility to ensure that you know how much collaboration is permitted in group working and which parts of the work must be your own.
  • Inaccurate citation
    • It is important to cite/reference correctly, according to the conventions of your course.
      • Harvard Referencing (Cite them right) is used for most courses.
      • APA Psychology
      • MHRA English
      • OSCOLA Law
    • As well as listing your sources (i.e. in a bibliography) you must indicate, using an in-text citation, where a quoted passage comes from. Additionally, you should not include anything in your references or bibliography that you have not actually consulted. If you cannot access the original source you must make it clear in your citation that your knowledge of the work has been found in a secondary text (see Secondary Sources for more information).
  • Failure to acknowledge assistance
    • You must clearly acknowledge all assistance which has contributed to the production of your work. Examples include advice from fellow students, lab technicians and other external sources. This does not need to apply to the assistance provided by your tutor or to ordinary proofreading, but you must acknowledge guidance which leads to substantive changes of content or approach.
  • Buying an Essay (Use of material written by professional agencies or other persons)
    • You must not present the work of others, even with permission, as your own. This may include buying all or part of an assignment/essay. Putting your own work through an "improvement" or editing service. Or even using a piece of work that you have been given without charge. If it is not your work - you cannot use it.
  • Auto-plagiarism
    • You must not submit work for assessment that you have already submitted (partially or in full) elsewhere. The previous submission may have been for another module, course or institution, but it cannot be reused unless this is specifically asked for within the current module (i.e. to provided a critical appraisal of a previous essay). Where earlier work by you is citable, i.e. it has already been published, you must reference it clearly.

This section "Types of Plagiarism" is derived from content produced by Oxford University and any copying or distribution should cite the original source. [3]


The penalties for plagiarism can be complex and depend on the type of offence, the scope of the offence and the level at which you are studying.

From the 2015/15 Academic Regulations (dated June 2015)[4], plagiarism is describe as either Minor or Major:

Minor Plagiarism Major Plagiarism
Examples include:

i. Unattributed use of a few sentences or a short paragraph, poor referencing, incorrect or incomplete citation or inappropriate paraphrasing at Levels 3 and 4 and as a first incident at Level 5.

This type of plagiarism may be considered under the Minor Procedures at Levels 3 and 4 and also at Level 5, but only if it is a first offence at Level 5.

At Levels 6 and 7, such practices are regarded as unacceptable and must be considered under the Major Procedures.

Examples include:

ii. Wholesale copying or paraphrasing of multiple paragraphs or wholesale papers from a source text without acknowledgement. This may be regarded under Minor Procedures only at Levels 3 and 4, (and Level 5 as a first offence). At Levels 6 and 7, and as a second offence at Levels 3 4 and 5, it will always be regarded as needing to be considered under Major Procedures.

iii. Appropriating the work of another student and submitting it as one’s own.

iv. Where any student has employed a ghost writer, either in person or via web based provision (e.g. cheat sites), to produce the assessment on their behalf. This includes FDL students.

v. Accusations by one student of another’s plagiarism of his/her work.

Types iii - v must always be considered under Major Procedures, regardless of the level of study.

It is recommended that you save and read a copy of Policy and Procedures Governing Academic Malpractice. Sections 7.4 - 7.6 describe the procedures and possible outcomes for both levels of plagiarism; which can be as serious as being removed from your course and the university.

Tutorial.png How to Avoid Plagiarism

  1. The quick answer is: Reference Everything! See Referencing - What and why? for more information.
  2. The longer answer begins with reading and understanding the section "Types of Plagiarism" above.
  3. Read and understand the University Rules and Regulations (Assessment & Malpractice) below.
  4. Gaining a better understanding, of what plagiarism is, is key to avoiding accusations of academic malpractice. Library & Academic Adviser, Kim McGowan, has produced the following interactive resource that introduces you to the main forms of plagiarism:
Academic Malpractice and Plagiarism Click to open in a new window.

More reading.png Related Reading

Referencing and Plagiarism

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More reading.png University Rules and Regulations (Assessment & Malpractice)

Additional documents and related information are available through the Academic Regulations link above.

References.png References

  1. https://www.flickr.com/photos/postmemes/19804047680
  2. http://www.plagiarism.org/plagiarism-101/what-is-plagiarism/
  3. 3.0 3.1 http://www.ox.ac.uk/students/academic/guidance/skills/plagiarism
  4. http://www.cumbria.ac.uk/Public/AQS/Documents/AcademicRegulations/3d.pdf