Students often worry about committing plagiarism, but if you research and write carefully there's no need to. This page will help you recognise what plagiarism is and offer advice on how to avoid it.
What is plagiarism?
In academic writing, plagiarism is the act of reproducing any idea or content from someone else's work without giving that person due credit by citing and referencing them.
This applies if the source is print or electronic, published or unpublished, and from an individual or an organisation.
The two kinds of plagiarism
There are two main types of plagiarism, intentional and unintentional. Click on the boxes below to find out more about each one.
Intentional plagiarism is the act of deliberately reproducing someone else's work without giving them due credit.
If you are tempted to use someone else’s ideas or information in this way (for example, by copying and pasting passages from a book, article, website or friend's assignment) simply don’t do it. The consequences of committing plagiarism are much worse than handing in an assignment that is unsatisfactory but entirely your own work.
In the vast majority of cases plagiarism is unintentional. This is the act of accidentally reproducing someone else's work without giving them due credit.
The bad news is that even if you didn't intend to commit plagiarism the consequences will be the same. The good news is that it's easy to avoid accidentally committing plagiarism by taking the steps outlined below.
How it can happen
Unintentional plagiarism can occur for a number of reasons:
- not understanding what plagiarism is
- not citing or referencing properly within your work
- a lack of confidence in putting things into your own words
- pressure from deadlines leading to a ‘cut and paste’ approach to writing
- disorganised research and note-taking, leading to confusion between your own thoughts and other people's.
Why does it matter?
There are many reasons why plagiarism is seen as a form of academic misconduct.
Perhaps the most important is that at university a high premium is placed on original thought that utilises and builds on prior knowledge. This means that your work must be placed within the context of existing knowledge, which will be lost if you plagiarise.
In addition to this, whenever you directly quote, paraphrase or summarise someone else’s ideas you have a responsibility to give due credit to that person for their work. It is an act of acknowledging what other people have produced.
Lastly, referencing provides your readers with a route back to the sources you have used. You will enable your marker to understand what led you to your conclusions, and to see that you have researched both widely and thoroughly.
How to spot it
Plagiarism can take many forms. Here are some common examples to look out for:
- copying the work of another student, with or without their consent
- buying or commissioning a piece of work and presenting it as your own
- summarising or paraphrasing someone else's work without citing and referencing the original source
- quoting someone else's work word-for-word (verbatim) without placing the words in quotation marks and providing a clear citation and reference
- submitting, in whole or in part, work which has previously been submitted at the University of Bristol or elsewhere, without having express permission to do so and citing and referencing the earlier work.
7 steps to avoiding plagiarism
There are two main principles that can help you avoid committing plagiarism:
Firstly, understand what kind of question you are trying to answer and what process this will require. Secondly, take a methodical approach to planning and writing your assignments.
With these in mind, take a look at our checklist of tips:
1. Plan ahead
Allow enough time to complete your assignments based on a realistic assessment of your productivity levels and any time constraints.
2. Keep track of your sources
When doing research keep a record of everything you read, including author, title, and the date and place of publication.
If you are reading online material also keep a note of the URL and the date that you viewed the page.
3. Paraphrase carefully
Use a note-taking system to clearly distinguish your own thoughts from anyone else's work that you have paraphrased.
4. Add citations during note-taking
If you paraphrase or directly copy anyone else's work into your notes, make sure you mark this in some way.
Make a note of where the information came from (including page number), and if directly copying be sure to enclose the text in quotation marks.
5. Ask for help if needed
If you are unsure or have any questions about plagiarism while completing an assignment then ask your Subject Librarian or your lecturer.
6. Review your work before submitting
Before you hand in your work review it for the following:
- Have you included citations for any paraphrased or summarised text?
- Have you enclosed all direct quotations in quotation marks and cited the source appropriately?
- Do all your in-text citations have a corresponding reference in the list of references at the end of your work?
7. Save your research
Save your research, including notes, photocopies, PDFs and printouts, until your work has been assessed.
For further advice on plagiarism and how to avoid it, look at the guidance on Cite Them Right (log-in required).
For help with paraphrasing and developing your academic writing, visit the Study Skills page.
For further help with avoiding plagiarism please contact your subject librarian, who you can find listed by subject here.