Plagiarism: information and advice

This page will help you recognise what plagiarism is and help you avoid it by carrying out your research and writing thoughtfully and responsibly.

What is plagiarism?

In academic writing, plagiarism is the inclusion of any idea or any language from someone else without giving due credit by citing and referencing that source in your work. This applies if the source is print or electronic, published or unpublished, another student’s work, or any other person.

Plagiarism can occur for a number of reasons:

  • Simply not understanding what plagiarism is.
  • Not citing or referencing properly within your work. The Library Services referencing pages offer help and advice on how to cite and reference.
  • Pressure from deadlines and/or poor time-management leading to a ‘cut and paste’ approach to research.
  • Disorganised research and note-taking leading to confusion between your own thoughts and ideas taken from other sources.
  • A lack of confidence in putting things into your own words.

Plagiarism can take many forms. Here are some examples:

  • Quoting another’s work ‘word for word’ (verbatim) without placing the phrase(s), sentence(s) or paragraph(s) in quotation marks and providing a clear citation and reference.
  • Summarising or paraphrasing* the work or ideas of another without citing and referencing the original source.
    Please note: Summarising/paraphrasing is not changing a few words here and there from the original. If the language and sentence structure you use is too close to that in the original then you are plagiarising, even if you provide a citation. Summarising/paraphrasing is putting across the source’s ideas in your own words; restating the ideas in your own way.
  • Using statistics, tables, figures, formulae, diagrams, questionnaires, images, musical notation, computer code etc. created by others without citing and referencing the original source.
  • Copying the work of another student, with or without their consent.
  • Collaborating with another student and then presenting the resulting work as one’s own (Consult your tutor if you are unsure about the extent of collaboration permitted in any joint work).
  • Submitting, in whole or in part, work which has previously been submitted at the University of Bristol or elsewhere, without citing and referencing the earlier work. This includes re-using your own submitted work without citing and referencing (known as self-plagiarism).
  • Buying or commissioning an essay or other piece of work and presenting it as your own.

Why does it matter?

In academic writing a high premium is placed on original thought which utilises and builds on the knowledge and ideas of others. You are expected to do your own thinking, and will be assigned work by your lecturers in order to analyse the ideas you have read about and to develop your own thoughts in reply to them.

When you conduct research for your own assignments, you will be relying on the citations and references provided by other authors in order to find material relevant to your topic. In the exact same way, when you are writing your own work, when you are the author, you will be responsible for providing your readers with a route back to the sources you used so that they can also follow the progression of ideas. Your work needs to be placed within the context of other related work; if you plagiarise this context will be lost.

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. And by crediting that person, through proper citing and referencing, you will enable your lecturer, and whoever else may read your work, to understand what led you to your conclusions and to see that you have researched both widely and thoroughly.

How to avoid plagiarism

There are two main types of plagiarism, intentional and unintentional. The easiest to avoid is intentional plagiarism. If you are tempted to ‘borrow’ someone else’s ideas (i.e. copying whole passages from a book, article, website, or a friend's assignment) without citing the author because you are short on time, stressed, or you do not fully understand the topic you are writing about, simply don’t do it. The consequences of plagiarism are much worse than handing in an assignment late or handing in a piece of work you are not 100% satisfied with. 

In many cases, plagiarism is unintentional and caused by a lack of organisation, carelessness, confusion, or a mix of all three. The bad news is that regardless of whether you intended to plagiarise or not you will still be held responsible for the work you hand in and the consequences will be the same. The good news is that there are two easy steps you can take to avoid unintentionally plagiarising: (a) understand what question you are trying to answer and what process you are entering into when you write an assignment and (b) use a methodical approach when planning and writing your assignments.

With this in mind, below is a checklist of tips to conduct your research thoughtfully and responsibly and to help you avoid plagiarising:

Further help

For further help on plagiarism issues, contact your Subject Librarian.

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