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This applies if the source is print or electronic, published or unpublished, and from an individual, organisation or AI like ChatGPT.

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.

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
  • 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.

What it looks like

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
  • presenting work that has been bought or commissioned as your own 
  • using AI such as ChatGPT to create content 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:

Black and white closeup of a laptop and persons hands Cite Them Right

For further advice on plagiarism and how to avoid it, take a look at the guidance on Cite Them Right.

Academic integrity

Click here for further information on the university's academic integrity and contract cheating policy.

A photo of students at work in a Study Skills service workshop. Study Skills service

For help with paraphrasing and developing your academic writing, visit the Study Skills page.

A photo of one of the reading rooms in the Wills Memorial Library. Subject Librarians

For further help with avoiding plagiarism please contact your subject librarian, who you can find listed by subject here.

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