Plagiarism – what is it and how you can avoid it

An overview of plagiarism and how to avoid it

Are you just starting out at uni? Or looking to score better on your next essay? Whatever stage you’re at, you’ll benefit from this article on plagiarism from our student advisor. Plagiarism can lose you marks or worse, get you kicked off your course! So find out exactly what is meant by plagiarism and how you can avoid it in your next assignment.

What is plagiarism?

Pre packed originalityThere are actually a number of actions that could be seen as plagiarism, so it’s important to know what these are in order to avoid any accidental plagiarism:

  • Using text from another source without quoting or referencing it
  • Trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own
  • Using diagrams/data without referencing them
  • Using ideas from other sources with no reference

Why is plagiarism serious?

Plagiarism is seen as cheating! It is dishonest to use someone else’s work as your own without citing where it came from and who wrote it. That’s not to say that you can’t use information and ideas from other sources without plagiarising. Your paper can’t be written relying entirely on your own imagination, but its important to think new thoughts about other people’s theories and ideas. Avoiding plagiarism is a very useful academic skill!

Your work must show that you have individually carried out your own research to understand the theories and arguments for your topic, and then have used this research to appropriately support your argument. It must also show that you know how to use the words and ideas from other sources using referencing techniques. These things will not be shown if you have simply used someone else’s work, even if you have reformatted it to make it look like the rest of your paper. Plagiarism scanners will catch you out! Schools, colleges, universities and businesses take plagiarism very seriously!

Why do students plagiarise?

Intentional plagiarism – many students plagiarise other people’s work to save time or make the grade. This can be avoided by allocating enough time to finish your piece (planning, writing, proofreading) and researching your piece properly. Try to develop your own style and voice, and always use your own words unless you are quoting from another source.

Unintentional plagiarism – some students will accidently have plagiarism in their paper because of citation confusion (not knowing how to quote/reference properly) or confusion over paraphrasing. Students may indivertibly be plagiarising by not changing the original enough, or in some cases too much! Many students also find it difficult to tell the difference between common knowledge (information that is free to use e.g dates of wars) and original information. The best approach is – when in doubt, cite the source!

How do I avoid plagiarism?

Taking notes

  1. When using a source, first take down all the appropriate details that you’ll need to use to reference it – names, dates etc
  2. Then read the source and try to write down a summary of it using your own words
  3. Sometimes you may need to paraphrase the author’s words very closely or quote directly. If so, indicate this clearly in your notes so you don’t mistake the words for your own, by using coloured pens or quotation marks, for example

Quoting and referencing – the Harvard style:

If you are quoting using the Harvard style, you need to enclose short quotations using quotation marks. Longer quotes should be separated from your text and indented from the left margin, in which case it is not necessary to use quotation marks because the quote is clearly separated from your own text. You need to state the author’s full name, date of publication and page number.

Quoting and referencing – Oxford referencing:

The oxford referencing system is slightly more complicated. This citation scheme is mainly for law students and is based on the Oxford Standard Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA)

Oxford referencing is a documentary style system and consists of:

  1. Citations in the main body of text using a superscript number (1)– usually at the end of a sentence/quotation
  2. A list of endnotes at the end of the paper/chapter for all the citations which appear on that paper/chapter. The endnotes include the name and dates of your information, and any further information necessary
  3. A bibliography at the end of the paper/chapter giving details of the source referred to

What are superscript numbers and how do I use them?

Superscript numbers look like this:


Superscript numbers should be used whenever information/ideas from sources are mentioned in your writing. Sources include things such as newspapers, interviews, books, journals, television and information from the Internet. These sources should be acknowledged in text and then detailed in the footnotes at the end of the chapter or paper.

When paraphrasing (summarising) information from a source, superscript numbers are used at the end of the sentence. When using direct quotes, the superscript number is placed immediately after the direct quote.

Longer quotes should be separated from your own text and indented 1cm from the left hand margin.


The endnotes should provide full bibliographic information, including;

  1. The authors full name/initials
  2. The name of the article/book/journal the information came from
  3. Editors (if possible)
  4. Publisher name/location
  5. Year published
  6. Exact page number of reference

Always remember to read through your paper to check for any accidental plagiarism, and make sure that all sources are fully cited. Try to use your own voice and style in your paper, giving your own contribution and ideas as well as quotations and references to other’s work.

Finally, run your work through’s free plagiarism checker to ensure you haven’t accidentally missed any citations in your work.

Good luck!

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