Citing, referencing and avoiding plagiarism
Plagiarism is using other people’s words or ideas in writing without giving the source(s) due credit. It is literary theft. According to Rozakis (2007, p. 117), and quoting directly, plagiarism is:
1Using someone else’s ideas without acknowledging the source.
2Paraphrasing someone else’s argument as your own.
3Presenting someone else’s line of thinking in the development of an idea as if it were your own.
4Presenting an entire paper or a major part of it developed exactly as someone else’s line of thinking.
5Arranging your ideas exactly as someone else did - even though you acknowledge the source(s) in parentheses.
In essence, plagiarism involves passing off someone else’s ideas as though they are your own. As argued earlier in this chapter, committing plagiarism strikes at the very heart of academic practice. Avoiding plagiarism is not something that can be learnt overnight since it involves understanding and applying a range of practices.
Different higher education institutions define plagiarism in slightly different ways (and have various penalties for students committing plagiarism). Some universities distinguish, or seek to distinguish, between plagiarism done with the student’s awareness and that done by ignorance or accident, and the university imposes penalties accordingly. Plagiarism is plagiarism, however, whether it is done intentionally or by accident. The end result is the same in terms of the effect on the reader and not properly attributing the work of others.
In your first few weeks and months of an undergraduate degree programme you will learn about plagiarism and how to avoid it. Your first few steps to avoid plagiarism may not be entirely successful, but you will be expected (at least by the second year) to be able to complete assignments without committing plagiarism.
To give a concrete example of plagiarism, here is an original extract from Day and Tosey (2011, p. 515):
In the secondary and 16-19 education sectors in England and Wales some form of action planning, in which a teacher or tutor sits down with a student and discusses their progress and negotiates learning targets with plans to achieve them, has emerged to become a recognisable feature of teaching practice within the last 25 years.
A student could be committing plagiarism if they had read and drew upon parts of this statement in their essay, without referring to the original source. The student would also be committing plagiarism if they did refer to the original source, but their wording was too close to that of the original (underlined words are the same as in the original):
In secondary and further education, action planning has become arecognisable feature of teaching practice within the last 25 years (Day and Tosey, 2011, p. 515).
The student would have avoided plagiarism if he or she had paraphrased the original and cited the source:
Day and Tosey (2011, p. 515) contend that staff and students engaging in action planning towards negotiated learning targets has become common practice in 11-19 education.
An alternative approach would be to quote part of the original source exactly. As explained earlier, quoting word for word is normally done only sparingly:
According to Day and Tosey (2011, p. 515), ’actionplanning ... has emerged to become a recognisable feature of teaching practice within the last 25 years
It is comparatively easy for a staff member to determine that a student has committed plagiarism. They can notice changes in writing style in a student’s work and, from their own knowledge of the subject, know whether the student has cited sources appropriately or has tried to pass off the evidence
and reasoning of others as their own.
The staff member can also submit a student’s work to plagiarism detection software such as Turnitin (www.turnitinuk.com). This compares the student’s work with sources held in a database. A staff member can also use Turnitin to create their own database, to which students submit their current assignment. The database contains work submitted by other students in this and previous years, to reveal whether the student has copied the work of others.
In some universities, before submitting an assignment, students are encouraged to submit their work to Turnitin and receive an analysis. This is seen as a checking process, to ensure that students are aware if they are commiting plagiarism, and can do something about it before they submit an assignment. This is fine assuming students understand the feedback Turnitin is giving them, that they see Turnitin as part of their learning process to understand plagiarism and avoid it, and that they do not come to rely on Turnitin as a lazy way for checking their work. If a student has learnt and is applying the principles of academic integrity, they will come to see Turnitin as an additional tool rather than something on which they rely.
Some university staff are using Turnitin’s functions in a more comprehensive way, as a vehicle to give students feedback on work in development, not just about plagiarism but about other aspects, such as structure and argumentation. Turnitin’s use for such purposes may well grow in the next decade.
Can you plagiarise yourself? Yes. Normally, you cannot submit the same work for different parts of your degree programme. If you simply copy work from one assignment and submit it in another, then this is self-plagiarism. If you are drawing upon previous work you have submitted you would normally reword the original text or quote an extract directly, and cite the source, just as you would for any other source.
Why do students plagiarise?
There are several common reasons why students plagiarise, whether accidentally or with awareness:
✵Not understanding what plagiarism is.
✵Not having practised sufficiently the skills of summarising, paraphrasing and quoting.
✵Not knowing how to cite and reference appropriately.
✵Lacking confidence to explain the work of others in their own words.
✵Lacking the confidence or capability, as yet, to develop their own argument.
✵Not giving themselves enough time to read and understand sources and weave them into their own argument.
To avoid plagiarism clearly requires a wide range of skills, from the general (managing your time) to the specific (summarising, paraphrasing and quoting appropriately, with accompanying citations and references).
Collusion or collaboration?
Collaborating with other students is a common and accepted way of learning and of completing some assignments. In writing up work collaboratively, the contributions of all group members should be specified and appropriately acknowledged. For many group tasks, however, when it comes to writing up, the submitted assignment is expected to be written up individually. Any assistance from other students should be specified and acknowledged. If you have submitted work as your own which has benefited greatly from the work of someone else (with or without their permission), and this has not been acknowledged, then this is collusion - a form of cheating - and is unacceptable academic practice.