We have a few top tips to help you try and avoid plagiarism when writing your essays. There is other support available from the university as well to help you develop your academic skills.
Most of the university uses the Harvard referencing style, so that’s what we’ll be using here – but always check with your tutors what reference style they want you to use. A lot of these tips work whatever your referencing style!
Reading is fundamental darling – and so is good note taking
When you’re researching for your essay, make sure you’re taking good quality notes that detail where you found the information, who wrote it, and what the information is. There are various reference management tools available to you to help, which could be especially useful if you’re writing a large piece of work such as your dissertation/thesis, final project or Academic and Practice Enquiry (AcPE). These include EndnoteWeb, Cite Them Right, CiteULike and Zotero.
Squawk! Don’t parrot, summarise!
When you’re taking notes, try not to write down what the source is saying word-for-word. Instead, try to summarise the key points into your own words. When you come to complete your work after doing this, you won’t sound like a parrot – you’ll sound like you!
Quotes are like salt...
…Add too many and you’ve ruined the essay, add too few and it’s bland. Add just the right amount and your essay is goldilocks – just right! Just like adding salt to food, this could take a while to get good at, so don’t panic, and don’t add a potato. Try to keep your quotes short and always ask yourself – what does using the sources own words add that my summary can't?
He said, she said… (Secondary referencing)
So, say you’re reading something. Maybe a webpage on your students’ union website about academic misconduct (hey, we don’t judge). You find this really interesting point:
Second, or subsequent offences for major academic misconduct can result in expulsion from the university (Birmingham City University, 2017)
You haven’t actually read the student disciplinary procedure, but you have read our webpage so you can just reference us right? “Second offences for major misconduct can lead to expulsion (BCUSU, 2020)” Sorted.
Um, no, sorry. Firstly, that isn’t our own work – we summarised the University there pretty heavily and we cited them. So the correct way to reference it would be (Birmingham City University, 2017 cited by BCUSU, 2020). This is called secondary referencing and if you don’t do it right, it’s really easy to get accused of plagiarism.
Or you could just try and find the original source. No one likes hearsay, so try and avoid secondary referencing if you can.
Check out all this stuff I read.
So, after you’ve written your essay and you’ve got the perfect amount of quotes, everything cited to perfection, and you’ve got just one step left. Your bibliography. The bragging rights of the essay. Look at all the stuff you read! The knowledge absorbed!
Always make sure that everything you’ve referenced in the body of your essay is reflected with a full reference in your bibliography. If anything is missing, you haven’t referenced well. This is where the reference management software and the good notes you took at the beginning of your essay come in very handy.
This is my first draft. The second draft will be funnier.
You can upload a draft copy of your assessment to Turnitin and then view the similarity percentage before you submit your work to be marked. The London School of Economics (LSE) have a great video here on interpreting a turnitin report.
Don’t panic if the score seems high! What matters is that you’ve referenced correctly, and the size of the highlighted chunks. If you find some big ones (such as a whole paragraph), you might want to look again at your notes and see if you referenced correctly.