Avoiding Plagiarism

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If you have been accused of plagiarism, don’t panic!  Please click here for support from the advice centre. 

Here are our top tips for writing a good essay and avoiding plagiarism, based off what we find when helping students. Don't forget, the Centre for Academic Success is there to help students with their academic writing.

The university defines plagiarism as: “…submitting any item of assessment which contains work produced by someone else in a way which makes it look as though it is your own work.” (BCU, 2017). Plagiarism is: 

  • Copying any kind of published material (text, visual, sound etc.) and presenting it as your own 

  • Poor paraphrasing or summarising 

  • Not referencing your work properly 

  • Copying the work of another student  

  • Buying an essay online (otherwise known as an ‘essay mill’) 

  • Submitting work which you submitted previously – self-plagiarism 

The most common idea of plagiarism is copy and paste – but in reality, it can be more than that! 

Hold up – What is the difference between plagiarism and collusion? 

Collusion is when two students work together to submit work for individual assignments rather than group work. Plagiarism would be copying another students’ work without working together. 

There are two main ways in which plagiarism is detected at the university. 

The first is Turnitin: Turnitin is software that scans all the work submitted to the university and compares it to other published work and work submitted by other students not just at BCU, but UK universities and other English speaking universities around the world (USA, Australia, Ireland etc.). Most UK universities use Turnitin to detect similarity. Just because your paper has a high percentage of similarity does not mean that it is plagiarised. In fact, you can’t possibly write a good essay and have a 0% similarity score!  

The second way to detect plagiarism is your lecturers. This is especially true for non-written forms of assessment. Your lecturers know the subject they are teaching you, and they will be able to recognise when something is similar to an already produced work. As well, they will be able to spot differences in your writing style if it suddenly changes.  

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. 

Where to find support with your academic skills 

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