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Avoiding plagiarism: A guide for international students

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Plagiarism means taking someone else’s ideas or work and presenting it as your own, without acknowledging the original source.

Plagiarism is taken very seriously in the UK: if you are found to be plagiarising, you could fail the exam or assignment, or even be asked to leave your course.

Find out what plagiarism is, and how to avoid it.

Plagiarism: Understanding what this means in the UK

The definition of plagiarism can vary significantly in different cultures and countries.

Matthew King from the UK Council for International Student Affairs explains: ‘Some international students may be unaware of what is meant by plagiarism in the UK – they may risk plagiarising other people’s ideas unintentionally. It is important that international students ask for information and support from their institutions on how to avoid plagiarism, and how to meet the academic standards expected of them in the UK.’

Dr David Lefevre, lecturer at Imperial College London, adds: ‘Luckily, once you begin to understand the UK interpretation of plagiarism, it is actually very straightforward. Very simply, plagiarism occurs when you give the impression that a piece of work you submit is your own when, in fact, it is the work of someone else.

‘There are many ways of plagiarising; for example:

  • Copying or paraphrasing text from websites, books, research papers, or papers written by other students, without acknowledging the source
  • Paying someone to write an essay or assignment for you (also known as ‘ghost writing’)
  • Duplicating your own work, for example by submitting almost exactly the same work for two different assignments.

‘As a student, you are joining an academic community in which we all share and discuss ideas. This is done on the basis that we acknowledge the source of the ideas we are working with.

‘Acknowledging other people’s ideas is an essential part of academic integrity – values that students and academics follow to ensure their work is honest, fair and original.

‘Referring to your sources also helps to impress your tutor, as it shows how much you have read about your subject.’

Referencing, paraphrasing and citing your sources

So, how should you acknowledge your sources?

David continues: ‘Many cases of plagiarism are unintentional. It is vital that you gain as much knowledge as possible early on in your course about using and citing sources appropriately. 

‘Your institution is there to advise you and should provide you with clear guidance, together with examples of referencing and citations in the area you are studying. This might include an online course or guidance documents.

‘Academic writing isn’t a simple process. You will probably be asked to explain and develop your ideas in areas that you are still learning about. At the same time, your tutor might expect you to have researched the opinions of experts in the subject, in order to support your ideas and arguments – while making it very clear whose thoughts are whose.

‘To do this, you can paraphrase – this means rewriting some of the original text, to refer to the subject matter without copying the text – but don't forget, you still need to acknowledge the original author! An effective way to paraphrase is to stop yourself looking at the original text and try to express the meaning in your own words.

‘Where you do want to quote or directly refer to someone else’s work, be aware that different institutions – and even individual departments within the same institution – have different methods, so check in advance to find out how you are expected to write your references.

‘It is also important to learn how to apply the rules for the different sources you use, such as books, articles or images. Ask in your department or library for guidance.’

The essential checklist

Here is a simple checklist to ensure you do not find yourself plagiarising unintentionally:

  • Familiarise yourself with your school/college/university’s referencing policy. Ask your tutor if there’s anything you’re not sure about
  • Always name the original author when you are building on somebody else’s ideas
  • Avoid companies claiming they can write your essay for a fee. These types of services are viewed as a very severe form of plagiarism, and you are likely to fail your course
  • Find out more about plagiarism and how to write for academic assignments in the UK on the Prepare for Success website.