Note on Plagiarism


Legal Disclaimer

This is an introductory guide to the main issues surrounding Plagiarism and the disciplinary measures which may result from it. The author disclaims responsibility for any unfavourable outcome readers of this information may incur in relation to Plagiarism and other related issues. None of the following information is meant to be a substitute for professional advice and guidance.


A quote is a copying of words from a source and enclosing them within double quotation marks.

A citation is a reporting of what a source stated (and has no quotation marks). It involves altering the words of a source but not its meaning. Achieving this requires a good command of the English language.

All quotations and citations must be fully referenced, i.e. having the name/s of the author/s attached to them and the year (or month and year) of publication. This can be done with (or without) the aid of brackets, e.g. Richard Smith (2013) suggested or According to one suggestion (R. Smith 2013).

According to the University of Oxford Web Site, Plagiarism is: “Presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition. Plagiarism may be intentional or reckless, or unintentional.” ( retrieved Saturday, 29.10.2016)


Before beginning a written assignment it’s absolutely essential to become familiar with the term ‘plagiarism.’ It means the use of someone else’s ideas and words without acknowledging them. Material belonging to someone else is claimed as one’s own. This is blatant theft of another person’s (or organization’s) work and is the deadliest of all sins in the academic world.

Plagiarism can often be spotted because the writer’s own style doesn’t ‘match’ that of the source. It can be prevented by: –

1) Having a justified confidence in one’s own knowledge and writing style

2) Expressing other people’s ideas in one’s own words whilst citing the original source e.g. one argument against government economic policy was that it had led to the creation of an unsustainably large Public Sector (D. B. Smith 2011).

3) Making a careful note of any references and source material which need to be quoted or cited

4) Placing any quotes within quotation marks

5) Citing a source, either with or without brackets e.g. ‘Bagnall suggested’ Or ‘According to one viewpoint (T. Bagnall 1996).’ Where possible, such citations should include the year in which the source was first published.

Copyright Violation takes place when there’s an unauthorised replication of someone else’s literature by either electronic or non-electronic means. Penalties can be extremely severe as it’s regarded as a form of intellectual theft. It often occurs in conjunction with Plagiarism. Up to date information on the laws regarding Plagiarism and Copyright Violation are found in the latest edition of ‘The Artist and Writer’s Handbook,’ available in most public and academic libraries. Readers are strongly advised to consult with this source and with their academic providers about this issue. (Academic providers should also be consulted as to which Harvard referencing system needs to be employed when citing or quoting the work of other parties.)

The Levels of Plagiarism

In general Educational Institutions recognize the following three levels of Plagiarism:

Level 1: When a quote has been used as a citation – even though the source was properly referenced.

Level 2: When material from a source has been used without acknowledgement.

Level 3: When an attempt has been made to put forward a whole body of work as one’s own. (This explains why a ‘third party’ i.e. a friend, colleague or even a Private Tutor should NEVER act a ‘Ghost Writer’ (which means doing the student’s work for them). Attempting to do this would ‘aid and abet’ Level 3 Plagiarism. If detected it would cause irreparable damage to the professional reputation and personal integrity of all concerned. (A ‘ghost writer’s’ style is rarely the same as that of the original; it would ‘read differently’ and so be easily detected, especially with the aid of current technology.)

Level 2 and Level 3 Plagiarism are self-explanatory, incurring such penalties as cancellation of a degree and even expulsion from the Institution concerned. However, confusion often surrounds Level 1 due to: –

  • Uncertainty over whether Plagiarism has actually taken place at all
  • Inadequate training of the student who has been left insufficiently informed about it
  • Intermittent and haphazard bouts of reinforcement by Educational Institutions who, at times, appear to ignore it altogether

Level 1 Plagiarism is the use of a quote as a citation. An Academic Department may decide that a quote has been used as a citation even when one or two words from the original have been altered and the source properly referenced. However, it must be stressed that a quote only becomes a citation following a substantial alteration in wording with no alteration in meaning. To change a quote into a citation requires a good command of the English language – which
many overseas students find challenging. The easier (but incorrect) option is to alter only a few words of the original quote – hoping this will suffice to change it into a citation. Doing this pushes the work dangerously close to Level 1 Plagiarism (with its subsequent disciplinary measures i.e. a loss of marks). Another bad alternative is to over-use quotations – the student often finding it easier to recall a whole quote rather than laboriously changing it into a citation. This results in lost marks due to ‘filling out’ the work with too many quotes!

As a general rule, undergraduates are authorised to quote up to fifteen words (taken from each individual source); a postgraduate thesis can quote up to forty words and a writer of books one hundred and twenty words. These rules apply as long as the source isn’t a song or a poem (in which case substantial payment may be requested before a ‘right to use’ is granted. However, titles of songs and poems may be quoted.) Sometimes an Educational Institution may be given the right to replicate up to 5% of a text book. This can only be done by qualified staff (not students) for teaching purposes and on a ‘not for profit’ basis.

Another unhelpful complication regarding Plagiarism stems from the Academic Institutions themselves. A number of them overlook the fact that some of their overseas students have only a limited grasp of English – particularly ‘legalistic’ English. Sadly (and all too often) these students are simply directed to a Departmental Web Site in order to locate the necessary information on Plagiarism. However, the information found is often expressed in such legalistic jargon that it requires a postgraduate degree in English and Law to even begin to understand it! The unhappy result is genuine confusion and bewilderment on the part of the student, leading to inadvertent Level 1 Plagiarism.

Matters are not helped when Departments appear (often for years gone by) to have done very little about Plagiarism and then, in a fit of self-righteousness, arbitrarily clamp down upon students who may be in the second or third year of their degree. At the very least students may lose vital marks and at worst their personal integrity will have been called into question. In such situations it’s nearly always the student and rarely the Department that’s held to blame.
Such unfair ‘scapegoating’ can be especially prominent at ‘Departmental Hearings’ (which often have all of the fairness of a Stalinist ‘Show Trial’). Any protest from the student is met with the stock phrase, ‘You should have referred to the regulations found on our website.’ (Conveniently omitted is the fact that these regulations are often expressed in incomprehensible legalistic jargon.) Departmental Staff will wish to protect their own reputation and so place the blame squarely upon the student – who may even be accused of being ‘difficult’ or ‘uncooperative.’

What can the poor student do when faced with an accusation of Level 1 Plagiarism? Preferably, before this stage has been reached (and their reputation jeopardised) he/she needs to have taken the following steps – either individually or along with other similarly-placed students: –

Step 1: To have obtained written (or email) confirmation of the Department’s Policy in relation to Plagiarism. Should the Policy have been expressed in an incomprehensible form of English then the student must point this out and request a simpler written explanation

Step 2: To have hired a reputable translator to express the Policy’s terms in a language which can be understood. (Beware – great care must be taken – some translators may possess little or no legal expertise)

Step 3: To have studied helpful resources like the ‘Writers & Artists Year Handbook’ which explains legal matters in a very concise and user-friendly way. (Such resources are available in Academic and most Public Libraries or from

Step 4: To have obtained legal advice (preferably with the aid of the Students’ Union)

Steps 2-3 need to be carefully considered should Step 1 have had an unsatisfactory outcome. Step 4 will almost certainly be needed should there be a serious dispute with a particular Department.

Departments could greatly help matters if they made it mandatory that students attend an ‘Induction session on Plagiarism’ (chaired by the Head of Department to lend added authority). Each student attendee should understand that no marks will be awarded (at all) until they have signed an attendance form to confirm their presence at such a session. Departments could also provide translators to
ensure that students for whom English is a second language can gain a firm grasp of the relevant regulations. Once the above support has been given it should then be made very clear that responsibility for breaching these regulations will henceforth lie firmly with the student. A Contract regarding Plagiarism should be drawn up and signed (by both the student and Department concerned) stating that the student has understood and accepted all of its guidelines.

However, budgetary constraints often mean that Departments are rarely able to adopt such sensible measures. Students are simply left alone with the (often unhelpful) web site to ‘get it right’ about Plagiarism. The wisest option is to resolve this issue at the earliest opportunity i.e. at the very beginning of a course. It should never be left unresolved only to produce a crisis later on. This means that it must be done early, with the Department in question before a dispute arises. Preventing allegations of Plagiarism from ever happening is by far the better option.