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How to cite correctly and avoid plagiarism

Before starting assignments gain a better understanding of plagiarism and how to avoid it.

Written by Lucy Bodenham |

Two students talking about plagiarism
Deliberate plagiarism in coursework is as serious as cheating in an examination.

Information and ideas which are not common knowledge should be cited at source

Many universities use software like Turnitin to check a student’s work against other sources for originality and plagiarism. So arm yourself with knowledge and find out what should be documented before commencing assignments, so unintentional copying doesn't take place.

Any work you submit as part of your study requirements must be expressed in your own words. Deliberate plagiarism in coursework is as serious as cheating in an examination.

Under our general regulations, plagiarism is expressed as follows:

"Plagiarism includes the copying and use of someone else’s work, whether intentionally or unintentionally, as if it were the student’s own. Another person’s work includes any source that is published or unpublished including words, images, diagrams, formulae, audio recordings, computer code, ideas and judgements, discoveries and results.”

Plagiarism can also apply to someone you hire or writes for you. This includes the use of any services from an agency or those which offer correction or improvement of English.

You will find advice about how to present your assignments and information about plagiarism in our handbooks and programme regulations for your area of study. Our handbooks, regulations and student guides are a vital step in guiding you through your academic studies with the International Programmes.

What should be cited?

Information and ideas which are not common knowledge should be cited at source. Ideas also include points, conclusions, methods, theory and any characteristics presented by the writer. Under this you should also include any drawings, diagrams, statistics or web pages.

Steps to avoid plagiarism

Make sure you have a good understanding of the subject you are writing about. Use several source formats in your research – printed publications, journals and the internet. You will be less likely to inadvertently plagiarise.

It is not sufficient to use synonyms and other word choices, these will still serve as a close imitation of the source. Write a piece of text strictly in your own words and cite your sources. An author’s specific words should be placed within quotation marks and the source credited. You should also cite ideas, opinions and theories which are not your own.

"For web sources cite the web page containing the information and include the URL and the date when you copied the page."

Maintain careful, clear notes along the way and be systematic in your research. Keep track of your notes with each draft of your essay. For web sources cite the web page containing the information and include the URL and the date when you copied the page. Information on the web can be taken down or changed over time. You can consider using a tool like Evernote’s web clipper for storing and effective organising of your sources. If you intend to use any graphics from a website then good practice would be to get the permission of the website owner.

Be aware of the basic rules of copyright law. Facts do not fall under copyright, these are considered general information found in many places and known by many people. An example would be the historic date of the French revolution or theories like Newton's laws of motion. You do have to be aware of the words used to express facts - if you use them directly then cite the source or write in your own words.

Your assignment must include a biography of works cited in your writing, using a suitable format. If you are not clear, your course tutor will advise.

Helpful tools

Plagiarism checker tools can improve your writing and enable you to see how much of your content matches a database.

Beware of free plagiarism checker tools, these can resell papers. Use a reputable one like iThenticate, which does not store or share papers.

When you submit a document to iThenticate it will be checked for unoriginal content and compared to a database of over 45 billion web pages, and other sources like news pages, magazines and books. Your review is available within minutes and will show the results of matched content and any unattributed text or sources. It is currently available in 30 languages and there is a helpful blog including articles like avoiding self plagiarism.

If you need to save time compiling a bibliography, EasyBib have a useful online citation tool in MLA, APA, Chicago and other styles. Not only does it do books, EasyBib will cite in a range of sources. If you have an online video to go in your bibliography see the online video citation page.

More information

You may want to read about changes to the copyright law in the UK which took place in June for year 2014. The changes were brought about to better suit the age of digital media and pertain to how you can use content like books, music, films and photographs.

More information about rules, assessment offences and cheating is available on our website.