Plagiarism is the act of presenting another person's work as if it were your own.
This can even happen accidentally if you have not referenced your work properly. If you have used a quote or idea from another source without referencing, it could look like you are trying to pretend you came up with the work yourself. The University's guidelines give very clear instructions about what is considered plagiarism and you should make sure you understand how to reference your work properly.
You can find out more on this site and try some interactive exercises, in our Referencing guide. You will find more detailed definitions and information about academic misconduct in your Examination and Assessment Handbook.
Plagiarism can also happen if you use your old essays when writing a new one, and don't reference them properly. If you are using your previous work when writing an assignment, you should reference it with the same level of care you would any other source. Otherwise, it will look like you are trying to present old work as something new. This is also known as self-plagiarism.
Academic misconduct can also occur if you ask someone else to write an assignment for you, or pay for an essay online. This is known as Personation.
How to avoid committing plagiarism
Leave plenty of time!
You should put assignment deadlines in your diary at the start of every term, and make sure you begin work well in advance.
Each module is different, and you will know your own time needs, but as a rough guide you should leave a minimum of two weeks for researching and writing a short Arts essay (2000 words or fewer), and about five or six weeks for a science essay. Masters students will need more time. Remember to check the number of credits - the more credits a piece of work is worth, the more time you should spend on it.
For more help, visit time management.
Reference your notes
When you are researching your topic, make sure you take down full details of your sources as you go along. If you're quoting verbatim (using a direct quote, word for word) or using diagrams, make a note of the page numbers too.
For more help, visit Note making.
Use your own words
This helps you to engage more with the material. Don't worry that another author can 'say it better' than you: your tutors are interested in your ideas and opinions, and do not expect a perfect writing style.
Make sure you distinguish your ideas from those of other writers. See Australian National University: Style and authorial voice
Reference as you go
When you're writing your assignment, include the references as you go along. Remember to check your School's preferred referencing system.
For more help, visit Referencing.
Avoid essay-writing services
Many companies claim to offer ‘custom-made' essays online, and they advertise their services through Facebook and other websites. They may claim to be legitimate, safe, and even approved by Universities.
These companies run a very effective scam. Often the ‘essays' they sell are stolen from other resources, and they are easily identified by tutors and examiners. Remember that your work at Sussex has to be your own, and examiners will be able to tell the difference.
Check your references
If you have used direct quotes, make sure you have used quotation marks. Make sure any long quotes are indented and have a citation. Double-check your references and bibliography.
For more help, visit Referencing.
Get help for free
The University offers plenty of free services to help you with your writing - including essay-writing workshops, student mentors, RLF Writers in Residence, English Language for Academic Study and Academic Advisors. If you need help with your writing, see one of them, or see your tutor.
If someone offers to help you for money, you should ask yourself whether they really have your interests at heart.
Read the student stories below and suggest how they could have avoided plagiarism.
Salila did lots of reading for her essay and took plenty of notes. However, she did not write down all the reference details and did not show where she had copied quotes directly. When she came to write her essay, she was not sure where her notes were from or which were her own words. Although she tried her best to remember, her tutor has spotted that in some cases she has quoted word for word without using quotation marks, and that in some instances her referencing is very unclear. Her tutor has asked to speak to her about plagiarism.
Salila did not intend to 'steal' other people's ideas, but she has still committed plagiarism by presenting somone else's work as her own. She should have been much more careful when taking notes. Whenever note-making, you should write down the source for each note you take, and you should make it clear where you are quoting directly from the text. For more advice, visit note making.
Thomas had two essays and a presentation due in the same week. Having completed the first essay and presentation, he was left with one day to do the second essay. He started work on it in the morning, but by 2pm he began to panic. He searched on the internet and found a website where he could download essays. He used an essay with a similar topic and made a few changes to try and make it look like his own work. His tutor noticed it was suspicious, and he has been told his work is under investigation for plagiarism.
Thomas' poor time management left him in a very difficult situation. But rather than try to seek help, or hand in his work late, he was dishonest. By doing so, he may have put his degree at risk. It would have been better to have submitted no work at all (and receive a 0% mark) than try to cheat (and receive a worse punishment).
For more advice, see time management.
Jim took notes from different sources on the internet by copying and pasting. When it came to writing his essay, he took ideas from all the sources he had read. Finding it hard to put the ideas into his own words he often copied word for word, but did not use quotation marks.
Jim has committed plagiarism because he has presented other people's words as his own. If you quote word for word from a text, then you must show this by using quotation marks, and providing a full reference.
If you "copy and paste" text from a source to use in an essay make sure you make it clear to yourself that the text is not your own e.g. ensure copied sections are kept in a separate document, kept in a different font, or highlighted, or placed in quotation marks. Remember don't copy unless it is a usable quote.
You might find it helps your learning to write your notes by hand because it will encourage you to use your own words and this will also give you more opportunity to understand the information. For more help, visit note making. To find out more about paraphrasing without plagiarising and when to reference, visit Referencing.