One of the worst things you can do when writing essays is to plagiarise, that is, to pass off someone else’s work as your own. But there are many forms of plagiarism, and you have to be aware of all of them to be confident you are handing in work which really is your own. In this guide we look at what plagiarism is, how to avoid it, and how referencing plays a part.
Different forms of plagiarism
In order to avoid plagiarism, you need to be aware of the different forms it can take, some more obvious than others. Your university or college will have access to top-end plagiarism checking software, so don’t even think you’ll get away with it! Here are some common forms to be aware of:
Quoting direct from other people’s work without making it obvious that they are not your own words (by using quotation marks). You also need to identify who actually said this, using the author’s name, year and page number.
Close paraphrasing of another person’s work by changing very little or changing the order slightly. It is also plagiarism if you slavishly follow the structure of someone else’s argument, even if you use your own words. Even if you acknowledge your source, you are still plagiarising.
The above also applies to internet sources. Just because you found something online doesn’t mean you can use it freely and pass it off as your own. Be aware that internet sources have specific referencing requirements.
Collusion is also plagiarism. This means collaborating with others without acknowledging help (be it email communications, conversations in real life or other interaction). Group coursework, if you fail to make the relationship clear, can also count.
References which are incorrectly formatted. You need to be aware of, and adhere to, the citation conventions specified for your course.
Plagiarism also includes using references where you have not actually read the text you reference. If you read about an author in another author’s book, you should indicate this in the citation.
These are just some of the forms plagiarism can take, if in doubt seek further advice from your tutor or department.
How to Avoid Plagiarism
There are some simple steps you can take to avoid plagiarism. These generally involve making sure you fully cite and reference all the works and individuals you draw upon when writing. Here’s a list of useful steps:
Where you use direct quotations, put these in quotation marks and reference them directly afterwards
You should give the source (i.e. have a citation) for every piece of knowledge you include in your essay. Better to have too many citations than to miss out a vital one.
Remember to acknowledge other forms of help you had including advice and discussions in person.
You DO NOT need to cite things which are general common knowledge or knowledge considered common in the field you are writing about.
As well as putting citations in the text, you also need to create a full reference list with details of all the books and articles you referenced.
Sometimes last minute panics lead to plagiarism, so make sure you leave plenty of time to write and check your work.
Remember that referencing and citing correctly is not only necessary to avoid plagiarism, it also helps future academics and other students by giving them an idea of current debate in your subject.
Remember also that your college or university is likely to have severe penalties for plagiarism, and that it is your responsibility to make sure your work is up to standard. If in doubt, seek more advice from your tutors.
Keble College (2013) ‘Plagiarism’, [online] (cited 14th February 2013) available from
University of Loughborough (2013) ‘How to avoid Plagiarism and be citation wise’, [online] (cited 14th February 2013) available from
University of Wisconsin Writing Center (2013) ‘How to avoid plagiarism’, [online] (cited 14th February 2013) available from
University College of London (2013) ‘References, Citations
and Avoiding Plagiarism’, [online] (cited 14th February 2013) available from