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Frequently asked questions about plagiarism

What's so wrong with plagiarising?

In a nutshell, plagiarism is illegal and it is also:

  • NOT FAIR to the students who do their own work.
  • NOT FAIR to the people who actually created the source that a plagiariser uses - they deserver to get the credit for their hard work.
  • NOT FAIR to employers - they deserve to know that a Bradford graduate has really learnt everything they need to know, not just copied from other people. If we allowed this to happen, our degrees themselves would become devalued.
  • depriving yourself from expressing a point of view or argument about a subject under discussion.

What if there is no name on something I read?

You still need to show that you are using something you did not originally create. You can put in the author's name as 'Unknown' or 'Anonymous'. This includes images, websites, statistics and computer code. You may also have a source where the author is an organisation, for instance, a report written by a government department. In these cases it is fine to use the organisation as an author.

There is no author or date on this website, how do I reference it?

Consider the following:

  • You may have to search around the website to find some details. For instance, see if there is a "home" or "about us" page.
  • If you cannot find an individual author, it is perfectly acceptable to cite the organisation producing the website as the author.
  • Check for copyright dates and the date the site was last updated if you cannot find a date of composition.
  • If you cannot find a date or an author, should you really be referencing the source?

What about websites that have been put up to be used by anybody?

There are many websites that have been written to be freely used by people who need information. It is fine to use them, providing your lecturer is happy that they are good quality and reliable. However, you still found out the information from looking at the website, not by doing all the research yourself, so you need to point this out.

You must always give credit to people who create:

  • books,
  • websites,
  • newspaper articles,
  • models,
  • television programs,
  • journal articles,

...or any other source from which you have used information.

I've read a book that discussed something another person wrote, but I haven't read the original work. How do I reference that?

This is called 'secondary referencing', and the referencing guide for your department will tell you how to do it. you need to acknowledge both the source you have read and the original source of the information.

But be careful! Particularly in science subjects, it is not a good idea to do this. You should always try to get hold of the original source and read it yourself. Without reading the original source, you cannot know if the discussion or summary you have read is reporting the original source correctly. For example, they might be leaving out details that are not important to them but matter for what you want to discuss.

Referencing guides for different subject areas are available online.

What happens if I have an idea that someone else has had independently? Will I be accused of plagiarism even though I did not know about the other person's idea?

It is very unlikely that you will come up with exactly the same idea as somebody else. However:

  • Your lecturers can tell the difference between a student talking about their own idea and a student talking about something they have read. Your idea will be written in your own voice, and draw on examples and information from your own background.
  • The more reading you do, the more familiar you will become with what people in your subject area have written. If you do find that someone else has had an idea that is very similar to yours, you should cite it and then write about how your idea is different.

Everyone knows this, do I really need to reference it?

'Common knowledge' is basic things that anybody might know and there is no need to say where you learnt it. It can be difficult to tell if something is 'common knowledge' or not.

  • To avoid plagiarism, if you have had to look something up, it is safer to assume it is not common knowledge and to tell us where you found it.
  • Things that your lecturers say in lectures are usually common knowledge for your subject.
  • If you are not sure whether something is 'common knowledge', try and find a source to back up your information.

I'm not sure how to reference this thing I've used. Might I get in trouble for a badly done reference? Should I just leave it out?

You do need to provide a reference to anything that you have taken information from. If you make a good try at a reference (following the pattern of how references generally work in your subject), you might lose a mark or two for not getting it exactly right. However, if you leave the reference out you will definitely be concealing a source, which is a form of plagiarism.

Try to construct a reference for your source, giving enough information to enable your lecturer to trace the source.

Guides for Referencing and Plagiarism are available online.

I understand that I need to give people credit for ideas they created, but this is a fact about the world. How can someone own that?

There are two reasons why you need to give references for statistics, results from experiments, and other sources that are factual information. One reason is that somebody else did the work to discover and prove those facts, or did all the calculations to provide the statistics. If you do not reference, it may look like you are trying to claim that you discovered this information yourself when, in fact, you simply read the results of someone else's work.

The other reason is about the reliability of whatever you are quoting. How does your lecturer know that the fact you are talking about is accurate? If you tell us where you found out this information, the person marking your work can look at the source of the data and be sure that it is a good academic source.

I speak English as a foreign language. Can other students translate for me?

Always seek help from official University sources only, rather than your friends. Your Bradford degree will be taken by employers as proof you are fluent in English. We must ensure you are!

I've run out of time for my assignment, what should I do?

Try to manage your time carefully

  • Note when all your assessments are due
  • Work out how much time YOU take to do assignments: you may take more or less time than your friends!

Remember that it is better to get a bad mark for a poor piece of work than no mark for cheating!

For hints and tips on managing your time, see the Personal development, planning & goal setting resources from the Academic Skills Advice service.

My assignment is not a piece of written work. How do I avoid plagiarism?

These pages concentrate on written work. Plagiarism in visual and material media, computer code, music, film etc is a complex and specialist subject. Ask your lecturer for further guidance as they are experts in their particular discipline.