Plagiarism is a big issue at university, with almost 50,000 students found to have been cheating in an essay or exam in the UK over a three-year period.
In the 2015-16 academic year, there were 464 proven cases of plagiarism at Leeds Beckett University, for instance.
Some students plagiarise purposely to submit work that will result in a pass, whereas others do it by accident; you’ll come to understand how this can happen later in the article.
We will start by defining plagiarism before explaining what happens when you plagiarise, how you can avoid it as a student, and how to check your work for it.
What is plagiarism?
You might be reading this wondering, ‘what is plagiarism?’
Each university has its own unique definition of plagiarism so take the time to seek that out before creating or submitting any written work as a new or seasoned student.
“Presenting someone else’s work, in whole or in part, as your own. Work means any intellectual output, and typically includes text, data, images, sound or performance.”
The Leeds University Union has created this helpful video which goes into further detail:
However, it can easily happen by accident if you don’t reference properly in your work or if you self-plagiarise.
What is self-plagiarism?
Self-plagiarism is a complex issue that occurs when a student submits a piece of work that contains a duplication of a previously submitted piece of their own work.
Much like standard plagiarism, self-plagiarism can happen on purpose or by accident and is to be avoided.
What happens when you plagiarise
Each university has a unique process for dealing with plagiarism.
Often, the first you will hear of the matter will be a letter from your school of study, which will outline an allegation.
This letter will include a copy of your work with the section of concern highlighted, alongside any evidence that backs up the allegation.
The letter will also invite you to a meeting, and this meeting will be your opportunity to put forward your version of events and answer any questions the school may have on the incident.
Before attending the meeting, you must review the contents of the letter you have received and decide if you agree or disagree with the allegation being made.
You can expect there to be several university staff members present at the meeting; usually the head of your department or someone from the university’s academic integrity team, the internal examiner who marked your work, and someone to take minutes.
You can usually take a supporting person with you to the meeting, also.
Following the meeting, a decision will be made on your case, and there are three main potential outcomes.
The allegation may be dropped, which will be the end of the issue, and the university will make no note on your file.
If you agree with the allegation, the department will notify you of your penalty — this is often a rewrite of the work you plagiarised within. Your final mark for this is usually capped.
If you deny the allegation or it isn’t your first offence and the school believes you to have plagiarised, the case will be referred to a board outside of your school of study, and you will hear from them in due course.
Please note that you can be expelled for serious and repeated cases of plagiarism.
How to avoid plagiarism
You may think that you don’t need to know how to avoid plagiarism as you aren’t the kind of person who cheats in exams or essays.
However, it is possible to plagiarise without even realising you have done so.
The best way to avoid plagiarism is to educate yourself about your university’s definition of plagiarism, alongside how to use references and citations correctly in your written work.
If you have any questions regarding the above, you must speak to your personal tutor or school of study about it before submitting work.
Most UK universities use the Harvard referencing style for essays, but this can vary from university to university and faculty to faculty, so make sure you double-check.
How to check for plagiarism
On completion of a piece of written work, it’s recommended that you double-check each of your references, including quotes and any paraphrasing, to ensure they meet the referencing style that your university and school of study uses.
The academics marking your work will be checking your work for plagiarism. So, as plagiarism can happen by accident, it’s good to know how to check for plagiarism yourself, too.
Firstly, you may wish to check any past work you have submitted on similar topics.
There are many free plagiarism checkers online. As we haven’t tried and tested them all, we won’t recommend one over another, but a quick search will give you lots of options to try.
Grammarly is one well-known option, and Grammarly Premium is free for students, so you can try it out without having to spend a penny.
If you’d like to learn more about how a university works, you might enjoy reading our beginner’s guide to the university academic year.