“It can be challenging to put ideas into your own words, however it is worth it in the long term.”
All writers use words and ideas borrowed from other sources. Journalists use facts and data they discover in their research. A novelist might use a plot idea she or he read in another book. Poets regularly borrow words, images, and metaphors. Academic writing is no different. Whether the author is a chemist writing about a new discovery in the lab, a sociologist describing a new theory, or an English lit professor writing about Shakespeare, academic writers usually make heavy use of previous writing on the same topic.
What is different about academic writing?
One important difference between academic writing and other genres of writing is the importance of indicating the sources where words and ideas were borrowed from. No one expects a poet to footnote a poem to indicate where she or he found the words and metaphors. In fact, part of the enjoyment of 'decoding' a poem is figuring out what the poet is alluding to.
But in academic writing, it is vital that the writer clearly identifies the source of words and ideas. In the culture of academic writing, originality is paramount -- in other words, is that your own idea, or is it an idea you found somewhere else? Identifying sources is so important in the culture of academic writing that to not identify your sources is considered a 'crime': the crime of plagiarism.
How do you identify your sources?
Identifying sources involves the use of academic referencing. Academic referencing is what makes your writing academic in the first place. Every point you make should be evidenced in some way (unless your point is common knowledge). This means references should be embedded throughout your work. References demonstrate the depth and breadth of your research and the variety and range of your reading.
A lack of references is poor academic technique and can lead to plagiarism as you are not evidencing where your ideas are from.
Plagiarism is the use of ideas, works or words of another person and presenting them as if they were your own. Plagiarised ideas can come from any source including articles, books, online sources, television programmes, lectures or any other information source. Writing with integrity is the best way to avoid plagiarism. This requires you to reference the ideas of others, and properly quote and reference the words of others. See the links at the bottom of this page for further advice on referencing.
Plagiarism often occurs accidentally when students don't reference properly. However, it can also be done purposefully if you are presenting someone else's work as your own. This doesn't mean you should not use the ideas of others! Using the ideas and work of others is how you provide academic evidence for your thinking. To avoid plagiarism, however, you need to reference these ideas correctly.
Remember: Plagiarism is easy to avoid! All you need to do is ensure you are referencing sources correctly. This does not just involve the use of in-text citations or footnotes but also requires the use of appropriate punctuation to indicate when you are quoting the work of others.
Plagiarism is a serious issue for academic integrity. If you do not reference a source properly, such as paraphrasing it without acknowledging it, or not mentioning it at all, then the true origin of the material is hidden from the marker. This is counter to academic approaches to writing, where evidence should be clearly referenced and tracible back to the original source.
Plagiarism may take the form of direct copying, reproducing or paraphrasing ideas, sentences, drawings, graphs, internet sites or any other source and submitting them for assessment without appropriate acknowledgement. Plagiarism can also include copying another student’s work without their knowledge or submitting work that has already been published in another language. The latter relates to the copying of translated material, copying and re-arranging material, or taking the ideas and findings of the material without attribution.
Self-plagiarism is the submission of work that is the same as, or broadly similar to, assessments previously awarded academic credit, without proper acknowledgement. If you re-use previous pieces of work, you should cite yourself to avoid self-plagiarism. This is because you cannot hand in the same piece of work multiple times to gain academic credit. Self-plagiarism can include work submitted and awarded credit at this University or another institution.
If you use part or all of a previously submitted essay in a new assignment or you do not acknowledge that you are borrowing from your own previous work, then you are committing self-plagiarism. This is because you cannot get credit for the same work twice in your degree programme. If you need to refer to a previous assignment, cite yourself as any other author in the text and include your unpublished essay in the reference list:
Bartram, J. (2016) An analysis of story theory [undergraduate essay]. University of Hull, unpublished.
[This example is in UoH Harvard Style].
Self-plagiarism tends to focus on summative, credit-bearing assessment. This means you may be able to re-use the work you have used for a formative assessments (non-credit-bearing assessments). For example, you are often able to re-use work from an unassessed draft when you hand in your final assessment. However, you may find yourself unable to copy paragraphs out of an assessed research proposal and use them in your dissertation. This is because you have already been awarded marks for this work and your dissertation should be an original piece of work in itself. If in doubt, check with your lecturer.
We have lots of additional guidance on how to reference sources in our Referencing your work SkillsGuide.
The introduction of this page is based upon a tutorial created by Simon Fraser University. This page is based upon the University of Hull (2018) Regulations governing academic misconduct - but should not be used as a replacement for them.