UCL Department of Geography



Our undergraduates frequently go on to further study, volunteer work and/or a wide range of paid career sectors including banking and insurance, consultancy, marketing, retail, teaching

It is a form of cheating to present the work of others as if it is your own work. Copying the work of others in its entirety or in part, without acknowledgement and without the use of quotation marks, is referred to as plagiarism. It does not matter whether the work you copy is published (as part of a book or an article) or unpublished (a research report, a planning document, a web page or an essay submitted by somebody else at some time in the past), copying is still cheating. It is also unacceptable to self-plagiarism by submitting the same piece of work or sections of work for two different assessments. Quotes from your own or other people’s work must be clearly identified as such by being placed inside quotation marks (“   ”). Direct quotations should be used very sparingly and it is much better to paraphrase appropriately and to include the appropriate citation of the original source. Paraphrase, however, must be genuinely different from the original: if significant words are still recognisably the same (such that they would be identified as such by TurnItIn), you have not paraphrased enough. Guidance on what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable paraphrasing, as well as information about websites offering students the opportunity to practise their paraphrasing interactively, is offered in the first-year course GEOG1008; those guidelines should always be followed.

The Department now uses TurnItIn, a sophisticated detection system, to scan work for evidence of plagiarism. This system has access to billions of sources worldwide (websites, journals etc.) as well as work previously submitted to this Department and other departments. This detection system is also an important tool for you to learn about correct referencing.

The following sections of the handbook explain UCL's definitions of plagiarism and procedures for preventing and dealing with plagiarism.

Students are advised to consult the UCL student guidelines on avoiding plagiarism and using TurnItIn.

What is Plagiarism

In UCL policy, plagiarism is defined as the presentation of another person’s thoughts, words, artefacts or software as though they were a student’s own. Any quotation from the published or unpublished work of other persons must, therefore, be clearly identified as such by being placed inside quotation marks, and students should identify their sources as accurately and fully as possible. A series of short quotations from several different sources, if not clearly identified as such, constitutes plagiarism just as much as a single unacknowledged long quotation from a single source. Equally, if a student summarises another person’s ideas, judgements, figures, software or diagrams, a reference to that person must be made in the text and the work referred to must be included in the bibliography.

The use of services such as ‘ghost-writing’ agencies (for example in the preparation of essays or reports) or outside word-processing agencies that offer correction/improvement of English is strictly forbidden, and students who make use of the services of such agencies render themselves liable for an academic penalty. Use of unacknowledged information downloaded from the internet also constitutes plagiarism.

Where part of an examination consists of ‘take away’ papers, essays or other work written in a student’s own time, or a coursework assessment, the work submitted must be the candidate’s own.

It is also illicit to reproduce material that a student has used in other work/assessments for the course or programmes concerned. Students should be aware of this ‘self-plagiarism’. If in doubt, students should consult their personal tutor or another member of the academic staff.

Failure to observe any of the provisions of this policy or of approved departmental guidelines constitutes an examination offence under UCL and University Regulations. Examination offences will normally be treated as cheating or irregularities under the Regulations in respect of Examination Irregularities. Under these Regulations students found to have committed an offence may be excluded from all further examinations at UCL or the University or both.

The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some way (such as a book or a computer file).

All of the following are considered plagiarism:

  • Submitting someone else's work as your own
  • Copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • Failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • Giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • Changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • Copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not
  • Reproducing material that you yourself have produced in other work/assessment for your  degree (self-plagiarism)

The penalties for plagiarism can be surprisingly severe, ranging from failure of modules to expulsion from academic institutions.

If examiners suspect that submitted work may not be the candidate’s own, the candidate will normally be required to attend a formal Departmental Examination Irregularities Panel.  If the copying is extensive, the Department is required to report the matter to the College for investigation.

In every case where a candidate’s work is clearly not entirely his or her own, marks will be deducted for over-dependence on sources. Candidates found guilty of plagiarism may receive a mark of zero for the piece of work in question and could be disqualified from receiving a degree.

Why do students plagiarise

There are two main types of plagiarism – intentional and unintentional. The list below is not exhaustive but contains the most commonly encountered reasons:

On the whole unintentional:

  • Misunderstanding about citation
  • Over-reliance on the original source material
  • Following practices encouraged or accepted in previous educational experience or culture
  • Not fully understanding when group work ceases and individual work begins
  • Compensating for poor English language skills
  • Poor note-taking practice

On the whole intentional: 

  • Leaving the work to the last minute and taking the easy option
  • Needing to succeed
  • Sheer panic
  • Thinking that it is easy to get away with it
  • Having problems with the workload
  • Copying others is easier than the original work
  • Sensing that the teacher will not mind

It doesn’t matter if you intend to plagiarise or not! In the eyes of the law, and most publishers and academic institutions, any form of plagiarism is an offence that demands punitive action. Ignorance is never an excuse.

What can you do?

Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided by citing sources (including websites) and using quotation marks around verbatim quotations. You can paraphrase (take information from a piece of work and rewrite it in a new form) but you must still mention the source. In the case of joint practical or project work (or some group projects) individuals may use the same data, but the interpretation and conclusions derived from that data i.e. the ‘write-up’ must be their own.

The rules are therefore not meant to stop you from referring to other people’s work or ideas.  They are meant to ensure you acknowledge your sources fully and, if you use the same form of words, that you make it clear that you are quoting somebody else and that the words are not your own.  The following guidelines should always be respected.

All direct quotations should be in quotation marks, with a reference to the source (including the page number) in the text. All indirect/paraphrased quotations and borrowed ideas should be acknowledged by means of a reference in the text.  Second-hand quotations (i.e. where one work you have read refers to another which you have been unable to locate) should be given in the form (Author X, date, cited in Author Y, date), and only the work of Author Y should be cited in the list of references.

No paper should be submitted without references in the text and a list of references at the end. All references in the text should be accompanied by a full entry in the list of references. There should be no entries in the list of references that have not been cited in the text. The sources of all tables, maps, figures etc. should be acknowledged by the inclusion of a reference prefaced by the word Source, to be placed immediately below the table/map etc.

Material from the web must be referenced with the same degree of rigour as material from books or journals. Where material is only available on the internet, the entry in the list of references should include the URL of the site from which you obtained the material, the date on which you accessed the material in question, and the abbreviation (WWW) after the title of the item in question.

In the case of joint practical or project work (or some group projects) individuals may use the same data, but the interpretation and conclusions derived from that data i.e. the ‘write-up’ must be their own.

One other point: even an immaculately-referenced piece of coursework is very unlikely to attract good marks if it is based almost entirely on just two or three sources, or if the amount of material quoted directly from sources is especially extensive. Make sure you have consulted an adequate range of literature before writing and that your paper represents your own synthesis and evaluation of this work and is expressed in your own words (except for limited amounts of direct quotation).

If you have any doubts about what is acceptable, consult your personal tutor and/or course lecturer.