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Plagiarism

Make sure you do not plagiarise anyone elses work, even accidentally, as the consequences can be severe. Find out what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.

UCL uses a sophisticated detection system (Turnitin®) to scan work for evidence of plagiarism. This system has access to billions of sources worldwide including websites and journals, as well as work previously submitted to UCL and other universities. Most departments will need your work to be submitted electronically as well as in paper form.

Your course tutors will advise you if you need to submit your work through Turnitin. If you do, they will also tell you whether this should be done using Turnitin or done through Moodle.

Find out more about submitting your work via Turnitin in Moodle

Plagiarism: a definition

Plagiarism is defined as the presentation of another person's thoughts or words or artefacts or software as though they were your own. Any quotation from the published or unpublished works of other persons must, therefore, be clearly identified as such by being placed inside quotation marks, and you should identify your sources as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 does a single unacknowledged long quotation from a single source. If you summarise another person's ideas, judgements, figures, software or diagrams, a reference to that person in the text must be made and the work referred to must be included in the bibliography.

Using 'ghost-writing' agencies or getting someone else to write your essays or reports, or use of outside word-processing agencies which offer correction or improvement of English is strictly forbidden, and anyone who makes use of these services is liable for an academic penalty.

Use of unacknowledged information downloaded from the internet also constitutes plagiarism.

It is also forbidden to reproduce material which you have used in other work/assessment for the course or programmes concerned. Students should be aware of this ‘self-plagiarism’. If in doubt, ask your Personal Tutor or another appropriate teacher.

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 of UCL or the University or of both.

Read the Examination Irregularities regulations

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 in a book or a computer file.

Plagiarism is:

  • 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

Changing the words of an original source is not sufficient to prevent plagiarism. If you have retained the essential idea of an original source, and have not cited it, then no matter how drastically you may have altered its context or presentation, you have still plagiarized.

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


Unintentional plagiarism

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 sacntion or punishment. This may result in a failing grade for the work, and possibly for the course.

Plagiarism is almost always a symptom of other educational problems.

Plagiarism that is unintentional can be caused by:

  • misunderstanding standard citation procedure
  • 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

Intentional plagiarism can be the result of:

  • 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
  • sensing that the teacher will not mind

What you can and can't do at UCL

You can't:

  • cut and paste from electronic journals, websites or other sources to create a piece of work
  • use someone else's work as your own
  • recycle essays or practical work of other people or your own (this is self plagiarism)
  • employ a professional ghostwriting firm or anyone else to produce work for you
  • produce a piece of work based on someone else's ideas without citing them

You can quote from sources providing you use quotation marks and cite the source. This includes websites.

Read the UCL Library guide on how to cite references

You can paraphrase, or 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 must be your own.

Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing sources. Simply acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed, and providing your audience with the information necessary to find that source, is usually enough to prevent plagiarism. See the UCL document on how you should cite your references and referencing styles.

UCL is subject to the University of London's General Regulations for Internal Students and the policy detailed above has been drawn up in accordance with those Regulations.