How to avoid plagiarism

31 Dec 2018
By Daniel, Writer at Unite Students

In this month’s article for the Unite Students Writing Academy, I look at plagiarism. What is it? What are the most common types? How can you avoid it? And where can you look for help?

Let’s jump in.

What is plagiarism?

Here’s the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) definition of plagiarism

The practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.

In other words, it’s copying.

You can plagiarise somebody and know you’re doing it, and you can do it completely by accident. Either way, we can’t publish your article if you’ve plagiarised somebody.

Let me show you how people commit plagiarism when they write for the Common Room

3 Types of plagiarism to be aware of when you write for us

I’ll use the dictionary definition I included above as an example.

1. Quoting without referencing

I would have plagiarised the OED if I’d simply written, ‘Plagiarism is the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own’.

With no reference to the OED, no link, and no attempt to show that these aren’t my words, I’ve simply copied their work.

2. Paraphrasing, or rewriting

I would also have plagiarised the OED if I’d rewritten their text like this: ‘Passing off someone else’s ideas or work as your own is known as plagiarism.’

I may have changed the order of the words, but these are still the OED’s ideas and I still need to acknowledge that.

3. Plagiarising yourself, or auto-plagiarism

I would have plagiarised myself if this article had been published elsewhere already. ‘What’s the harm in that?’, you might ask. Well, Google hates it. It punishes websites that plagiarise other websites. There are also copyright issues to think about here.

Everything you write for us must be original.

How can I avoid these types of plagiarism?

When it comes to referencing and paraphrasing, we need you to credit and link to the website that you used as inspiration.

Let’s say you’re writing about your favourite vegan lunch recipes. You’re making roasted cauliflower and broccoli with hummus. And you’re using the BBC Good Food Roasted cauli-broc bowl with tahini hummus recipe. We need you to write very clearly that this is where the recipe comes from, and give the direct link to the recipe page.

When you describe making the dish, summarise the process in your own words. Don’t copy and paste - or reproduce exactly - the ingredients and method from the BBC’s site. Send your readers to the BBC for the specifics, they own the content and the idea.

When it comes to not plagiarising yourself, that’s simple too - you must write something new from scratch. Don’t send us something you’ve published on your own blog, or on your SU’s website, or anywhere else online or in print.

Want to know more about this stuff? Here’s where to go next.

Where can I find out more about plagiarism?

Start by looking at your university’s website. Just google your uni’s name and ‘plagiarism’ and you’ll get a result like this guide to plagiarism at the Nottingham Trent University’s website. This will tell you what your university’s policy is towards plagiarism in your academic writing.

Want to dig deeper? Try the website, which is sponsored by the online plagiarism checker tool Turnitin. It’s full of helpful information and advice.

Read next: How to find images for your articles

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Daniel is a writer at Unite Students.