Plagiarism awareness for undergraduates
Official College information for students is available from Registry, see Examinations and assessment. Advice and department policies are informed by the College's Cheating Offences Policy and Procedures including procedures for handling alleged cases of student plagiarism in examinations and coursework.
This is backed up by information at department websites; please check your local student handbook, department intranet, or ask your personal or senior tutor for more guidance. Please pay attention to any local guidance you are given, for example, the accepted use of computer code. It is important to familiarise yourself with ‘common knowledge' within your subject or field, as the misunderstanding of what is and is not common knowledge can lead to plagiarism.
How would you define plagiarism? Do you know what plagiarism is? Do you know there are different types of plagiarism?
We asked lots of students what they think plagiarism is, and most of them say plagiarism is when you ‘cut and paste' or copy other people's work. This is only one half of a definition of plagiarism. To plainly state the opening definition:
Plagiarism is when you copy someone else's work, words or ideas and use these in your coursework, thesis, report etc, and do not acknowledge that you have done this.
The lack of acknowledgement is key to understanding what plagiarism is, and key to appreciating the importance of academic integrity in the research process.
At Imperial, as in other universities, plagiarism is considered an examination offence, and is often described as cheating. When you start your degree course your department will give you information about plagiarism and possible penalties, and it is likely that you may receive a further lecture or workshop on plagiarism in your first and other years of study. Your lecturers will use a number of methods to detect plagiarism, which may include an electronic detection tool.
It is important that you:
- know what plagiarism is, and why it is an academic offence
- are aware that all material you use from online and print sources should be acknowledged properly
- understand whether assigned group work is to be submitted with individual contributions or as a joint piece of work
- know that if you re-use parts of your own work, you must acknowledge this (to not do so is self-plagiarism).
Knowing where and how you collected information you use, developing your writing skills and understanding the rules of good academic practice, such as using a consistent referencing style, will all reduce unintentional plagiarism. The Library's online course, Olivia provides information and examples on the different types of plagiarism commonly committed, and advice on how to avoid it.
Please speak to your lecturers or personal tutor if you have any concerns, or contact the Library's Education Support team.
Plagiarism and academic integrity
It is hugely important and necessary for you to read, consult, and discuss work that other researchers, scientists, engineers and medical practitioners have produced in your subject field. There is a vast and valuable collection of material available to you, and this is the result of time, money, personal effort, experimentation, and testing. Your lecturers, and their lecturers, used this research as the basis for their studying, and for their own work. Your subject knowledge would not exist without access to this research collection.
Therefore, it is integral to the research process, and research communication, that this collection is acknowledged and recognised by all researchers in a particular subject field. Anyone who produces a piece of work wants recognition for it. The concept of academic integrity is built upon the act of recognising the ideas and work that have already been produced and of any subsequent work.
To develop a good understanding of a subject, and to be able to critically analyse and apply ideas and concepts to your own work, you have to engage with the research and work that contributes to the subject knowledge. And to do that you have to actively think about what you are reading, or hearing about. Copying is a passive activity and you cannot afford to be passive when you are trying to make sense of complex ideas. If you can express in your own words how a process works, why an experiment produced a certain set of results, how a researcher developed his or her theory, you will have a greater and deeper understanding of all this than if you try to regurgitate someone else's words.
The academic community you are now part of expects you to take an active role and to respect the people who work within it. Your lecturers expect you to know what you are writing and talking about, and will expect you to defend and justify your work. Demonstrating your original thought process with reference to previous research shows an understanding of what you have learnt and read, and at the very least, should mean you receive much better results.
Please see the College’s advice on Examinations and academic integrity (pdf).