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How to avoid plagiarism in your coursework

18 October 2017

Plagiarism is the most common form of academic misconduct and is considered a serious breach of academic integrity.

Southern Cross University defines plagiarism as ‘the act of taking and using another’s work, including unattributed material in whatever form and from whatever source, as one’s own’. In simple terms, plagiarism is copying text, ideas or wording without acknowledging the original source of the information.

It’s important for all Southern Cross University students to understand and adhere to Australian standards for acknowledging use of other’s intellectual property.

Why is plagiarism so serious?

If you use a source to inform your writing and don’t acknowledge it, by omission you’re letting your audience believe it is your original work or idea.

Plagiarism is not only a breach of academic etiquette; it is an offence to misrepresent someone else’s work as your own.

Types of plagiarism

Plagiarism can occur in a range of ways, including:

  • using a direct quotation without acknowledging the source – as a rule, direct quotes should be used sparingly and always attributed
  • not acknowledging a source because you think the information is common knowledge. Commonly known facts don’t need attribution, but any level of analysis or interpretation of those facts does. For example, you don’t need a source to state Canberra is the capital of Australia, but you need to cite a source if you refer to someone else’s original arguments that Sydney should be the capital<
  • paraphrasing without attribution – rewording or reframing a specific idea
  • summarising without attribution – summarising a longer argument or concept into a shorter explanation
  • using graphics and images without attribution
  • self-plagiarism – resubmitting your own work for assessment as part of another course
  • submitting work that’s not your own (including paying for assignments)
  • infringing copyright or intellectual property.

What types of information should be attributed?

Provide a citation or attribution for any work that is not your own original ideas, regardless of the form you use it. This includes content from:

  • books and academic papers
  • interviews, transcripts and presentations
  • newspaper articles
  • websites
  • emails.

Intentional versus accidental plagiarism

Intentional plagiarism involves a deliberate attempt to misrepresent another person’s work or ideas as your own. Not all plagiarism is intentional, but the consequences can be the same regardless of your intent.

Accidental plagiarism can be more difficult to detect. Some people commit plagiarism because they don’t understand referencing, or lack attention to detail when finalising an assessment. The best defence against plagiarism is understanding when and how to attribute the source of your work.

How to check your work for plagiarism

Southern Cross University provides student access to Turnitin, an online text-matching service. The Turnitin guide from the SCU Centre for Teaching and Learning outlines tips for using the tool for feedback before you submit assignments, and using its originality report to edit and improve your referencing and use of sources.

Southern Cross has a responsibility to provide information to students on academic integrity. As part of your coursework, your teachers will explain how to use references to acknowledge sources used in your assignments. Referencing guides differ across faculties.

What happens if you’re caught plagiarising?

Sophisticated plagiarism software is commonly used by universities – including Southern Cross – to check assignments. According to the Centre of Teaching and Learning, being caught plagiarising can result in:

  • Having to resubmit your assignment
  • Being awarded a zero grade
  • Failing the unit or being excluded from the course.
  • The offence is also recorded on the Academic Integrity Register; future employers may ask you to disclose your record.

Where to go for help

If you’re not sure about your work or correct referencing of a resource, check the Library quick guides or ask your tutor for advice.

A good rule of thumb: if in doubt, cite your source and acknowledge where you found the information.