This guide is based on the information provided at the Netskills Detecting and Deterring Plagiarism workshop.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is defined as “To take and use as one’s own the thoughts, writings or inventions of another” (Oxford English Dictionary). Plagiarism therefore has two elements:

  1. taking another’s work; and
  2. using the work as your own.
If you take another’s work but do not use it as your own – because you reference it correctly – it is not plagiarism.

Three types of plagiarism have been identified:

  • Intra-corpal plagiarism – for example, from another student on the same course
  • Extra-corpal plagiarism – for example, from a web page, book or journal
  • Autoplagiarism – for example, submitting a previous essay or article as new work (Culwin and Lancaster, 2001).

Plagiarism can be either intentional or unintentional.

Intentional plagiarism

This is what most people would think of as plagiarism - ‘copying’. Intentional plagiarism can be done for a variety of reasons:

  • to get higher marks
  • to save time and effort
  • because plagiarism is allowed (or even required) by students in some cultures.

Examples of intentional plagiarism include:

  • copying problem answers from a classmate
  • copying an essay from a student in a previous year
  • downloading an essay from an Internet essay bank
  • creating an essay by copying from three different textbooks and linking the parts together with your own words.

Unintentional plagiarism

Students often do not recognise unintentional plagiarism as plagiarism (Carroll, 2002). However, it is taking another’s work and using as your own – because there is no acknowledgement of who has done the work. Unintentional plagiarism usually occurs because of a lack of understanding about what plagiarism is, and poor referencing, citing and quoting skills.

Examples of unintentional plagiarism include:

  • failing to indicate that some text is a direct quote (quotation marks should be used)
  • paraphrasing a chapter and including the source in the reference list, but not acknowledging the source in the text
  • composing a paragraph by joining sentences from a number of sources together and not acknowledging the sources in the text.


Plagiarism covers paraphrasing as well as word-for-word copying. If you make small changes (eg replacing a few verbs, changing an adjective, putting sentences in a different order) it could be considered intentional plagiarism. If you substantially change the language and organisation of the material – ie you re-write the whole thing in totally your own words – but do not include an acknowledgment in the text or the full reference in the reference list, then you are still committing plagiarism.


Collusion is a form of plagiarism where students work together with the intention to deceive a third party. So if a classmate copies your work with your knowledge, then you have committed an offence, not just the student who copied you.

What is wrong with plagiarism?

Plagiarism is against University regulations and you may fail assessed work if you plagiarise (intentionally or unintentionally).

Plagiarism is cheating: it penalises honest students and degrades academic standards, degrees, and institutions.

Plagiarism is unfair: it means that those who conducted the work do not get credit for what they have done, the words they wrote, or the pictures they created.

Detection of plagiarism

Tutors and lecturers are able to tell if you have plagiarised, just by reading your work:

Everyone has their own writing style. It is obvious that a section of an assignment has been copied because of the changes in grammar, words used, punctuation, etc.

Your tutors are knowledgeable about their field and will know what has been written on the topic. They will be able to tell if you have copied from the books or articles on the reading list, or from other well known sources.

Tutors usually mark an entire class or year’s work – they will recognise if two assignments are similar. They are also likely to have marked the previous year’s work so may be able to tell if you have copied from someone in a different year.

In addition, the University subscribes to the JISC Plagiarism Advisory Service. This includes an electronic detection service which checks a submitted piece of work against:

  • work submitted by others on the course
  • previously submitted work for the course
  • work from around the UK held on the service database
  • over 1.8 billion websites; essays from cheat sites
  • some e-journal databases.

Plagiarism tutorials

Indiana University provides an excellent tutorial about plagiarism, including examples, ten items for you to practice on (with feedback), and a comprehensive test. They estimate that it takes 1-2 hours to complete the tutorial and pass the test; if you think you already understand plagiarism you can take the 5 minute self-test.


Carroll, J. (2002) A handbook for deterring plagiarism in higher education. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development

Culwin, F. and Lancaster, T. (2001) Plagiarism issues for higher education. Vine, 31(2), p.36-41.

For more information and help in the correct way to cite and reference works, see the Library guide to citing references, or ask your Subject Liaison Librarian.

University policy on plagiarism and collusion

Plagiarism is a complex issue and official definitions of plagiarism and collusion can vary from one organisation to another. Staff and students should only refer to the policy at this University to ensure consistency and accuracy.

Information on how plagiarism and collusion are defined at Brunel can be found on the Quality and Standards pages, which refer to Senate Regulation 6.

Page last updated: Thursday 31 March 2016