Essay Guide

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Sources & plagiarism

Other peoples’ words

One expectation tutors have about your essays is that you will identify and quote from a wide range of writing by other people. This is one way in which you can show that your knowledge of your subject is developing. The ability to select from and engage with a wide range of materials also shows that you are developing skills in argument and research.

However, in using other people’s words you must ensure that you reference them correctly. There are two reasons for doing this. First, you must not pass off other peoples’ ideas or words as your own as this is cheating or plagiarism. If you are in any doubt just how serious the charge of plagiarism is then look it up in your departmental or university handbook. Plagiarism is on the increase and universities are devoting significant resources to eradicating it. Many universities in the UK and elsewhere are starting to use sophisticated software to identify when someone else’s words have been copied into an essay.

Second, each subject follows particular referencing and bibliographical conventions. You will be expected to follow them. If you are not sure what they are then consult your departmental handbook that should summarise the conventions you are expected to use. If you don’t use them then you could lose marks.

How to avoid plagiarism

In academic writing you must always indicate when you are using someone else’s ideas. If you don’t then you may find yourself accused of plagiarism. A good starting point is to make sure that when you are making notes from books or articles you note down the source – author, book and page number – as you go along. It is very easy when making notes to jot something down quickly and then find that when you look at your notes later you can’t remember if it’s your own idea or a quote from someone else.