We’re regularly asked questions about the rules and regulations pertaining to plagiarism and referencing. Here, for your benefit and delectation is our collected intelligence in response to the most frequently asked questions. These are all real questions and some of them we are asked on a weekly basis!
Referencing & Plagiarism: FAQ
I’ve read a book that discussed something another person wrote, but I haven’t read the original work. How do I reference that?
Ideally go back to the original, but if you can’t/don’t have time then reference the book you have (this is called a secondary reference).
I can’t plagiarise myself can I?
Yes you can. If you submit the same essay for different courses or an essay you’ve submitted elsewhere then you’re committing auto-plagiarism.
What happens if I have an idea that someone else has had independently? Will I be accused of plagiarism even though I did not know about the other person’s idea?
It’s very unlikely that this will happen and shouldn’t happen accidentally if you take good notes.
Do I have to use Harvard style referencing?
Preferably, yes. This is the School’s chosen referencing style. However, if you are more familiar with a different style (e.g. MLA) then as long as you are confident and consistent in its use then that’s fine.
Everyone knows about this surely, do I really need to reference it?
Definition of what is common knowledge is always problematic as it is highly personal, however, some things obviously don’t require reference e.g. the Earth moves around the Sun, or in the realm of management e.g. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If in doubt, cite it.
I’m not sure how to reference this thing I’ve used. Might I get in trouble for a badly done reference? Should I just leave it out?
No, always seek to reference. The act of trying to source references and give due credit is more important than the quality of the reference itself. However, Cite Them Right Online gives clear guidance on how to reference just about any sort of material.
Does it matter that I’ve used footnotes instead of in-text referencing?
Well footnotes are not Harvard style (which is the School’s preferred standard), but if you’re using a different style then that’s fine provided you consistently use that style.
What if there is no name on something I read?
You could cite it as ‘anonymous’ and provide the details you do have. Perhaps it’s a corporate author or a website. Either way Cite Them Right Online can give you guidance on how to format such a reference.
If I rewrite the material I’ve read I don’t need to include a reference do I?
Yes you do. Moving words around and paraphrasing is plagiarism if no citations are provided.
How many citations should there be in my essay. Roughly?
There is no hard and fast rule on this. If you cite someone else’s ideas, research, or words, then you need to include a reference.
Can you reference too much?
Yes you can. You need to be able to demonstrate that you have thought about the topic you are writing about, and bring you own opinions and ideas to the table. It’s more important to demonstrate critical thinking and evaluation skills than hit a required number of references.
What about if I write a sentence that is completely my own and exactly the the same sentence is out there on the web and I don’t know about it?
This is not going to happen and sounds like the defence of a plagiarist. Most sentences we write are unique. Seriously?
If I work on an assignment with someone else is that plagiarism?
Yes it is unless your lecturer has stipulated that collaboration and groupwork is allowed. This is known as collusion otherwise and is taken very seriously.
Do I have to cite information I got from a lecturer in the classroom?
Yes you should. Cite Them Right Online can show you how to reference a lecture.
I don’t feel confident enough about the subject to not reference every other sentence. What should I do?
You need to read around the subject more and deepen your understanding of the topic so that you can offer you own thoughts and opinions.
Do all the lecturers use Turnitin?
Essays submitted that are suspected of being plagiarised are fed in to Turnitin. The question is: ‘Do you feel lucky, punk?’
Is it OK to include references to books that I have read but not directly cited in my bibliography?
Not really. Ideally you should be matching up citations in your work with a bibliographic mention in the List of References. Certainly you shouldn’t be padding out your bibliography to make your work seem more learned.
I didn’t mean to do it, so is it still plagiarism?
Yes. Ignorance of the rules of plagiarism is not considered a defence by the University, in fact this is referred to directly in the University’s definition of plagiarism.
If I use a direct quote and cite it but don’t include inverted commas around it is that plagiarism?
Yes it is. You need to use those inverted commas.
Is it OK to reference Wikipedia?
Yes and no. Its fine to cite the sources at the foot of Wikipedia articles (but go read them) but not the articles themselves – this is still frowned on and considered poor scholarship.
Is it OK to paraphrase?
Yes as long as you also reference the idea or words you are paraphrasing.
Can you check if this assignment is plagiarised for me?
Nope. We can give you advice on plagiarism, but actually checking your assignment through is beyond our remit.
We hope that this post answers most of your questions. Don’t forget to check out our Advice on Plagiarism post which has some further information on referencing styles, the University’s view on plagiarism and a handy YouTube video.
If you still feel unclear about any aspect of plagiarism or need assistance with referencing please get in touch with us by email or in person.
Image credit: Kirsty Andrews via Flickr CC