School of Computer Science

Copying is cheating: a guide to plagiarism

Jonathan Rowe - December 2006

You are given assignments for two main reasons: to help you learn, and to enable the University to assess what you have learned. This means it is important that the work you hand in is all your own work, and is based on your own understanding. We want to assess how well you have understood the subject.

Every year, a number of students are caught cheating in their assignments and projects. They often end up failing the assignment and sometimes the whole module - in serious cases, students have been expelled from the University with no degree!

One of the most common forms of cheating is plagiarism. You need to understand clearly what this means, and be careful to avoid it. This page describes what is meant by plagiarism and gives examples of what is allowed and what is not. The University provides Guidance on Plagiarism for Students. You should also read the University Code of Practice. The latter gives the official University definition of plagiarism and describes the procedures and penalties which apply to anyone caught cheating in this way. Remember - assignments are set to help you learn, as well as to assess your progress. If you copy other people's work, then you will not be able to learn the subject properly. If you find a piece of work difficult, it is much better to get help than to copy work. You can get help from the lecturer (by email, or in person during an office hour), from any of the demonstrators for the module, and from your academic advisor.

What is NOT allowed

If you copy other people's work and hand it in as if it were your own work, then this is a form of cheating known as plagiarism. For example:

  • copying written work from another student
  • copying sentences from a book, or the web, without making it clear that it is a quotation
  • copying another student's code in your program
  • using code obtained from a book or the web as if it were your own
  • getting someone else to do your work (e.g. paying for an essay from the internet).

What IS allowed

There are some occasions when it is OK to use someone else's work - but you must make it clear that it is not your own! For example:

Quoting text from a book or the web.

If you want to quote some text from a book or web page you may do so as long as you make it clear that it is a quotation. You do this by placing it in quotation marks and adding a reference to where you got the text next to the quotation. N.B. Just putting the reference is not enough - you have to make sure that it is obvious which text is quoted and where you got it from.

You should also include references to show that you have used ideas from another source. This is helpful, as it shows how your work relates to other people's work. It also makes it clear to people marking your work what your own contribution is.

For a more complete guide to referencing, please see this referencing style guide.

Using an algorithm or code from a book or the web. It is good practice to re-use code and algorithms where possible. However, you have to make it clear when you have done this. You can do this by adding a comment to your code explaining where you got the algorithm or code. This should also be clearly documented in your written report.

Working with other students

In some of your modules, you will be put into teams to work together. You should make sure that the contribution of each team member is clearly stated in any work you produce.

For other modules, the work that you hand in should be all your own and based on your own understanding. If you get substantial help from anyone, then make sure you acknowledge this. However, you will only get marks for the work that you have done yourself.

If you are not sure about how much you are allowed to work with other students, please ask the lecturer, who will be able to give you clear guidance about what is allowed for that particular module.

Here are some general guidelines:

It is OK to work together on: - understanding lecture notes and any relevant published material - understanding how exercises relate to lectures - understanding what an exercise is asking you to do - discuss possible methods of solving exercises. It is NOT OK to: - hand in any work that someone else has produced as if it were your own - copy parts of a problem solution from someone else - consult others about critical aspects of the problem and its solution, without acknowledging their help - make your own work available for other students to copy.

Final year and MSc projects should be largely your own work. It is very important for you to acknowledge any help you have received, and to correctly reference any material you have used. You can find out more on the projects web page.

Remember: copying other people's work and pretending it is your own is cheating. Don't do it - the punishment for plagiarism can be severe.