Don’t plagiarise at the start of your studies

It’s that time of year: students are frantically trying to produce their first pieces of work of the academic year and the teachers and lecturers are marking their first submissions.

I appreciate it can be challenging for students as they attempt to put the subject knowledge and academic writing skills and protocols into action with their reports, essays etc for their first submissions. But this is part of their learning journey. I always think they need to see this first piece of work as a training run so they can learn what is really expected from them and see where and how they need to improve.

Regrettably, every year there are students who struggle but rather than acknowledging (or even recognising) this and ask for help and seeking support, they take shortcuts and go down the path of academic dishonesty.

Every year I start the academic year hoping that this year students will be different. That my explanations of plagiarism, collusion etc and warnings about the consequences will give them pause and they will not submit work which amounts to academic dishonesty. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be this year. The very first piece of submitted work I reviewed this year has been heavily plagiarised.

You’d wonder why, after 18 years of teaching, I’m still expecting different results. I guess I’m an optimist. However, if I can’t change student behaviours, I can try, through my blog to provide information that will help to guide them when they are ready.

What is Academic Dishonesty

All academics and academic institutions – schools, colleges, universities – expect their students to behave honestly and with integrity. We have rules in the form of Academic Dishonesty Policies and students must usually sign their Institution’s Academic Honesty Statement confirming they will abide by the Policy – its like a Code of Conduct for students.

Academic Dishonesty applies where students submit work claiming to be their own which they know is incorrect. There are various ways this can happen:

  • Plagiarism
  • Collusion
  • Cheating

How instances of academic dishonesty are dealt with will vary across institutions and depending on the level of qualifications. At University a student is likely to be disciplined and kicked off their course. At college we take the approach that students are still learning. They will still be disciplined and warnings issued but they may have the opportunity to do an alternative assessment. I’m not sure if there may also be differences in approach across international borders however I do wonder if there will be some convergence of approaches, particularly at university level as the community here is international. Most universities will have international students, not simply domestic students; and universities work collaboratively with each other across international borders so I would anticipate that they would expect their partners to work to similar standards (but perhaps my fellow academic bloggers can contribute their thoughts via the comments section below).


Plaigarism is where a student passes off someone else’s work and claims this as their own – think copying and pasting work without providing references for the work. Plagairism can occur where you are writing up your assignment and are not providing any references for all of the reading you have done – technically without references, you’re stealing all those ideas you’ve read or heard about.

But plagiarism also occurs when you copy work directly and simply add it to your assessment word for word. Even if you were to reference this, it would still not be accepted, as its not your own work and there has been no attempt to interpret or analyse the work.


Collusion is where two or more students work together to produce work that is then submitted as the individual’s own unique work. Typically the students submit their own work individually but its the same or very similar work. A couple of years ago I had 2 students submit the same work thinking they would get away with this because they were in different classes but the plagiarism software picked it up.

Students can collaborate/study together but they should complete their assessments alone to avoid the risk of collusion as they can develop ideas, and answers, that are too similar.


Both plagiarism and collusion would be considered as cheating, but there are also other situations where cheating may occur – copying from someone in an exam; sneaking notes etc into an exam.

Most of the assessments I deal with are open book which means I always need to be aware of the risk of cheating. We have plagiarism detection software which identifies examples of plagiarism and collusion. But another source of concern currently for me is sites which offer assignment writing services. Students pay a fee to have someone else write their coursework. You are not writing this piece of work but will put your name to it – so this is academic dishonesty – cheating and plagiarism (you’re passing someone else’s work as your own).

Personally I’m currently dealing with a case involving one of these organisations . Checking out their fees, it would have cost about £100 for the creation of a report for the assessment I am marking. I have to say I would have failed the report even had the plagiarism not been detected. Be careful not to fall into the trap of a former student. I failed their assessment because it didn’t meet the pass criteria; when i returned the work, he questioned how i could fail him as he had “paid good money for [his] assessment” so he went from failing with the opportunity to resubmit to failing, requiring to do a new assessment and being disciplined for plagiarism.

I appreciate its hard at the start of a new course for students, but your teachers, lecturers and institution support staff are there to help you. I’d rather work with a student who needs help before submission rather than deal with picking up the pieces after submission and any consequences resulting from bad academic practices.

As this is post is hopefully drawing attention to the risks with cheating academically, I hope students and academics might share their insights and tips for new students.

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  1. Brenda….stunning, isn’t it, that a student would respond to being called out with a sassy “but I paid for it…it must be good” retort. Sigh…sending energy to you so you can hold the line about academic standards. Oh – and I like that you’ve included collusion as a dishonest behavior…I think the notions of “group work” 😉can become murky!

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