It is most important for you to be very careful to avoid plagiarism in your writing. What exactly is plagiarism? Basically, it is passing off someone else’s writing as your own. It means taking someone else’s words and pretending that they are your own. In its most serious form, it is simply copying someone else’s work, word for word, and not acknowledging the source that they came from.

Think how hard you work to try to phrase things in precisely the right way and you will understand how annoying it is when someone lifts your own original ideas and claims them for their own. However, it is not only annoying for the writer of the original text, it is also dangerous for the person who copies it. If plagiarism is spotted in your writing, your college has the right to fail your essay, or fail you in an exam, and in the most serious cases of cheating in this way, to send you down from the university. It is very easy for markers to spot plagiarism:

  • because they know the subject well
  • because they have read all the books you’re likely to refer to
  • because plagiarism will result in a change of style within the essay.

The most important thing is always to quote and reference correctly and then you will avoid problems of plagiarism. But if you need to mention someone else’s work and you can’t find or don’t want to provide a quotation, how can you do it? The best approach might be to follow these steps:

  • read and understand the original text
  • close the book and write out the main points in your own words
  • rephrase the main points into your own passage
  • compare your writing with the original and make sure that no sentences or long phrases are the same
  • don’t worry if the quality of the writing is not quite as high as the original….it’s much more important that you use your own words.

Remember, if you acknowledge someone else’s writing, it will not be plagiarism.

Remember as well, that without trying to put ideas into your own words, you will never develop your own style and never gain in confidence as far as your writing goes. Stitching a few ideas together from someone else’s writing does nothing to improve your own writing skills and nothing for your understanding of the subject.

What do you think about these examples? Plagiarism or not?

Sam’s essay:

Third, Carl Gardner describes the new ‘high-tech’ shopping centres how they varied in size and style, spectacularly produced glass atria or glazed barrel-vaults which helps to use the natural light to flood the shops and walkways.


Though varied in size and style, nearly all centres offer the same basic features. Most importantly, there are spectacularly engineered glass atria or glazed barrel-vaults to flood the shops and walkways with natural light.

( Answer: This could be classified as plagiarism. It is very close to the original. Note the use of phrases from the original: spectacularly produced glass atria or glazed barrel-vaults. )