Plagiarism -- FAQ for Department of Computing students

Question 1: Define "to plagiarise".

1. (WRONG): 2. (RIGHT): The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1993 edition, page 2231, gives three meanings of the verb 'to plagiarize' (or 'plagiarise'):

Question 2: What is wrong with the first answer?

Answer: It is clearly taken from the Oxford Dictionary (the small differences do not succeed in hiding this).  But the source (Oxford Dictionary) is not acknowledged. So the first answer is plagiarised.


  1. Why is plagiarism not allowed?
  2. If I don't just copy but change the work and add my own ideas, how can this be plagiarism?
    It can be.  Read the definition above.

  3. Well then, I don't understand what's allowed and what's not.  When is it OK to use work without acknowledgment, when should/must I acknowledge, and when can't I use work at all? If in doubt, ask a member of staff --- e.g., the lecturer or the lab coordinator.

  4. Surely I can use, say, a dictionary without acknowledging it?  That's what it's there for.
    If you use it to correct your spelling, yes.  If you quote material from it, as at the top of this page, then you are using intellectual property belonging to another and you should acknowledge it.

  5. But I hate giving acknowledgments.
  6. What is the purpose of an acknowledgment?  Why does it make everything alright?
    It doesn't always make everything alright: see Q3 above. The reasons for giving an acknowledgment are:
  7. What form should an acknowledgment take?
    It should be sufficiently precise to allow the source to be identified.  Eg: You can briefly explain how you used the material, if you think this clarifies things.
    Acknowledgments should be accurate.  If we cannot find the material, you may be asked to locate it.  You may want to save copies of web material you use, in case it disappears between submission and marking.

  8. What if I make my work available to others to use?  What if someone steals my work without permission, or finds it lying around?
    If your work is used with your permission, you will be punished.  If it is used without your permission, you may still be punished if you contributed to the theft by recklessness or not taking proper precautions.
  9. What happens if I work together with my friend to produce an original solution?
    If the lecturer/lab coordinator stated that the assignment was to be done jointly, then fine.  If not, and you submit as individual solutions work that was produced jointly, then this is plagiarism and you will be punished.

  10. Am I not allowed to work with other students at all then?
    We encourage preliminary discussions of exercises among students.  Working effectively with others is an important "life skill".  But the work students finally submit should always be their own original work.

  11. I am stuck on the exercise.  Can I ask other students for help?
    By all means discuss work with other students; but do not copy their work, and never ask them for printouts or files of their work to help you or as a guide.  You may always ask lab assistants or the Lab Coordinator for help with labwork, and the lecturer or their helpers for help with coursework.  This is always safe, and you will get better help!  Please contact the lecturer, lab coordinator, the student reps, or the course/year coordinator, if you have difficulties in getting help from these.

  12. I have ten other courseworks to do, the schedule is too demanding right now.  I have personal problems and I've been ill, and I'm completely stressed out.  I have to copy someone else's work just to get the assignment done by the deadline.  It's the Department's fault for making us work so hard.
    Copying is plagiarism.  You will be punished and will probably end up with a low mark as well as a stain on your record.  You would be better off not submitting the exercise at all.  If you have personal problems/illness, the solution is not to cheat but to contact your personal tutor, the senior tutor, or (for M.Sc.) the course coordinator, who may be able to arrange for some allowance to be made.  Possibly you may be allowed to submit late --- this is far preferable to plagiarising.

  13. I found another student's home directory open for access and copied her work, with some original inputs of my own.  Surely I am OK because it's her fault for leaving her directory accessible.
    Using another student's work without permission is a major case of plagiarism.  Please read the definition of 'plagiarism' above.

  14. I found another student's work lying around, and I copied it.  It wasn't very good so I added some improvements of my own.  Surely I am OK because it's his fault for leaving his work around, and anyway I improved it.
    Using another student's work without permission is a major case of plagiarism.  Please read the definition of 'plagiarism' above.

  15. I have a brother in a university in Canada who was set a similar exercise.  He has given me permission to use his solution.  Surely if I just copy parts of it, it's OK, and anyway you'll never catch me.
    This incident happened in a recent year (some details have been modified to protect the guilty).  We did catch them.  It is never allowed to use work of other students, even with their permission.

  16. I found I can buy courseworks off the web by credit card.  They are being sold by commercial organisations.  Surely it's OK to use them if I pay for them?  They are then my property.
    Using such work is a major case of plagiarism.  Please read the definition of 'plagiarism' above.

  17. I don't believe you catch anyone.  Students are too clever, we can hide our cheating.
    We have more years of experience in catching than you have of cheating.  We catch cases every year.  Dealing with them is time-consuming and unpleasant for all parties.  Staff are here to teach you a wonderful subject and open up a world of possibilities to you.  It is saddening and angering for us to find students cheating, and be forced to spend time on disciplinary matters.  It would be better for everyone if you simply did the exercises as intended --- using your own ideas.

  18. What will happen when I am caught?
    The Department is bound by the College's Cheating Offences Policy and Procedures.

  19. Will any record kept on my file affect references written for me?
    Well, what do you think? 
    Please don't commit plagiarism.

This document is for Department of Computing and JMC students only.  In the event of a conflict with College policy, College policy takes precedence.