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What happens if you're accused of plagiarism

Plagiarism is the taking of other people's work, ideas or words and including them in your work without making it clear what the source is. This can be taking information from any source, including another student, a website, lecture notes, books and journals, or even your own past work.

Plagiarism is taken very seriously by the University - it can lead to a mark of zero for the work or even the module and it will go on your record so it's better to get your referencing right before you submit. If you've had personal problems that affected your work, you can ask for a five day extension or make a more formal Exceptional Circumstances request.

If you are having time management issues speak to your tutor or the Write Direction service for expert advice. Taking the time to get support before handing essays in will make things much easier in the long term.

Anything you take from sources needs to be either completely rewritten into your own words or put in quotation marks, in addition to the reference, otherwise you would be claiming those words as your own. When you include just a reference you're saying you got the information or idea from that source but claiming the words are your own.

Using quotation marks will help you avoid plagiarising but overusing this method could lower your mark. Try to use your own words as much as possible, rather than using quotation marks, as this will show your understanding of the subject and can give you higher marks.

Unfortunately, you can still commit a plagiarism offence by accident and this will not affect the outcome.

The majority of cases we see happen because the student didn't understand what they needed to do, forgot to reword a section, or missed out some references. Your School will be aware of this and if you engage with the process you may leave the meeting with a better understanding of how to properly reference and adjust your study habits to minimise the risk of accidental copying.

We have seen that copying and pasting text from a source directly into an essay, with the intention of rewording it, will raise the risk of plagiarising. You may forget which sections were copied and which were in your own words, and if you use a method to highlight those words (such as a different colour) you could forget to apply it. It will also be much harder to find your own words if you have an expert's words already written into your essay.

Writing directly into your essay while looking at the source will also make it harder to find your own words. When you already have the ideal wording in front of you, it can be very difficult to come up with a completely different way of saying it! Some tutors have advised reading a few sentences, then putting the source to one side and making notes on what you've just learned.

A lot of students are surprised to hear about self-plagiarism. Unfortunately, reusing your own work is still classed as academic misconduct, even if you weren't aware of it, because the university considers it would be unfair to benefit twice from one piece of work.

If you're repeating a module and the essay you are reusing no longer has a mark, this would not normally be counted as self-plagiarism because you won't have benefitted twice.

5.1(b) of the Student Academic Misconduct Code of Practice states:

'Self-plagiarism - the student submits the same or almost identical work for more than one assessment without proper acknowledgement. (N.B. Students will not be guilty of self-plagiarism if they are repeating a module and are given the same assignment. Schools/Research Institutes should ensure that, where a suitable alternative exists, students who are repeating are given different assignments where possible.)'

Work through the sources of help below and make sure you have a good understanding of what your school’s referencing requirements are. You may find it useful to read through your module handbook.

Read through your essay with the Turnitin report you will have been sent and think about whether you have referenced effectively. Make some notes and think about areas where you may have forgotten to reference.

Get in touch with ASK if you are struggling to understand what might be wrong and we can work through this with you.

If your work was affected by any exceptional circumstances, you can send in a statement before the meeting, explaining your ECs and how they led to the plagiarism. Gather any evidence that could support your case.

The meeting will usually be with the Academic Conduct Officer (ACO), the marker and a note taker. The ACO will tell you what they think the problems are with the work and give you the opportunity to have your say and ask any questions you have. If you have exceptional circumstances, make sure to talk about them as they could impact the decision.

The ACO meeting is a learning opportunity so prepare questions on things you are not sure about and take the opportunity to talk through these in the meeting.

Remember that the purpose of the meeting is to make sure you have all the support you need.

The penalties for plagiarism vary depending on the type of case and the number of cases you have had in the past. The possible penalties that can be applied are in the table on the University website.

If you had exceptional circumstances that affected your work, make sure you tell the  Academic Conduct Officer and provide evidence. You will also need to explain why you didn't make an Exceptional Circumstances claim at the time. The ACO will consider your circumstances and may decide to lower the penalty.

If this is your third offence or if the ACO decides the case is too serious to apply one of the standard penalties, your case will be referred to the Academic Misconduct Committee.

In some circumstances, you may be able to appeal the decision. You will only be able to do this if you can satisfy one, or both, of the following grounds:

  • procedural irregularity in the conduct of the original investigations of the Academic Conduct Officer;
  • exceptional circumstances, providing that these circumstances can be substantiated.

More information on appealing can be found on the University website. Remember that there is a deadline of 10 days to appeal.

If you would like to appeal or need some more information contact us at ASK and we will guide you through the process.

If you are studying a professional course, a record of academic misconduct may have further implications. You should check your School handbook for further details if this applies to you.

ASK can help you to prepare your case and attend the meeting with you, if necessary. You should be provided with a TurnItIn report from your school that highlights the areas of concern. We can go through the report and help you to understand where you have gone wrong. We can signpost you to the appropriate support services to help you to improve your study skills and to make sure that you fully understand how to reference properly.

If there have been reasons why you have plagiarised, either intentionally or accidentally, we can explore these and help you to put your case forward to your school Academic Conduct Officer or an Academic Misconduct Committee.

There are lots of places you can go to improve your study skills at Keele, including:

Write Direction Service - Write Direction is a confidential service offering expert one-to-one advice on a wide range of topics including essay planning and structuring, effective reading for academic purposes, critical thinking, writing style, grammar, punctuation, note-taking, dissertation skills, reflection, time management, presentation skills and plagiarism.

English Language Unit (International Students) - The English Language Unit offers free 1:1 tutorials all year-round for international students on how to avoid plagiarism.

Interactive Study Write - The StudyWrite Plagiarism module explains the concept of plagiarism, why it is important and how it can be avoided.  It also provides a series of activities to check your understanding as the module progresses

Learning about Turnitin - Turnitin is a text matching system that the University uses to identify text within submitted assignments to other sources; this can highlight work which is not properly referenced and non-original content in the work submitted by students.  

Proofreading Guide - The proofreading guide is useful for students to better understand what is acceptable as proofreading and what may become academic misconduct.

Personal Tutors and Module Leaders - Email your school if you are unsure who this is to make an appointment.