Practical advice to students

Knowing what to acknowledge

(Reproduced with permission of the Department of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics)

General principles

In all written work submitted for assessment you must show the sources for your material. The principle is that whenever submitted material is not your own original work this must be acknowledged. To present material without acknowledgment is in effect to claim that it represents your own work and ideas.

Quoted passages should be placed in quotation marks and their source referenced within the text (giving author, date and page number). A list of references at the end of the paper lists all the works referred to. Presenting material from other sources without full acknowledgment (plagiarism) is penalised heavily. This holds for both copying and paraphrasing of others' work.

We expect that when a student turns in work for assessment that it is the independent work of that student, it is written by that student, and they have written it in their own words. In most cases, copied assignments will be given a zero grade for the piece of work for both parties: if A copies B's assignment, both A and B will get zero. Assignments copied in whole or large part from books or articles will receive a zero grade.

The same essay may not be submitted for assessment in two different subjects.

Avoiding plagiarism

The word plagiarism comes from a Latin word for ‘kidnapper'. Plagiarism means you are kidnapping or stealing someone else's ideas or words and presenting them as if they were your own. If you copy an article from an encyclopedia and make some minor changes to pass it off as your own writing, you are plagiarising deliberately. If you carelessly forget to include quotation marks or a reference to show whose words or ideas you are using, you are plagiarising accidentally. Whether deliberate or accidental, plagiarism is a serious offence in scholarship.

It is not plagiarism, however, to use other writers' material when you acknowledge whose material it is. That procedure is a part of honest research writing. Avoid plagiarism by acknowledging sources when necessary and by using them accurately and fairly.

Knowing what to acknowledge

When you write a research essay, you use information from three kinds of sources: (1) your independent thoughts and experiences; (2) common knowledge, the basic information people share; and (3) other people's independent thoughts and experiences. Of the three, you must acknowledge only the third, the work of others.

Your independent material

You need not acknowledge your own independent material – your thoughts, compilations of facts, or experimental results, expressed in your own words or format. However, someone else's ideas and facts are not yours: even when they are expressed entirely in your words and format, they require acknowledgment.

Common knowledge

Common knowledge consists of the standard information of a field of study as well as folk literature and commonsense observations. Standard information includes, for instance, the major facts of history. The dates of Charlemagne's rule as emperor of Rome (800-814) and the fact that his reign was accompanied by a revival of learning — both facts available in many reference books – do not need to be acknowledged, even if you have to look up the information.

Folk literature, which is popularly known and cannot be traced to particular writers, is considered common knowledge. This would include nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and any stories from the oral tradition of literature. Even if you read these things in printed form, documentation is not needed.

A commonsense observation, such as the idea that weather affects people's spirits does not require acknowledgment. But a scientist's findings about the effects of high humidity on people with blood pressure, will require acknowledgment.

You may use common knowledge as your own, even if you have to look it up in a reference book. You may not know, for example, the dates of the French Revolution or the standard definition of photosynthesis, although these are considered common knowledge. If you look them up in a dictionary or reference book, you do not need to acknowledge the source.

Someone else's independent material

Facts or ideas from signed or copyrighted sources require acknowledgment. The source may be a book, letter, magazine, newspaper, film, speech, interview, television program, or microfilmed document, but you must acknowledge not only the ideas or facts themselves but also the language and format in which they are presented. If you use a table or diagram created by another writer, acknowledge it just as you would their ideas.

Quoting, summarising and paraphrasing

When writing a research essay, you can present the ideas of others either through direct quotation or summary or paraphrase, depending on your purpose.

For direct quotation, copy the material from the source carefully. Use quotation marks for even a single word if the original author used it in a special or central way. Do not change any wording, spelling, capitalisation or punctuation. Use an ellipsis mark (three spaced full stops) to indicate the exact point at which you have deliberately left out part of a direct quotation. Use brackets to surround any word, comment, or punctuation mark you add within the quotation. Place the word sic (meaning ‘in this manner') in square brackets immediately after any mistake in spelling, grammar, or common knowledge that your reader might otherwise believe to be a misquote. If the quoted material is eight lines or less, place it in quotation marks within your running text. If it is longer than eight lines set it off from the text without quotation marks. Quotations of the latter sort should have an extra line space before and after the quote and all lines should be single spaced and indented from the left.

When you summarise or paraphrase, you state in your own words and sentence structures the meaning of someone elses writing. Since the words and the sentence structures are yours, you do not use quotation marks, though, of course, you must acknowledge the author of the idea. If you use the original sentence pattern and substitute synonyms for key words or use the original words and change the sentence pattern, you are not paraphrasing but plagiarising, even if the source is acknowledged because both methods use someone else's expression without quotation marks. In paraphrasing it is crucial not only to use your own form of expression but also to represent the author's meaning without distorting it.

Quick checklist

(Reproduced with permission of Dr Stephen Morgan, Faculty of Economics and Commerce)

To be certain to acknowledge sources fairly and avoid plagiarising, review this checklist before beginning to write your essay and again after you have completed your first draft.

  1. What type of source are you using: your own independent material, common knowledge, or someone else's independent material?
  2. If you are quoting someone else's material, is the quotation exact? Have you used quotation marks for quotations run into the text? Have you set off block quotes with an extra space before and after the quote, single spacing within the quote, and left indenting of all lines of the block quote? Are omissions shown with ellipses and additions with square brackets?
  3. If you are paraphrasing someone else's material, have you rewritten it in you own words and sentence structures? Does your paraphrase employ quotation marks when you resort to the author's exact language? Have you represented the author's meaning without distortion?
  4. Have you acknowledged each use of someone else's material?
  5. Do all references contain complete and accurate information on the sources you have cited?

Resources from the Academic Skills unit

The Academic Skills unit has developed a range of resources and links for students, including a section on referencing. Their collection of pamphlets, booklets and links is continually updated and can be accessed from the Academic Skills' study skills flyers page. Contact details for the Academic Skills unit.

The Turnitin section of this website has more information about resources that can assist you.

Student advocacy and procedural rights

The University's Student Discipline Statute, Statute 13.1, includes special provisions which are designed to protect students' procedural rights. The Statute, for example, allows for students to have a student representative and a support person present during discipline hearings, and ensures that students are given sufficient notice of the opportunity to be heard with regard to an allegation of misconduct. It is important that you are aware of your rights under this Statute.

If an allegation of involvement in academic misconduct is made against you, there are a number of available services and qualified people on campus who can assist with questions you may have about the disciplinary process or any other concerns.

Some relevant links are provided below