‘Plagiarism’ derives from the Latin word plagiarius, meaning ‘kidnapper’ or ‘abductor’. It is the theft of someone’s creativity, ideas or language; something that strikes at the very heart of academic life. It is a form of cheating and is generally regarded as being morally and ethically unacceptable.

It should not be surprising, therefore, that plagiarism is such an emotionally charged issue and that agreeing on what plagiarism is might not always an easy task, especially when we talk about punishing this practice. Plagiarism can be the result of sloppy referencing, honest errors and different cultural and ethical values with respect to academic work.

Therefore, one key aspect when we deal with plagiarism must be the intent to plagiarize and the fact that intent is not always easy to prove might explain the very small number of students that are punished with expulsion from their universities (see section 2.3).

Top Tips 1

  1. Always ensure that you are familiar with your institution’s plagiarism policies and regulations, and be able to explain them in jargon-free terms to the students.
  2. Strike an appropriate balance between ‘encouragement’ of the learning process and the potentially serious consequences if plagiarism is proven.
  3. A worthwhile exercise is to spend some time in class (or interactively online) going through real examples of what does and does not constitute acceptable practice. A suggested method of doing this is contained in section 2.5.