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Academic integrity is often seen as being inextricably linked to plagiarism which frequently focuses primarily on its detection and the subsequent penalties that may be imposed. However, more recent findings emphasise the need to prevent the incidence of plagiarism, which requires the development of students’ sense of academic integrity (Birks et al., 2020; UCD, 2021).

Tutor's Guide to Plagiarism

The European Network for Academic Integrity (ENAI, 2018) offers the following definitions which seek to differentiate the two terms:


“Plagiarism is presenting the work of others as if it were his/her own without proper acknowledgment.”

Academic integrity

“Compliance with ethical and professional principles, standards and practices by individuals or institutions in education, research and scholarship.”

Plagiarism is, therefore, only one aspect of the wider concept of academic integrity, which implies behavioural attitudes and practice that are frequently bound up with professional practice and standards.

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) recently called for UK HEIs to sign up to an Academic Integrity Charter (QAA, 2020b) and Ulster University is now a signatory to this.

There are many types of plagiarism that may occur and these may range from inadvertent or accidental plagiarism to more deliberate examples, such as contract cheating (Chester, 2001; Amigud & Lancaster, 2019; Turnitin, 2021).

Broadly speaking, the main types of plagiarism that are encountered in higher education are as follows:

Types of Plagiarism

  • Appropriation or deliberate plagiarism

    An attempt is made to pass off someone else’s work as their own, including “copy and paste” and contract cheating.

    It also includes instances of collusion between students, or the presentation of collaborative work as an individual effort.

  • Paraphrasing

    Alteration of individual words but retention of the same sentence structure as the original author.

    This may also comprise patchwork or mosaic paraphrasing where multiple sources are “stitched” together.

  • Self-plagiarism

    Repurposing one’s own work previously submitted elsewhere.

  • Misleading attribution or inaccurate authorship

    Where the full reference cited is accurate or incomplete.

Some Indicators of Plagiarism

Flow chart: plagiarism indicators

Why do Students Plagiarise?

Several studies have been carried out to determine the reasons why students plagiarise, all of which indicate a differential between accidental or inadvertent plagiarism and that which is deliberate (Sutton et al., 2014; Selemani et al., 2018).

Common causes of student plagiarism
Accidental/Inadvertent PlagiarismDeliberate Plagiarism
Misconceptions about what constitutes plagiarism Poor time management
Careless research and/or note-taking methods Overly demanding schedule and/or competing objectives
Lack of understanding of institutional norms and/or expectations Desire to maintain high grades
  Fear of failure/pressure to succeed
  No interest in the subject
  Personal issues
  Perceived lack of interest by teaching staff
  Belief that they will not get caught

A more concerning trend is the use of contract cheating where student can commission, for a fee, original work produced for them which they subsequently submit as if it were their own (Lancaster, 2021a). Although this form of commercialized transaction has been in existence for some time – so-called essay mills - its frequency has increased over recent years according to Newton (2018), whose research indicated that “…from 2014 to present the percentage of students admitting to paying someone else to undertake their work was 15.7%, potentially representing 31 million students around the world.”

There are also strong indications that the potential for academic cheating has increased during the recent pandemic, not only as result of increased pressure to succeed that may be felt by students, but also because of more prevalent, and often aggressive marketing, which is sometimes difficult to discern as a purely commercial service.  (Lancaster, 2021b).

Ulster University has a plagiarism policy which identifies the actions that should be taken and the potential penalties incurred by students should plagiarism be suspected.

One of the ways that we can reduce the instances of plagiarism is to help students understand what plagiarism is and model academic integrity within our own practice.

Plagiarism and Academic Integrity: a prevent-educate-detect approach

One way in which we can deter plagiarism is by designing our assessments in such a way that this practice is discouraged.

The following are some suggestions that you might find useful:

Designing Out Plagiarism

  • Making not faking
    • Different assessment formats
    • Assignment that ask for application of learning rather than replication
    • Change tasks for each module iteration
    • Provide opportunities for individual customisation and/or reflection
    • Identify key resources that you are expecting to see referenced
  • Process as well as product
    • Ask for a justification of the approach and/or resources used
    • Ask for evidence of the process undertaken
    • Ask for drafts/iterative submission– formative assessment
  • Building in checks
    • Progress reports on assessment
    • Post hand-in task (e.g. viva, reflection on process/approach taken)

Additional Resources