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Student Guide

Student Guide University of Johannesburg

Student guide to avoiding plagiarism

Compiled by Professor Adèle Thomas

on behalf of the Senate Higher Degrees Committee

June 2014



This document aims to help our students avoid plagiarism. Sources used in its compilation are listed at the end. The Policy of the University relating to Student Plagiarism, approved by Senate of the University on 12 September 2013, is the official document of authority.

At UJ we would like to see you, our students and eventually our graduates, become ethical contributors to the development of our society. We see it as our job to contribute to your moral development while you are studying with us, and a way of doing this is to ensure that you are trained about honesty in the submission of your assignments, dissertations and theses. That is why we take plagiarism seriously.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is passing off the ideas, writing, works or inventions of others as your own intellectual work when they are, in fact, not your own. This can include phrases, words, images, artefacts, sounds or other intellectual or artistic work. Plagiarism also includes pretending that your own work, previously submitted for assessment, is now a new and original contribution. This can include work that has been submitted previously to another academic institution or here at UJ, or work that has already appeared in a public domain in some form. Plagiarism does not have to be intentional. Unintentional plagiarism is considered to be just as serious as intentional plagiarism.

Plagiarism is intellectual theft as the plagiariser stands to gain some benefit or unfair advantage over his or her classmates. The word ‘plagiarism’ comes from the Latin word ‘plagiarius’ which means to kidnap. So plagiarists, in this sense, kidnap the work of others and present it as their own. In this way plagiarism makes a mockery of the five fundamental values of a university. It is not honest; is destroys the trust between teachers and their students and impacts respect in that relationship; is does not promote fairness in the way work is assessed; and students transgress the responsibility they have to fairly portray their work and their abilities.

Examples of plagiarism

  • presenting the ideas, words or results of another person as your own, without acknowledging the original author, i.e. copying without citing your source;
  • using direct words in sentences, paragraphs or parts of articles and books without “quotation marks” and/or other appropriate acknowledgement (eg. not citing a page number) even if you acknowledge the source in the text or in the reference list;
  • formulating your words so closely to those of the original author that it is obvious that you could not have written them without having had the source next to you (i.e. your paraphrasing of the author’s words is too close to the original author’s use of the words) even if you did acknowledge your source in the text and in the reference list;
  • composing a paragraph by taking short phrases from a number of sources and putting them together, perhaps also including some words of your own, to make a coherent whole, and then attributing the whole lot to one source or providing no attribution at all;
  • providing misleading attribution by using the words of another but citing a more respectable source;
  • collaborating with others on work that you are required to undertake individually;
  • using your own work, previously submitted for assessment, or your work that is in the public arena, without citing it;
  • downloading sentences, paragraphs or sections of writings from the Internet and using them without quotation marks and/or proper acknowledgement (you need to cite the author [even if it is a company] and provide a paragraph number for a direct web quotation).


The above examples have been summarised by the Turnitin (2012) organisation:




Submitting someone else’s work, word for word, as your own


Writing something that contains substantial portions of text from a single source without alterations


Changing key words and phrases but keeping the essential content (wording) of the source


Paraphrasing from other sources and making the content fit together seamlessly


Borrowing generously from your own previous work without acknowledging this work (self-plagiarism)


Combining perfectly cited sources with passages that you’ve copied – without citation – in one paper


Mixing copied material from many different sources without properly citing the sources

404 Error

Including citations to non-existent sources or providing inaccurate information about the sources you cite


Providing proper citation, but the paper contains almost no original work


Including proper citations but relying too closely on the original wording of the text you are citing or on the structure of that text

Source: Adapted from Turnitin (2012, p. 4).

The way we deal with plagiarism

At UJ, once plagiarism is detected in the work of any student, we deal with it fairly, consistently and observe the principle of justice so that the interests of all parties are considered. Certain principles, as they relate to students, form the foundation for our approach in dealing with plagiarism:

  • UJ has a zero-tolerance for plagiarism in any form and we will deal with all cases of plagiarism whether it arises from ignorance or is intentional;
  • Students can be held responsible for plagiarism in work even if it is not submitted for formal assessment (i.e. for a mark);
  • Students are responsible for understanding and avoiding plagiarism. We expect this understanding to increase as students progress along the degree/diploma path (i.e. we expect a greater understanding of plagiarism from an Honours student than we would expect from a first-year student).

Non-reportable plagiarism

We would tend to adopt an educational response to plagiarism early in a student’s academic career. Here, generally, the plagiarism should not be of such a nature that it prevents us from meaningfully assessing the work. We would tend to not regard the plagiarism as being reportable when it can be seen that the student needs educating the in the correct way to reference sources. In these cases, the Head of Department is informed of the plagiarism and the department determines what course of educational action should be taken. This may include providing explanation to the student, requiring the student to resubmit the work, capping the mark, or any other appropriate response. The action of capping marks, may, of course, lead to a student failing the module or not gaining the minimum mark required to write the examination.

Reportable plagiarism

We require plagiarism to be reported where it has made it difficult for us to fairly and meaningfully assess the work, or to assign a mark or any other outcome to the work. In deciding whether plagiarism is reportable or not, we look at the plagiarism history of the student (has this happened before? have educational responses worked?), the nature and the extent of the plagiarism (could we expect that the student should have understood and avoided the plagiarism?), the degree of intent and recklessness (although no intent is necessary for plagiarism to be reportable) and the level of the student (in cases of plagiarism committed by post-graduate students, we would generally adopt a stricter approach). We also look at the recommendations made by committees or academic staff who are involved in the case.

With these considerations as a background, the consequences of reportable plagiarism are:

  •  In the first instance, a mark of 0 which may lead to the student failing the module;
  • In the second instance, deregistration from the module, cancellation of a mark or result, or any combination of the above;
  •  In the third instance, suspension of the student for one academic year;
  • In the fourth instance, expulsion.
  •  However, the above actions should not be interpreted to be a mechanical process. The Committee overseeing the decision considers each case on its own merits and may recommend other responses that it considers appropriate under the circumstances.  For example, a first instance of plagiarism may lead under the circumstances of the case to a consequence listed above as a consequence of a second or later instance of reportable plagiarism.

In all cases, students will be given an opportunity to defend themselves. When severe plagiarism has been detected, this will normally proceed through the channel of a formal disciplinary enquiry organised by the Department of Student Judicial Services.

Helpful source

The UJ library has good material relating to plagiarism and students are encouraged to consult this source at:


We have compiled this document as a way of helping you to avoid plagiarism. If you have any concerns about whether you are plagiarising in your work, please speak to your course lecturer or research supervisor. We wish to help you, our students, avoid plagiarism and achieve the academic potential of which we know you are capable. We wish you all success in your studies and hope that you will enjoy your learning journey as part of the UJ community.


Carroll, J. & Appelton, J. (2001). Plagiarism: A good practice guide. Oxford: Oxford Brookes University.

Turnitin (2012). White paper: The plagiarism spectrum. Available at (Accessed 10 February 2014).

University of Johanesburg (2013). Policy: Student plagiarism. Johannesburg: University of Johanneburg.

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