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Plagiarism and Academic Misconduct


This page outlines some common forms of academic misconduct, such as plagiarism and collusion, and suggests ways that staff and examiners might prevent incidence of these by clarifying requirements and reducing opportunities.

Academic misconduct in invigilated examinations

Collusion (perhaps by candidates exchanging notes) is extremely rare in invigilated examinations; this is clearly an offence which would be reported immediately to the Proctors.  The most common forms of academic misconduct in invigilated exams are:

Reproducing material committed to memory

  • Overview: some candidates are able to learn many pages of text by heart. Those brought up with rote learning often don't realise that reproducing such material in a written examination constitutes plagiarism if it is reproduced without attribution. In technical subjects this might be described as 'bookwork' and be perfectly acceptable. In other subjects, Examiners may regard this as plagiarism.
  • Suggestions for staff and examiners: local guidance should make it clear that plagiarism can occur in written examinations and explain how candidates should acknowledge sources in such examinations. Examiners are strongly advised to include an appropriate rubric on the front pages of examination papers.

Copying from provided reference material, or material legitimately taken into the examination room

  • Overview: reference material is provided in many invigilated examinations and conventions for using such material vary by subject; in some invigilated examinations candidates are permitted to bring in books which have been indexed and annotated.
  • Suggestions for staff and examiners: local guidance and the rubric should clarify what is permitted: in the absence of such guidance candidates may justifiably feel able to copy anything from the provided material without attribution.  Where appropriate, guidance should include appropriate levels of indexing/annotation; phrases such as ‘a reasonable amount of annotation’ can be readily misinterpreted.  

Copying from unauthorised material taken into the examination room

  • Overview: candidates may attempt to gain an unfair advantage by possessing items such as crib sheets or notes, electronic recording or communication devices in the examination room.
  • Suggestions for staff and examiners: the Proctors issue annual Notices clearly stating items that candidates may, and may not, take into the examination room; these may be accessed from the Proctors' website.  Local guidance should draw these to students' attention prior to the examination.

Academic misconduct in dissertations and other assessed coursework

There are numerous forms of assessed work which are not produced under strict examination conditions, including: dissertations, assessed essays, practical work, seminar-style presentations, and musical compositions. 

'Classic' plagiarism

  • Overview: plagiarism most commonly involves copying from the Internet, published works, lecture handouts or private communications. Work copied from the Internet can be detected by undertaking Google search or using specialist software. The University has a site licence for Turnitin UK text-matching software which may be used by Examiners as part of the investigative process if they have sought prior permission from the Education Section and confirmed that they will comply with its conditions of use.
  • Suggestions for staff and examiners: local guidance should specify the requirements and explain that serious penalties can be imposed. In cases of supervised work, Supervisors are expected to play a role; the University's licence is available for supervisors to use on request.

Third-party plagiarism

  • Overview: a more troublesome form of plagiarism is the use of work commissioned from a third party.  These may be purchased from organisations which supply dissertations and essays on a commercial basis.
  • Suggestions for staff and examiners: one possible indicator is work which differs markedly in style from that which a particular candidate normally submits.

Review-section plagiarism

  • Overview: a common form of plagiarism, which is usually more or less innocent, occurs in review sections. A final-year dissertation may legitimately build on the work described in a dissertation submitted the previous year. That in turn may have built on earlier work.
  • Suggestions for staff and examiners: writing review sections can be very challenging to those who are new to the task and require instruction so Supervisors should offer guidance as necessary.  Supervisors should also be aware, and make students aware, that self-plagiarism is an academic misconduct offence under the University’s definition.

Collusion in dissertations and other assessed coursework

There can often be a fine borderline between appropriate collaboration and unauthorised collusion.  Further information for students is available on our pages about collusion, but some key points for staff are set out below: 

  • Overview: most courses set exercises which every candidate is required to undertake independently. It is unreasonable to expect candidates not to discuss such tasks with one another and this discussion can be educationally desirable. Further, many courses require candidates to work in pairs or in groups, or students may wish to have someone proofread or give feedback on their work prior to submission.
  • Suggestions for staff and examiners: briefing documents for such exercises should specify what is reasonable and what is not and explain that instances of duplicate text, diagrams or computer code will be treated with suspicion. Local guidance for groupwork should be very carefully worded and incorporate examples of what is permitted and what is not.  University guidance on proofreading is available on the collusion pages of this website.
  • Treatment of cases: unlike cases of plagiarism, work produced by unauthorised collusion cannot be made good by proper attribution. The Examination and Assessment Committee has agreed that it is inappropriate to automatically award zero marks to work produced jointly. A Solomon-style judgement should establish who did what. If it can be agreed that a particular candidate was responsible for a particular element of some submitted work then that candidate should gain credit for that element.

Three forms of unauthorised collusion may be identified:

A copies from B without B's knowledge

Strictly, this is plagiarism rather than collusion, but plagiarism that cannot be made good by any form of attribution. It may be necessary to interview both A and B at an investigative meeting. If it is clear that an element of A's submitted work was not carried out by A, then candidate A should not be awarded any marks for that element and it may be appropriate to pursue a case of unfair means too. If it is clear that B has no knowledge of A's copying then it might be appropriate to warn B to be more careful in future but otherwise no action should be taken against B.

A copies from B with B's knowledge

This example is much like the former except that B may now be in trouble too. It should perhaps be regarded as a case of collusion rather than plagiarism.

Again A should not be awarded any marks for the copied elements of the submitted work but no marks should be deducted from B. It may be appropriate to pursue a case of unfair means against A and to pursue a case of assisting another candidate to use unfair means against B.

A and B work together

There are various ways in which A and B can work together. They might each undertake one part of a two-part exercise or they may jointly work on the entire task. This is clear collusion and clear unfair means. The Solomon-style judgement noted above is required and it may be appropriate simply to split the marks between the candidates.