By Dr Winnie Salamon

I was helping a student edit her upcoming assignment when she mentioned that her lecturer was obsessed with plagiarism.

“He talks about it all the time, in every single lecture,” she said. “It’s really boring.”

So maybe every lecture is a little excessive, but for anyone who teaches at an Australian educational institution, plagiarism is a huge and ongoing issue with no simple solution.

What exactly is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is when you take somebody else’s ideas or words and pass them off as your own. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines plagiarism as ‘literary theft’. Australian educational institutions consider plagiarism to be a serious act of ‘academic misconduct’. In other words, plagiarism is cheating.

What does plagiarism look like?

These are some of the most common forms of plagiarism. I have used the popular Harvard (author-date) referencing style in these examples. Use the reference style recommended by your educational institution and stick to it. Never use more than one referencing style in a single assignment.

Whole essay plagiarism

Whole essay plagiarism is when a student hands in an essay they have not written themselves. This includes essays bought from any sources that sell ready-made essays, or papers taken from the internet, a book or a print article.

Paraphrasing plagiarism

Paraphrasing is when you write what someone else has said in your own words. There is nothing wrong with this, but you must include a reference to show that you are referring to someone else’s ideas.  

For example:

Original source:

Commodities are things produced as articles of commerce. Not all objects are commodities, as the category of commodity lexically marks the difference between an object and an object as merchandise. A consumer society is one in which the commodity orients social activity (Lofton, 2011, p. 23).

Reference list:

Lofton, K 2011, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles.

Plagiarised source:

We cannot say that all objects are commodities, as there is a difference between an object and an object as something to be sold. The definition of a consumer society is one where the commodity directs our social activity. Oprah, for example, is a commodity who influences the behaviours of her audience.

Why is the plagiarised source plagiarism and how could I avoid it?

The ‘plagiarised source’ is considered plagiarism because, even though it is written slightly differently, it draws directly from Lofton’s work without referring to her.

Correctly referenced version:

We cannot say that all objects are commodities, as there is a difference between an object and an object as something to be sold. The definition of a consumer society is one where the commodity directs our social activity (Lofton, 2011, p. 23). Oprah, for example, is a commodity who influences the behaviours of her audience.

Word-for Word plagiarism

Original source:

Oprah is a product, but Oprah’s product is not individual objects. Her patents are not mechanical innovations or engineering improvements. She does not design fabric or copyright personal recipes. Rather, her taste is her product (Lofton, 2011, p. 24).

Plagiarised source:

Not all commodities come in the form of a physical object. Oprah is a product, but Oprah’s product is not individual objects. Rather, her taste is her product.

Why is this plagiarism and how could I avoid it?

There are no quotation marks to indicate that this phrase is a direct quote.

Correctly referenced version:

Not all commodities come in the form of a physical object. ‘Oprah is a product, but Oprah’s product is not individual objects…Rather, her taste is her product.’ (Lofton, 2011, p. 24)

What isn’t plagiarism?

Information that is considered ‘common knowledge’ to your audience is not plagiarism.

For example, facts like Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States or that the moon is around 384,400 kilometres away from Earth are considered common knowledge because most people are aware of this information.

If you’re writing for a specific audience that is very familiar with your topic, you don’t need to provide references for common knowledge.

It gets a bit trickier when you’re writing something for an audience that might not know about your topic, such as a biology paper for people who know nothing about biology. If this is the case, always credit common knowledge to the right source.

Why is plagiarism taken so seriously in Australia?

Working on an assignment is an opportunity for you to learn and grow. It is a chance to increase your understanding of a particular issue or topic, as much as it is about the grade you receive in the end. By plagiarising, you are not only cheating your lecturer or tutor, but you are also undermining your own learning. When you substitute someone else’s words as your own, you are missing out on the chance to improve your own writing skills.

What else can I do to avoid plagiarism?

As you can see from the examples above, most cases of plagiarism can be avoided by correctly referencing all your sources. By clearly signalling where you have used someone else’s words or ideas, you are letting your reader know that you are drawing on your external research to help formulate your own ideas.

There is nothing wrong with being inspired by the work of others. The best way to learn is to look at what others have done before us, being inspired by successes and learning from past mistakes.

Never stop thinking

Never stop thinking. You should understand your material well enough to explain its meaning in your own words. When you do quote a source directly or paraphrase what someone else has written, ensure you that you reference where the information came from every single time you refer to it.

Ask for help

Another reason students plagiarise is that they lack confidence in their own abilities. If you are struggling with your assignment, ask for help. Your tutor, academic services at your institution or organisations such as Write Squad can help you edit and plan your work so that you can build confidence in your own abilities.

Remember, you are a student. Nobody expects you to write in the same way as a seasoned professional with 30 years of experience. Develop your own voice and be proud of it.

Be organised

When people are under pressure, they sometimes take short-cuts by cheating. It is hard, if not impossible, to produce strong, thoughtful and well-edited work at the last minute. Giving yourself time to take clear notes and to organise and understand your material will not only improve the quality of your work, but it will also help reduce your stress levels.

What happens if I do get caught plagiarising?

Different institutions have their own policies regarding plagiarism, but they all consider plagiarism to be cheating.

You will not pass your assignment – and possibly the entire subject – if it is confirmed that you have plagiarised. You may also be required to attend a meeting with your Head of School to discuss the matter and you will be issued with a warning that may or may not go on your permanent record.

At the very worst, you can be expelled from your educational institution and not receive your degree.

And finally…

Your lecturer or tutor would much prefer to read an imperfect assignment by a student who has challenged themselves and worked hard to establish their own voice than a more fluent essay that is filled with someone else’s words.

It may be boring and obvious, but the more work you put in, the more you will get out of your studies in the long run. If you focus on the learning process rather than your final grades, you might be surprised by just how successful you become.


It’s important to feel confident with your English language expression so you have a positive and fulfilling experience studying in Australia.  Write Squad can help you to develop your writing and research skills so when you graduate you have an edge over the competition.