Avoiding plagiarism in social work essays

Good academic practice is about making sure that anyone who reads your work can easily identify your thoughts and ideas on a subject, and can distinguish these from the thoughts and ideas of others.

Good academic practice and avoiding plagiarism.

The Open University (OU) has developed a website called Developing Good Academic Practices which helps students understand how to build good academic practices into their studies and avoid plagiarism and is available to all; not just OU students.

The following guidance is taken from the Developing Good Academic Practices website, and should help you understand what plagiarism is, and how to avoid it. Although guidance will differ between different institutions, the following generic advice should be useful to all students who want to ensure their work is presented in the correct manner.

What is good academic practice?

Good academic practice is about making sure that anyone who reads your work can easily identify your thoughts and ideas on a subject, and can distinguish these from the thoughts and ideas of others.

Plagiarism, however, is considered to be inappropriate practice. This is a wide-ranging term: it can cover everything from poor study skills and a lack of understanding of what is expected at your level of study to straightforward fraud in the form of intentional cheating.

For most students, assignments will be the main area of work that will be reviewed by others. When you produce answers to assignments, it is important that the person reviewing it knows that the words on the page originated with you and can easily distinguish your own thoughts and the ideas you use to emphasise your viewpoint or illustrate a specific point.

In other words, the assignment should be a true reflection of your understanding of the subject and it should demonstrate your academic skills and abilities.

Demonstrating your academic abilities

So why is it important to always demonstrate a true reflection of your academic abilities to your tutor and others?

One argument is that this allows the university to grade your work and level of academic development in an appropriate and fair manner. There will be a range of students within any course or programme whose academic abilities vary significantly from the ‘average’ and the degree classification system must be able to measure and recognise each student’s abilities. Thus, in fairness to all students, it is essential that the work you present for grading really is a true reflection of your abilities and does not consist of work produced by other people.

How would you feel about other students who seemed to be doing better than you and were getting better grades, but who cheated by copying their answers from elsewhere or by submitting work that they hadn’t produced?

More importantly, by submitting work that you have produced fairly and in accordance with good academic practices, your tutor can give you accurate feedback and help with your specific learning needs and abilities; this form of individual and personalised support is the best form of teaching anyone could want!

Inappropriate academic practice and plagiarism.

Poor to inappropriate academic practice takes many forms. It can range from the consequence of not understanding what is required at this level of study, or not having the confidence in your own abilities, to out-and-out intentional fraud.

For example, poor academic practice could be the result of the following scenarios.
• A student finds they do not have sufficient time to answer an assignment properly and decides to ‘borrow’ (i.e. copy) some words or sections from a book, website or colleague. This is plagiarism.
• A student lacking confidence in their English skills believes that whatever they write will never be as good as the material in their course book or from other sources. They decide it is better to copy it out than try to write an answer in their own words. This is plagiarism.
• A student gets a friend or family member to answer an assignment question for them because they have expertise in this area and so will get better marks than if the student tries to do it themselves. This is still plagiarism, but it is also intentional fraud.
• A student comes across the ‘right answer’ to part of their assignment on a website, and cuts and pastes this into their assignment. This is intentional plagiarism.
• A student doesn’t quite understand what they have to do to answer one of their assignment questions but has found the relevant section in their course book. They copy out the section but change a few of the connecting words, change the order of a couple of sentences and add in another couple of examples to make it their own work. This is plagiarism.

All these scenarios are examples of plagiarism and show a lack of academic integrity. Because the words submitted by the student did not originate from them – they are all the words of other people – their work gives a false impression of the student’s own academic ability.
Of course you can use a range of materials as helpful sources, but the words used in the assignment need to be your own and must reflect your understanding.


If you submit an assignment that contains work that is not your own and you do not indicate this to the marker (i.e. by acknowledging your sources), you are committing plagiarism.

This might occur in an assignment when you:
• use a choice phrase or sentence that you have come across
• copy directly from a text word-for-word
• paraphrase the words from a text very closely
• use text downloaded from the internet
• borrow statistics or assembled facts from another person or source
• copy or download figures, photographs, pictures or diagrams without acknowledging your sources
• copy from the notes or essays of a fellow student
• copy from your own notes on a text, tutorial, video or lecture that contain direct quotations.

Plagiarism may occur inadvertently due to inexperience. So be sure to read carefully all the study advice you are given, especially statements concerning plagiarism and how to reference your sources.

More information

Plagiarism and online forums

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