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What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the inclusion of any idea or any language from someone else without giving due credit by citing and referencing that source in your work. This applies if the source is print or electronic, published or unpublished, or the work of any other person.  Plagiarism can be both intentional and unintentional.

Local regulations and practice concerning referencing and plagiarism varies widely on a worldwide level. However, all students at the University of Bristol are expected to learn the specific referencing requirements here as well as familiarising themselves with the University's guidance about plagiarism. You should have received a training session on plagiarism as part of your induction. There is specific advice available about plagiarism and how to avoid it from Library Services, the Study Skills Service and within your academic school.

You can find full information about the University's plagiarism procedures in the Exam Regulations.

I've been accused of plagiarism

Don’t panic! Supporting people who have been accused of plagiarism is a big part of what we do at Just Ask. It can be very stressful to be faced with this but you are not alone and we can support you through the process. We would encourage you to have a read through the information below and then get in touch with us as soon as possible.

All work that is submitted to the University is routinely checked through Turnitin, which is plagiarism detection software. When Turnitin identifies a certain level of similarity with other texts, the matter is flagged for checking by an academic member of staff. This happens alongside the normal marking process.

If it looks like plagiarism may be present, you will be invited to a Plagiarism Panel meeting to discuss the matter. Most people find out that they have been accused of plagiarism when they receive a letter inviting them to a plagiarism panel meeting but sometimes you may be told about it by a member of staff before receiving the letter.

Preparing for a plagiarism meeting

After receiving the letter inviting you to the panel meeting you should confirm that you will be attending. You should be offered the opportunity to attend in person, attend via Skype or to send a written statement to explain what has happened. We would always recommend that you attend the meeting either in person or via Skype. While it may seem less stressful to send a written statement it will not allow you to answer questions or challenge issues raised by the panel. If you are really unable to attend you could ask if the meeting can be rearranged but this may not be possible.

To prepare for the meeting take a look at the following questions that the panel will usually ask: 

  • What do you understand by the term plagiarism? Is your idea of plagiarism similar to the University's definition? If you had a different understanding of the term 'plagiarism', say so.
  • Have you considered the Turnitin report? How would you explain the level of plagiarism highlighted by the Turnitin report? The staff in the meeting will ask you about specific examples of highlighted text from the report. They'll focus on the most significant examples, such as where whole paragraphs are highlighted.
  • How did you prepare for this assignment? Did you get books from the library? Or use on-line electronic journals? Did you look at texts suggested by your tutor or in the lecture notes?
  • How did you organise and gather your information? Did you have a file on your computer for collecting useful notes? Or did you keep information on paper? How did you know what were your words and what were someone else's?
  • How did you write the assignment? 
  • Do you understand what is required in terms of referencing your assignment?
  • Have you been given information or training about plagiarism by your School?
  • Do you have any extenuating circumstances that you would like us to consider? Mention anything that affected you or your work at the time. For example, say if you were stressed because you had multiple deadlines in the same week.
  • Is there anything else you would like to add? For example: That you've never done anything like this before, that you've asked your tutor for extra help with referencing.

 Think about what you might say in response to these questions. In the meeting you won’t be able to just read out answers but thinking about them in advance and making some notes can be helpful.

The Turnitin Report

In most cases, plagiarism will have been highlighted by a Turnitin report. You may be sent a copy of this report but if not you can request a copy so you are able to understand what the issues are before the meeting. The Turnitin software highlights all text which has been identified as matching another source and gives a list of the sources which are matching at the end, along with the percentage of similarities.

When you are looking at the Turnitin report, don’t focus too much on the percentage figures, but look instead for blocks of highlighted text. If there are large chunks of text highlighted, these are the sections that you are going to need to explain in the panel meeting. Think about how this text found its way into your final document, and where it came from.

Sometimes plagiarism is detected without Turnitin. In this case you should still be given details of what the concerns are.

At the meeting

The meeting normally lasts about 20-30 minutes but can go on for longer in some cases so make sure you have plenty of time. There will usually be 3 or 4 members of staff at the meeting, some of whom will be from your School and some who you may not have met before. There will also be a person who will take notes of what is said in the meeting so there is an accurate record. You can be accompanied to this meeting by a friend, adviser or representative.

A Just Ask adviser might be able to attend this meeting with you if we are available. Let us know the time and date of your meeting as early as possible. Even if you are attending via Skype we can attend in person so there is someone you know in the room and someone to discuss it all with afterwards.

At the meeting, you’ll be asked a few questions about the Turnitin report (if there is one) and about how you approached the work. The questions will be very similar to the list above.  The panel may not ask all these questions, and they may also ask other questions. At the end of the meeting you will have an opportunity to tell the panel about any extenuating circumstances that might have impacted on what has happened and you can also ask any questions you might have. The panel will not usually tell you what the outcome will be at this meeting. They will discuss the case afterwards and decide on their recommendations.

After the meeting

After the meeting you will receive the written record of the meeting you attended. This may take several days. You will be asked to confirm that everything has been recorded accurately. You will then be told what outcome the panel have recommended. This outcome is a recommendation that will be passed to the Faculty Board of Examiners for approval. The exam board will almost always confirm the recommendation. Once you receive the Faculty Exam Board decision you have the right to appeal against it. Just Ask can advise further on this if required.

What will the outcome be?

The University Regulations explain all the possible outcomes but in practice we find that the most common outcomes are:

  • No penalty but the plagiarism is recorded on your file while you are at university in case of any future issues.
  • To resubmit the work for a capped or uncapped mark
  • For lower marks to be awarded

How Just Ask can help

The information above explains all the basics about plagiarism but we know you will probably have more questions so we would encourage you to get in touch. We can help you throughout the whole process by explaining all the  regulations and procedures, helping you prepare for the meeting, supporting you at the meeting and helping you understand the outcome and next steps. We have worked with lots of students going through this process and we understand how worrying it can be. Sometimes it just helps to have someone you can talk to about this.

The feedback we have had from students has been really positive. In some cases students have already been through the process before without our support and after getting in touch and having us support them the second time they have said how much easier it was and what a difference it made. So please get in touch with us as soon as possible, email us your meeting letter and Turnitin report if you have them and we can help you take the next step.