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Referencing and Plagiarism: Techniques to Avoid Plagiarism

Techniques for avoiding plagiarism

If you are directly quoting other people's ideas or expressing their ideas in your own words (paraphrasing), you need to show the readers (and markers) that there is an expert source. In order to do this you need to reference correctly.

You also need to consider the following two areas:

Further steps to success in your studies include:

  • Identifying relevant information
  • Locating relevant information
  • Selecting and applying the relevant information for your assignment

Examples of Plagiarism

The table below provides some examples of plagiarism and poor referencing. These examples are based on an original piece of text taken from Mennell (1996, p.17):

"Tastes in food, like tastes in music, literature or the visual arts, are socially shaped..."

Examples of what is and what isn't considered plagiarism
Example Is this plagiarism?

Example 1

Tastes in food, like tastes in music, literature or the visual arts, are socially shaped.

Yes, this is an example of plagiarism because:

There is no reference provided and the text is copied word for word from the original without any quotation marks.

Example 2

Tastes in food, like tastes in music, literature or the visual arts, are socially shaped (Mennell, 1996).


Although a reference is provided there is no reference to the page number. Furthermore, the text is still copied word for word from the original so quotation marks should have been used.

Example 3

Food tastes, like music tastes, and tastes in literature or the visual arts, are socially shaped (Mennell, 1996).


Although a reference is provided and the text has been changed a bit, it is still too close to the original to be considered an acceptable paraphrase. A paraphrase must be SUBSTANTIALLY different to the original.

Example 4      

Society helps to form fashions in food, as it also does in the visual arts, music and literature (Mennell, 1996).


A reference is provided and an acceptable paraphrase of the original has been made.

Example 5

"Tastes in food, like tastes in music, literature or the visual arts, are socially shaped" (Mennell 1996, p.17).


A reference has been provided, quotation marks have been used to show that the text has been copied from the original, and a page number has been given.


Identifying relevant information

One of the hallmarks of scholarly study is demonstrated in your ability to identify relevant information from the sources available.

There are three types of information:

Primary information which is the original or raw data; this is often referred to as your 'source'. It is usually presented with little or no analysis. Examples of primary sources include: statistics, standards, legislation and company data.

Secondary information usually takes raw data and analyses it and presents it in a format that is easier to read and understand. Reports, newspaper articles, textbooks are examples of secondary information.

Tertiary information includes books and articles based on the research of others. They aim to explain research for a general audience. This may be useful as a starting point for your research but provide little substance to support your academic assessment since they tend to oversimplify, rely on too few sources and are quickly out of date.

The most important sources for you are academic literature. This includes refereed research journals and academic text books, which reflect upon and discuss the implications of results of research. This literature records and publishes the results of systematic and rigorous research. A systematic and rigorous approach allows the valid and reliable development of knowledge and theory. Research based knowledge relies upon evidence rather than opinion and anecdote.

There are other sources of literature that may be of value to you. These include:

  • census data
  • institutional records
  • private correspondence
  • oral testimony
  • research diary
  • original datasets
  • reports
  • dissertations
  • newspapers
  • conference reports

However, you need to check if these sources are the views of one person and are based on anecdote or personal opinion rather than the result of a systematic research approach. To be scholarly, you must be able to distinguish between different sources of literature and their different levels of value and importance to academic study, and then apply them appropriately.

In general, non-academic sources of literature should be treated with caution and not used to make exaggerated or generalised claims. For example, comments from a manager of one fast food restaurant or in one Health Trust can be used as an example of 'opinions' in the fast food business or how to run a department in the Health Service, but cannot be generalised into an explanation (theory) about the fast food industry or the National Health Service.

If you want to be scholarly and produce the best possible academic work/assignments, you have to work with the latest ideas and theory in your subject. To do this, you have to engage with, and apply, the information that is derived from research based journal articles or other academic sources.

Locating relevant information

In order to be scholarly in your work, you must begin by ensuring you know what relevant ideas and evidence are available in the subject area for your particular project. To do this, you must carry out a literature search. You can find guidance about how to do this and where to start looking from your lecturers, in handouts, and from the following two websites:

  1. Library Services at QMU provide advice on information skills
  2. The Effective Learning Service provides many useful resources

A literature search can be carried out quickly via modern electronic databases. Typing relevant key words will draw up a large range of sources. The secret of good literature searching is to ensure that all dimensions of the topic are identified and included in the search. As a practical guide, literature searches should look for the most up to date journal articles and texts, and use the reference list and bibliographies of these recent texts to guide the next stages of the search. Academic, student support and library staff can help you with this process – so always ask.

Once the territory of the literature has been identified, the next task is to select and read the texts that are considered to be accurate, relevant and useful to your specific topic. However, there are degrees of accuracy, relevance and usefulness. Of course the literature must focus on the subject/topic under study, but to be scholarly, we also need to evaluate the literature sources in other important ways. One of the most important of our concerns should be to establish the accuracy or credibility of the source. Find out:

  • How authoritative is the source of this literature?
  • Is it the work of an expert in the field or a known academic with an established reputation that follows years of work in the area, or is it the work of an unknown author or an anonymous source on the web?
  • Is it the work of a professional academic or researcher, or is it written by someone whose real purpose is to influence readers, such as a journalist, a politician or a spokesperson for a propaganda movement?

We can never be content to read just one set of ideas and views. We must ensure we identify and understand a range of available views and that we assess the merits of all the differing perspectives. Given the huge range of work produced even by professional academics, the crucial question for the scholar is how to assess the different levels of accuracy and credibility in these works before we adopt them into our own. We are required to actively assess their strengths and weaknesses before we use them. We sometimes refer to this process of assessment or evaluation of the quality or level of evidence as a 'critique' of the literature.

You can assess the merits of the ideas and arguments by comparing and contrasting the range of views expressed by different authors in the different articles and texts. Views that are supported by a number of authors are more convincing than those supported by none. Importantly, views supported by the results of sound research are more credible than those that are the result of poor research or largely opinion and anecdote with little systematic evidence. Always try to evaluate the ideas using these criteria. By incorporating this critique of the literature sources into our own work, we can demonstrate the authority of our arguments and evidence to convince the reader.

Selecting and applying relevant information

One of the obvious ways in which you get guidance about what are the key theories and concepts for your subject is via the lecturers that you will have access to if you attend classes. The lecture and hand-outs are designed to introduce the broad territory of the subject, and to map out and give you insight into the key theories and concepts that should be of concern to you in your work. The lecture and hand-outs will also give you specific guidance about the key literature sources you should be exploring. This is one important source of information for you.

In the tutorials, labs and workshops, you are offered an important opportunity to practice using these ideas and theories for yourself, often with the chance to apply them to new situations. In this way, regular attendance at tutorials/workshop allows you to practice and test your understanding of the concepts of the topic. This is vitally important for developing confidence as a scholar.

However, the literature surrounding your subject is your major source of information. One of the secrets of good study is found in the ways in which you extract information from the literature. The best approach is to actively read a section or chapter. You should take a questioning approach to engage actively with what you are reading. It is then best to close the book/article. Now you write down, in your own words, the key points and their significance to your topic. If you can do this, you know you have understood what you have read. If you cannot, you should read again and try to engage more actively this time with the ideas, so that they make more sense to you. This means that you are engaging right at the start with scholarly practice because you are already selecting and transforming the source of information into new applications, rather than slavishly reproducing other people's work. Always note down the full details of the source that you are using every time you make notes, so that you can find the article again in the future, and importantly, you can cite the reference if you use these notes in your work.

Further information about preparing for your assignment and developing your study skills is available on the distance learning web pages.

Advice for students regarding information skills is available on the Library Services website in the Information Skills section.

What is Turnitin?

Turnitin is a web-based service that we use at QMU with the intention of helping you to check that your assignment work does not contain plagiarism. You will normally use this service prior to submitting your work for marking and can access Turnitin via your Hub module area.

Turnitin works by comparing your submission with millions of web pages and with a range of electronic resources. It then returns an "Originality Report" highlighting any instances of matches with external sources - this will help you by highlighting areas of poor referencing, or where you need to improve your paraphrasing.


How do I Submit to Turnitin?

For guidance on submitting work using Turnitin and how to interpret results from the Similarity Checker Tool, please see this page:

Source Reference

Mennell, S. (1996) All manners of food: eating and taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the present. 2nd edn. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.