Referencing and avoiding plagiarism (13.1)

Referencing and avoiding plagiarism 13.1

Inadvertent plagiarism occurs when a piece of writing uses the words or ideas of another without sufficient acknowledgement of the source or without indicating that they are not the writer’s own words. It differs from advertent plagiarism because the writer is unaware that they have not referenced sufficiently and they do not mean to give the impression that the words and/or ideas are their own.

In the table below, you will find some of the reasons that students give to explain inadvertent plagiarism and some suggestions for avoiding similar problems in your own writing.



I had the name of the author, the title of the article, and the year it was published written as part of the text so it didn’t occur to me that I need to include a reference as well.

If you refer to someone else’s work, even if you acknowledge in the text that you are doing so, you should always include a reference to that work.

I’m always forgetting to include references. It isn’t that I haven’t got the information: I just seem to miss a couple of references out every time.

You need to be meticulous in checking that every source is referenced. Try printing a copy of your essay and reading it line-by-line and highlighting every place where a reference is needed to make sure that you do not miss any.

I wanted to refer to something that someone said in an article that I’d read in a different article. I didn’t know how to do this so I just left it out in case I got penalized for getting it wrong.

It would be better to take a guess at the way to reference rather than to omit the reference altogether. You are likely to lose more marks for a missing reference than you are for one that is not quite the correct style of reference. Of course, you could always look in Legal Skills to find the correct way to reference your material.

I know that quotations need to be referenced but all I was doing was writing the material in my own words so I don’t see why a reference was needed.

This is one of the biggest problems with referencing. Everyone knows that the use of another’s words needs to be acknowledged but it is important to remember that another person’s ideas also need to be referenced, even if you have explained them in your own words.

My points were all taken from the internet and I didn’t think that things found on the web needed to be referenced.

This is a common misapprehension. Material published on the internet should not be treated any differently to that published on paper. If it is not your work, it needs a reference irrespective of where you found it.

I haven’t read the article myself, I just read about it in a textbook. If I include a reference, that makes it look like I’ve read it but that isn’t true.

The purpose of a reference is to acknowledge the sources used in your work and to allow the reader to find and read your sources. A reference isn’t a statement that you have read the work but an acknowledgement that someone else is the source of the words or ideas that you have written.

It wasn’t clear who had written the article so how could I reference it?

It will be a rare occasion when you can’t identify the author but if this is the case then you would write something like ‘in an article in The Times’ in the text and list the author as—(called an en dash) in the reference and bibliography.

I’m confused. I always use my textbook as the main source of ideas for my essay. I got one back with the comment ‘don’t reference textbooks’ so in the next essay I didn’t include any references and now I’ve got a really bad mark because the marker says that my referencing was inadequate. What do I do now?

The problem here is with the misunderstanding of the first comment. An instruction ‘don’t reference a textbook’ really means ‘use original sources’ (cases, statutes, articles) rather than ‘use a textbook but don’t put a reference to it in your essay’. All sources should be referenced but do try to use a range of source material in your work.


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