How to avoid plagiarism

This page explains what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is when you copy someone else's work and present it as your own, either unintentionally or deliberately. This applies, for example, if you copy from another student, an article, a book, or an online resource.

What the Academic Statute says about plagiarism

Plagiarism, or copying someone else’s work, is cheating. By stealing someone else’s work and passing it off as your own, you lose academic integrity and the respect of others. It is also unfair to other students who have worked hard to express their own ideas or produce original work.

Any final piece of work that you submit must be your own independent work. This is particularly important when working in study groups, or having discussions with other students on assessments.

Plagiarism could be:

  • copying the work of another student
  • copying from textbooks, the Web and other work without correct citation
  • failing to acknowledge sources including your own work, used for other purposes.

What the Open Polytechnic does about plagiarism

The Open Polytechnic regards plagiarism as cheating and uses  similarity detection software to identify plagiarised work.

If you are found guilty of plagiarism, you will lose marks and you could incur even more severe penalties. You could also be penalised if you allow another student to copy from you.


Real-life scenarios to help you identify and avoid plagiarism

  • Ask for an extension.
    This is how: Go to My Open Polytechnic and select ‘Request Assessment extension’ in the Key Dates Block. You'll find the information you need and a form which you need to complete. Remember, you must apply for an extension before the assignment due date

  • Remember that whereas an A is great, a C is still a pass! It’s far better to submit an assignment that’s your own work, even if it’s not great, than to plagiarise and get zero, or worse. (See above: What the Academic Statute says about plagiarism.) And even if you don’t get a C, you may get a resubmit. (For more on reassessment go to the Academic Statute page 14, 11.3.1)

  • In future: Plan your time carefully so you have enough time for your assignment. See How to manage your time. 

Problem: I don’t remember where I found the information.

You’ve worked hard, done lots of reading but what you didn’t do is take good notes. Now that you’re writing your assignment you can’t remember which bits are your ideas or where you found the information. You decide to take a chance and put the all sources you remember in your reference list. Surely being a bit careless when it comes to taking notes isn't plagiarism?

Unfortunately, it is plagiarism and it’s a high price to pay for being disorganised.

What you should do

  • Record the details of all your source documents, i.e. where you found information for you assignment.
  • Keep detailed notes – they can be electronic or a hard copy (on paper) – make sure you keep your notes in a folder (electronic or paper) so you can find them when you need them.
  • This is what you need to record:
    - Where you found the source, i.e. In the Open Polytechnic library; borrowed from [name]; spoke to [name], etc. – you might need to consult the source again.
    - Your opinion of the source, i.e. useful or not – you don’t want to waste time going back to sources that aren’t useful.
    - All the information you’ll need to include in your reference list. Use the Short guide to APA referencing to see what information you need for the various types of source material.
  • Write down, or copy, all possible quotes; include the source and the page number(s) for each quote.
  • Reference as you go; don’t leave all your referencing to the end.
  • Print out the Short guide to APA referencing and familiarise yourself with the contents. Keep the Short guide to APA at hand with you when doing assignments and, when referencing, look for an example that’s as similar to your source as possible, then copy the format (pattern).
    And remember, punctuation matters – check to make sure you get the all capital letters, full stops, commas, italics, etc. in the right places.
  • If you’re still not sure – call 0508 650 200and ask your lecturer, a learning adviser or a librarian for help.

Problem: I know I have to reference but I don't always know what needs referencing and what doesn't.

Does everything need to be referenced? And what about ‘common knowledge’, does that also need to be referenced?

The information below should help you decide.

What you should do

  • Always reference the following:
    - The words, opinions and ideas of others – whether you find them in a book, journal, newspaper, report, conference paper, legislation, website, email, blog, on the radio or TV, in a lecture or conversation, or anywhere else.
    - Data, statistics, tables, graphs, code, audio and video material, illustrations, photographs or any other type of image.
  • You don’t need to reference
    - Your own ideas (as long as they haven’t been published or written in a previous assignment; in that case – you need to reference them.)
    - Common knowledge. This means something that lots of people will know, or information that can easily be found in many sources.

For example, this is common knowledge (so you don’t need to cite it): Wellington is the capital of New Zealand.

But this isn’t common knowledge (so you need to cite it): ‘Wellington is Cool-with-a-capital-C, crammed with more bars, cafes and restaurants per capita than New York, and a slew of gourmet producers including some 10 independent coffee roasteries.’ (Source:

For more information see:
Is it plagiarism? – Purdue University

  • Remember: the basic rule is that if you’re using someone else’s words and/or ideas, you need to acknowledge that by referencing. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so when in doubt, reference.

Problem: I'm finding it hard to put things in my own words; I don't really know how to paraphrase or summarise.

You understand the work and have done heaps of background reading. The problem is, it’s so well written and it says exactly what you want to say, only better. It’s very difficult to know what you can add or how else to say it. So you try to change it a bit and hope it’s enough…

Unfortunately, changing it ‘a bit’ isn’t enough, it’s still plagiarism!

What you should do

  • If you use someone else’s words, always enclose them in quotation marks and use an in-text citation. (See above).
  • Paraphrase or summarise the information, integrate it with your own work, and use an in-text citation.

More about plagiarism and how to avoid plagiarising

Plagiarism – A Commoncraft video (2:31 mins) (opens a new window)

Plagiarism and academic integrity - University of New South Wales (opens a new window)
Addresses three issues that often result in plagiarism: unfamiliarity with the concept of plagiarism; knowing how it occurs; and developing the necessary academic skills to avoid plagiarism.

Academic Integrity - Curtin University (opens a new window)
An excellent booklet which you can download for free; includes examples of acceptable and unacceptable paraphrasing.

Preventing plagiarism - LearnHigher (opens a new window)
A short course which includes a short introductory video, learning resources, activities, quizzes, and a tutorial.
Don't miss the section: Student views on plagiarism and it's consequences. (Click in the left block if the video doesn't show.)

Demystifying citing and referencing - Monash University (opens a new window)
An online tutorial.

You note it, you quote it - Arcacia University (opens a new window)
An online tutorial

A plagiarism carol - Bergen University library (Video 5:13 min) (opens a new window)
Fun way to learn about  the perils of plagiarism. Click on the captions button for English subtitles - it's on the right, below the picture.

About copyright

Copyright is the automatic protection offered under New Zealand law in respect of intellectual property once it has been written down, drawn, recorded or filmed.

What is copyright? - TKI, Ministry of Education (opens in a new window)

What you need to know about copyright - TKI, Ministry of Education (opens in a new window)

Note that although the information in these Ministry of Education sites has been written for schools, it applies equally to tertiary institutions and students.