A First Aid to Philosophy

A Student's Guide to Philosophy Courses By David Benatar

A Student's Guide to Philosophy Courses By David Benatar

Please note: this material is copyrighted, but may be used for personal use without charge on condition that the author and source are acknowledged.

Avoiding Plagiarism

1. A General Definition
2. Forms of Plagiarism
3. Avoiding Plagiarism
4. Plagiarism Declaration
5. Some Examples

This section contains extremely important information. Students are advised to read it very carefully. Many students practise plagiarism without realising that they are doing so. Given the measures that are being taken to inform students about what plagiarism is, claiming ignorance about what constitutes plagiarism will not be deemed a legitimate excuse. 

Plagiarism is a serious academic offence. Students caught engaging in this practice will be reported to the relevant university authorities. The university takes plagiarism very seriously and students found guilty of it can expect to face heavy penalties, up to and including either rustication or expulsion from the university. 

1. A General Definition

To plagiarise is to use another person's work while presenting it as one's own. 

2. Forms of plagiarism

Many students have this general understanding of what plagiarism is, but do not realise the many forms it can take. These include (but are not necessarily limited to) the following overlapping practices:

  • Submitting as one's own, work which one has copied, whether in whole or in part, from anybody else, and irrespective of whether that copied work is published or unpublished, from the web or from another student (past or present) or a family member.

  • Lifting another person's ideas or words without acknowledgement, whether or not that person knows of or has given permission to use the work without acknowledgement. 

  • Acknowledging a source but not indicating that one has quoted verbatim (i.e. word for word). 

  • Indicating, via quotation marks, that some words have been taken directly from another author, but without acknowledging the source by providing the necessary citation details. 

  • Preserving the general structure of a sentence, paragraph or other unit of work authored by somebody else, making minor grammatical, structural or word changes. This constitutes editing somebody else's work - often for the worse - not writing one's own work. 

Any student who is in doubt as to whether a practice constitutes plagiarism is responsible for asking the relevant lecturer or tutor.

3. Avoiding plagiarism

  • Never copy from another person
    Students are not permitted to copy the work of other people

  • Collaborative work 
    All assignments and examinations in the Philosophy Department are for individual students. There are no group or collaborative assignments. This does not mean that students may not discuss the course content and even essay topics with one another. However, they should not work together in planning or writing their essays. The result of such collaboration might be essays with significant similarities, with at least one author (and possibly both) having utilized the ideas, structure or words of the other. Because each assignment is meant to be the student’s own, working together in these ways is a form of cheating.

  • Exercise caution in making preparatory notes from sources
    Some students make the error, in preparing for their essays, of making verbatim notes from a source and then including these in the essays they subsequently write. To avoid this, it is best not to copy verbatim but rather to make notes in one's own words. Where words are copied verbatim in one's preparatory notes, these should be included in quotation marks to remind one that these words are directly quoted.

  • Always acknowledge the source of an idea that one borrows from somebody else
    It is not necessary, however, to acknowledge generally accepted facts and ideas. For instance, if one noted that Immanuel Kant was the author of the Critique of Pure Reason it would not be necessary to reference the secondary source in which one read that. Similarly, if one wrote that ethical egoism is the view that one ought to pursue one's own interests, one would not need to acknowledge a book or article where one learnt that.

  • Even a single sentence or phrase copied from another source must be included in quotation marks and referenced 
    It is particularly easy for students to fall into the trap of cutting and pasting from one or more web sources into their essays. This is as unacceptable as copying from print sources. All quotations must be clearly indicated as such by the use of both quotation marks and citation of the source.  
    Remember, however, that one should keep quotations to a minimum. They should be used only when necessary. A string of quotations, even if clearly marked as such and duly referenced, is not an acceptable essay. It is not possible to assess a student's understanding of the issues if large parts of the student's essay consist of quoting the words of others. 
    A rule of thumb is to quote only when some important purpose is served by doing so. For example, when an author's wording is ambiguous, it may be important to quote the exact words as a prelude to explaining the different interpretations of them.

  • Do not follow the structure of other people's work too closely 
    In writing one's essay, one should not simply reproduce the (general or detailed) structure of other people's work. It is not acceptable to merely reword or edit other people's writing and present it as one's own.

4. Plagiarism declaration

A signed declaration, indicating that one has not plagiarised, must be included on the front cover of each essay submitted. It should take the following form:

Plagiarism Declaration:

1. I know that plagiarism is a serious form of academic dishonesty.
2. I have read the document about avoiding plagiarism, am familiar with its contents and have avoided all forms of plagiarism mentioned there.
3. Where I have used the words of others, I have indicated this by the use of quotation marks. 
4. I have referenced all quotations and other ideas borrowed from others.
5. I have not and shall not allow others to plagiarise my work. 



5. Some examples

Some real examples of plagiarism are reproduced on the following pages. The similarities of the source and plagiarised versions are underlined. Occasional rephrasing in the plagiarised version is indicated by grey script. Each example is followed by an explanation of why it is an instance of plagiarism.

One student copying from another

Student A's First Paragraph

Student B's First Paragraph

Democracy means that power lies with the people, which simply imply rule by the people.

Democracy in the past was considered to be a bad word as everybody believed that although society would be governed in the interest of the majority, it would restrict individuals freedom and all the goods of civilized living.

However, more recently there is a near-universal agreement that democracy epitomizes the best form of government and thus in most societies has become highly desirable.

Democracy however takes on two forms, that of a representative democracy and a participatory democracy.

Representative democracy occurs when citizens elect representatives who then engage in governing and a participatory democracy occur when all people are directly involved in political decision making.

When considering if state power should rest with ‘the people’ one should take into account the characteristics of the various forms of a democracy coupled with its problems and appeals.

There are many different ideas and definitions which come to mind when mentioning democracy, all of which are somehow related. To put it simply, democracy is when the people rule.

In the past it was considered to be a bad thing as individual freedom might be restricted in favour of the majority.

Times have certainly changed and democracy has become by far the favourite amongst the various nations. By the middle of the 20th  century, every independent country in the world, with a few exeptions, had a government that, in structure, embodied some of the principles of democracy.

Although its ideals have been widely professed, the practice of democracy has been different in many countries.

Democracy takes two basic forms, namely participatory and representative.

In the first case, people of the land play an active role in governing, while elected representatives are placed in the decision-making  position.

Different countries prefer either of the two types of democracies, but as we shall see, both have their downfalls. Democracy has many pros and cons and we must weight it up in order to determine if state power should in fact rest with the “the people”.

  • The structure of student B’s paragraph is modelled very closely on Student A’s.
  • Student B has not used student A’s exact words, but has plagiarised in rewording each copied component of student A’s paragraph. 

Copying from a web source - with acknowledgement but without quotation marks

Internet source - sample paragraph

Student C - corresponding paragraph

Underlying these questions is the paradox of every government. Man in a state of nature has maximum freedom limited only by his strength and ability to survive. For protection he establishes a government which, to endure, must limit his freedom. One against the other, liberty and security are in constant conflict. The dilemma becomes acute whenever the forces of safety and order outweigh those of freedom, when even the most trifling human activity is regulated by the State, or conversely, whenever the abuses of liberty bid fair to destroy society, when civil war – in Hobbes’ phrase of “every man against every man” – or anarchy threatens. How to steer between the two extremes, tyranny and anarchy, how to conserve the State for its essential functions and an ultimate of liberty, this is at the bottom of the controversy between the individual and majority rule.

In the Liberal Democracy (the general ideology of democratic states of today) there is the underlying paradox of every government. Man in a state of nature has maximum freedom limited only by his strength and ability to survive. For protection he establishes government which, to endure, must limit his freedom. One against the other, liberty and security are in constant conflict (, 26/09/2000). With this, how to steer between the two extremes, tyranny and anarchy, how to conserve the state for its essential functions and an ultimate of liberty, this is at the bottom of the controversy between the individual and majority rule( politicsandcurrentevents/democracy/ indirule.html, 26/09/2000).

  • Whole sentences and phrases have been lifted from the source without indicating that words have been quoted verbatim.

  • That student C has faithfully acknowledged the source of each copied sentence does not mean that plagiarism has been avoided.

  • Had student C used quotation marks, plagiarism would have been avoided. However, it would not have made for a good essay, especially since most of the rest of the essay consists of “cutting and pasting” from this and other sources. 

Copying from a published source without acknowledgement

Source - two paragraphs

Student D - corresponding paragraph

Imagine that someone is fleeing from a murderer and tells you he is going home to hide. Then the murderer comes along and asks where the first man went. You believe that if you tell the truth, the murderer will find his victim and kill him. Furthermore, suppose the murderer is already headed in the right direction, and you believe that if you simply remain silent, he will find his victim and kill him. What should you do?

We might call this the Case of the Inquiring Murderer. In this case, most of us would think it is obvious that we should lie. Of course, we don’t think we should go about lying as a general rule, but in these specific circumstances it seems the right thing to do. After all, we might say, which is more important, telling the truth or saving someone’s life? Surely in a case such as this lying is justified.

There is a major problem with this kind of argument. For example, imagine that someone is running away from a murderer and tells you he is going home to hide. The murderer then comes along and asks you where the man went. You are sure that if you tell the truth the murderer will find the man and kill him. What would you do? Most of us would think that in this case it is obvious that we should lie, since it seems like the right thing to do. After all, saving someone’s life is far more important than telling the truth

  • Student D has quoted verbatim (with the occasional rephrasing) from the source, but has not acknowledged that source.

  • Changing the occasional word and slightly rephrasing the source, as student D has done, does not avoid plagiarism.