Plagiarism is not just downloading an essay and handing it in as your own. There are in fact many students who plagiarise in their essays without even knowing about it! Just because you didn't know does not mean that you aren't guilty of plagiarism, and it won't help a great deal if you get in trouble for it.

The best thing to do is to understand what plagiarism is and then make sure that you take the right steps so that you don't plagiarise, even by accident!

A definition: This is not as easy as you would think! According to Swedish law there is no explicit definition of plagiarism - instead it is a part of the regulations about cheating in the Higher Education Act. Plagiarism is simply what happens when you use someone elses words or images in your own work without adequately referencing it.

This is what makes it so easy for students to accidentally plagiarise. Any time you use an image, a word, a phrase or even an idea that is not your own then you must reference it. Please check with your own department on guidelines for how to reference works correctly, but here are some general guidelines.


More information is better. When you are planning your essay take detailed notes about where information has come from. While frustrating it will greatly ease your work later in the essay and you will avoid plagiarism. This means that you should note all relevant information:

Who said it? If you are quoting someone within another work you should make note of this. If it is an internet source you are citing check who the author is, and if none is given note that none is given!

Where was it said? Note which page, which issue or number, which edition, note details of the publisher and so forth. This is especially relevant for the internet. Note the actual URL, note also the main URL. As you are aware things disappear and change on the internet all the time. If you are quoting this page for example, keep both the full URL ( as well as noting the main site that it came from, just in case the publisher should redo their weblinks (in this case

When was it said? For books or magazines make sure you look at when your particular edition was published. For the internet you should note the date you accessed the site, as well as the date the page you are looking at was last updated.

As mentioned, you need to reference every time you use something which you have not come up with yourself. With direct quotations this is fairly easy to understand - if I take a sentence directly from another source I need to quote it. With single words it can be harder. You must use your own judgement, but if an author describes something in a particular manner that you wish also to use then you will need to reference it. Similarly if an author invents a new word and you wish to use it you should reference this word. The most difficult aspect of plagiarism is when you appropriate someone else's ideas. It is a part of research that you read what other people have written, synthesise it and create new ideas and new expressions. What is often not understood is that even if I write a paragraph where every last word is my own I need to provide a reference for where I got that idea.

Why should you do this?

Not only will you avoid being labelled a cheat for plagiarising and might be suspended from the university, it will greatly strengthen your paper's academic credentials. While I may believe that I have a great many ideas about everything and am probably the world's best at a certain topic, it is far from certain that the academic world agrees with me. By supporting my argument with academic works from people who are respected within a given field my own position becomes all the more stronger.


Plagiarism is something that is easy to do, even if you don't mean to. It is something that is taken very seriously and you can face serious penalties. Check with your department for guidelines about referencing, and if in doubt reference something anyway! It is easier to get rid of unnecessary references than to try and remember which things you got from which place after the fact.