Coronavirus (Covid-19): Latest updates and information
Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Examples to Avoid Plagiarism

To plagiarise is to reproduce your own work, or the work of someone else, without proper acknowledgement. Penalties for plagiarism range from the loss of a single mark in an assignment to the loss of an entire degree. All students taking History modules at Warwick are advised to read the department's Plagiarism page.

But what counts as 'proper acknowledgement'? The following examples show the sorts of practices that count as proper and improper acknowledgement in an undergraduate essay in History at the University of Warwick. They are illustrative rather than exhaustive: they show the most common errors rather than every single possible error.

The simple version is this: if you quote someone, use quote-marks. If you copy a piece of text from another source, place an " at the start and end of this text. Social history shows that "the working class was present at its own making" is an example of correct acknowledgement, assuming this text has a footnote to E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class.

The footnote is not enough on its own. Nor is mentioning the author and book title in the sentence. Nor is putting quote-marks around part of the copied text. So the following are not proper acknowledgement:

Social history shows that the working class was present at its own making [with footnote citing Thompson's book].

E. P. Thompson argued in his The Making of the English Working Class that the working class was present at its own making.

Social history shows that the working class was present "at its own making."

The following example gives a more detailed illustration of good and bad practice. Suppose you are writing an essay on the question 'To what extent did the British empire depend on collaboration with colonized people?' You have decided to include a paragraph on science and technology, and have located a book chapter on cartography in early colonial India.

Below is an example of what you should not do. Read the text and footnotes carefully, then click on the shaded text for a commentary. Then do the same for the example further down the page, which shows what you should do.

What NOT to do

Furthermore, the case of the geographical exploration of British India in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries provides another illustration of the way in which British and Indian people met around certain projects.This sentence repeats Raj's text with a few minor changes such as adding a 'Furthermore' at the start, replacing a comma with a full stop, and writing 'certain projects' instead of 'specific projects'. The remainder is copied word for word from Raj. As Kapil Raj argues, The modern map and its uses co-emerged in India and Britain through the process of colonial encounter.1 There is an accurate footnote here referring to Raj's text, and he is named in your text as well. But there are no quote-marks to indicate that you have copied phrases from him verbatim. Large land surveys in South Asia began after the British took over Bengal in the middle of the eighteenth century, taking advantage of indigenous surveying that already existed. The British depended heavily on this. In particular, the Survey of India was crucial to British colonial administration. It is most famous for its maps, but it was also a forerunner in social statistics, geodesy, and survey instruments.2These sentences have been constructed by taking a paragraph from Raj and replacing all the words and phrases in it with synonyms. None of this text is copied verbatim, but all of it copies Raj’s ideas and the structure of his paragraph. There’s no way of properly acknowledging this, not even with an accurate footnote such as the one given here (note 2). Make sure you use your own sentences and paragraphs, not just your own words. As Susan Faye Cannon writes, The Great Trigonometric Survey of India shows the workings of British policyThe opening quote-mark starts too late in the sentence. The result is that you have taken the highlighted text from Cannon without acknowledging that it is a verbatim quote. ‘better than still another study of Macaulay’s education minute.’3 Extensive interaction between colonial and native sciences was seen during most of the colonial era.4 This sentence, including footnote 4, is copied verbatim from Wikipedia. Plagiarising the footnote does not make up for plagiarising the text - it only makes things worse.The institutionalisation of modern or Western science in India began with the establishment of the Great Surveys – the Geological, the Botanical and the Trigonometric – under the inspired impetus of the Asiatic Society of Bengal inaugurated in 1784. Colonization was not merely a political phenomenon; it had far‐reaching economic and cultural ramifications. It was an exercise in power, control, and domination. In the pursuit of state-sponsored science, Indians provided cheap labour. It was only much later, with the westernization of the Indian middle classes, that Indians began to pursue science on their own initiative. Historians eager to ‘provincialize Europe’ have highlighted the role that colonial administrators played in creating new forms of scientific knowledge, which then returned to Europe; still other scholars have explored how subaltern subjects adopted aspects of colonial knowledge only to bend them to their own ends.5These four passages have been constructed by typing 'colonial India science' into Google, clicking on four of the hits, and copying down one or two sentences from each of them. The footnote at the end gives the incorrect impression that this information has been drawn from Raj’s book. Therefore the case of science and technology shows once more how much British imperialism was a collaboration between colonized and colonizer.


1 Kapil Raj, Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Construction of Knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 1650-1900 (Palgrave Macmillan: London, 2007), p. 63.
2 Ibid, 63.
3 Susan Faye Cannon, in Science in Culture: The Early Victorian Period (Science History Publications: New York, 1978), p. 251.This gives the impression that you found Cannon’s quote by reading her book, when in fact you found it in Raj’s book, as a result of his research.
4 Arnold, David (2004), The New Cambridge History of India: Science, Technology and Medicine in Colonial India, Cambridge University Press, p. 211.
5 Raj, Relocating Modern Science.

What to do

Science and technology was another area in which the British administration depended on local traditions and institutions. This is an especially telling example given the widespread belief that science and technology were invented by Europeans, in Europe, before being exported to the rest of the world.1 Widely held beliefs can often be stated without citation, on the grounds that they are common knowledge. But in this case you are about to attack the widely held belief so it's important to establish that it really is a widely held belief - otherwise you risk attacking a straw man, ie. a fictitious opponent. Hence the footnote. In fact, much of the technical expertise that historians and laypeople label ‘European’ was a synthesis of European and non-European traditions.2This is a weighty empirical claim, so you need a weighty piece of empirical work (such as Raj's book) to back it up. A longer discussion of the topic would weight Raj's findings against those of other historians. Cartography is a notable example because of its importance in the day-to- day practice of colonial administration.The idea expressed in this sentence is from Raj's book, but it doesn't need its own footnote because a) the idea is stated in your own words and b) it's clear from the other footnotes that Raj is your source for this paragraph. There's such a thing as overciting, though it's less common than underciting and much less objectionable. If in doubt, cite. The Survey of India, a mapping project begun in the mid-eighteenth century, ‘shows the workings of British policy better than still another study of Macaulay’s education minute.’3 The Survey produced not only maps but also social statistics, measurements of the curvature of the earth (geodesy), and survey instruments. All this depended on the expertise and collaboration of South Asian people, and on traditions of surveying that had existed in South Asia long before the British arrived.4These two sentences contain words and phrases that appear together in Raj's chapter, such as 'social statistics' and 'survey instruments'. So why aren't these in quote-marks? Because they are standard phrases, not ones that Raj invented, and because you have rearranged Raj's sentence to suit the purposes of your argument.
Raj also uses the word 'geodesy' without explanation. But it's an obscure word that your reader might not understand, so you give a short definition here from your reference work. No need to cite your source here.
The British employed skilled Indian surveyors and had Indian texts on surveying and astronomy translated into English. They used local techniques, such as that of measuring a distance by the time taken to march across it; and they used local people to apply these techniques, such as the fifty members of the indigenous Corps of Guides, who ‘have examined, and made every necessary remark upon, nearThis is a direct quote, so it reproduces the punctuation and spelling of the original. 5000 miles of roads in the Carnatic and Mysore country’, in the words of one British official.5 Similar points hold for other areas of knowledge bound up with colonial administration, such as botany, law, and the study of non-European languages.6 British and South Asian knowledge were so closely intertwined in colonial India that it makes little sense to distinguish between them, or to say that one depended on the other. Rather, they ‘co-emerged…through the process of colonial encounter,’Worth quoting Raj directly here for a pithy statement of the key point of the paragraph. in the words of the historian Kapil Raj.7


1 Kapil Raj, Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Construction of Knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 1650-1900 (Palgrave Macmillan: London, 2007), pp. 1-5.
2 Ibid, passim.'Passim' to signal that the ideas you are referring to are scattered throughout the book. 'Ibid' would be ambiguous here.
3 Susan Faye Cannon, in Science in Culture: The Early Victorian Period (Science History Publications: New York, 1978), p. 251, cited in Raj, Relocating Modern Science, p. 63.You found the quote in Raj, so you cite him here.
4 Raj, Relocating Modern Science, chap. 2.
5 Quoted in ibid, p. 80.
6 Ibid, chaps. 1, 3 and 4, respectively.Precise references, not just citing the whole book.
7 Ibid, 63.

A printable pdf version of these examples can be downloaded here.