Cheating and Plagiarism at University

Cheating is a deliberate, dishonest act in relation to submitting university work. This could mean copying someone else’s work, having someone else write an essay for you, or taking notes into an exam.  Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work as your own without their permission, either deliberately or accidentally.

Cheating is a very bad idea, and one that can be severely punished. It will lessen your university experience and lose you the respect of your peers. It is never worth taking the risk.

How and why do students cheat?

The most common form of cheating is the use of essay mills. These are companies that encourage students to pay for an essay written elsewhere which they can submit as their own. Essay mills take advantage of stressed students who are overwhelmed with work, by presenting cheating as an acceptable alternative to working hard. There are ongoing attempts by ministers to make these companies illegal.

Students cheat for a number of reasons; often it is a self-inflicted choice. Students who don’t revise enough or leave their essay until the last minute may think cheating is easier, rather than doing more work in a short space of time. In other cases, extenuating circumstances can put students in a situation where cheating feels like their only option.

Why is cheating a bad idea?

Despite what essay mills want you to believe, cheating is never acceptable for numerous reasons:

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Cheating is always a bad idea. 
  • You can be seriously punished– If you are caught cheating, you may fail the assignment, an entire module, or even the whole degree.
  • It is expensive– University already costs enough, so failing a year or being expelled due to cheating is a costly mistake to make. Cheating itself is also very expensive; companies can charge hundreds or even thousands of pounds to produce a single piece of work. 
  • It is dishonest– Essay mills are deceitful companies who lie and take advantage of students. By using these companies, you only encourage what they do.
  • You are cheating yourself– University is meant to challenge you. By cheating, you are missing out on the opportunity to push yourself and find out what you are capable of. You won’t fully develop the skills you need to be successful in the future.
  • It devalues the work of those who do not cheat– If you cheat and are not caught, you are lessening the achievements of your fellow students who have worked hard and honestly.. Think about how your friends would feel if they found out.
  • It is avoidable– Universities have services to help students who are struggling with their workload. Students with extenuating circumstances can apply to extend submission deadlines. If you are struggling, talk to someone.

Read university profiles to see what support services are available to students.

What is accidental plagiarism?

Cheating is not always deliberate, as students can unknowingly submit work that plagiarises the work of others.

This could happen if you don’t reference properly, or if you remember someone else’s argument as your own. Unfortunately, claiming to have unintentionally plagiarised someone else’s work does not protect you from being penalised for it. There are ways that you can avoid it:

  • Understand what plagiarism is– Your university will have a guideline on plagiarism. You should consult this especially if you are unsure whether your work could be penalised.
  • Reference as you write your essay– This does not have to be full referencing, but each time you use someone else’s work you should make a note of who wrote/said it and where you found it. This way, when you come to fully referencing your essay before submission it will be much easier and you’re less likely to plagiarise.
  • Consult a style guide– The style of referencing varies across subjects and individual lecturers will have their own preferences. Establish which one you need to use and have the style guide easily accessible whilst you reference. This will make the whole process much quicker and make you less likely to leave out a reference by mistake.
  • Universities use plagiarism checkers– Universities will have software to check essays for plagiarism. If your marker suspects plagiarism they are very likely to find it.
  • Talk to your lecturer– Your lecturers don’t want to penalise you for plagiarism, so they should be more than happy to ensure your work is not breaking any rules.

Cheating and plagiarism, either deliberate or accidental, are both avoidable. With good time management, hard work and using the resources available to you, you should never find yourself in a situation where you feel the need to break the rules. If you do feel overwhelmed, do not take the easy way out. Use your experience as a lesson and try not to get into the same situation again.

if you find yourself struggling with the workload, read our advice on dealing with mental health issues at universities, and studying with dyslexia