Cheating and unfair means

Unfair means, plagiarism and collusion

Using unfair means in the assessment process is dishonest and also means that you cannot demonstrate that you have acquired the essential academic skills and attributes of a Sheffield graduate. The Department and the University take the use of unfair means extremely seriously and it is your responsibility to be aware of what constitutes unfair means and to avoid it.

What constitutes unfair means?

It is clear that cheating in examinations, for example by bringing in unauthorised material, is using unfair means. However, you may not be so familiar with the application of "unfair means" to work that is not done under exam conditions – homework problems, essays and so on.

The basic principle underlying the preparation of any piece of academic work is that the work submitted must be your own work. Plagiarism, submitting bought or commissioned work, double submission (or self-plagiarism), collusion and fabrication of results are not allowed because they violate this principle (see definitions below). Rules about these forms of cheating apply to all assessed and non-assessed work.

1. Plagiarism (either intentional or unintentional) is the stealing of ideas or work of another person (including experts and fellow or former students) and is considered dishonest and unprofessional. Plagiarism may take the form of cutting and pasting, taking or closely paraphrasing ideas, passages, sections, sentences, paragraphs, drawings, graphs and other graphical material from books, articles, internet sites or any other source and submitting them for assessment. Note that copying or close paraphrasing of other people’s work constitutes plagiarism even if the source is acknowledged: referencing a source entitles you to use the information in that source, but not the author’s actual words. The use of information from a source which is not appropriately acknowledged is also plagiarism, even if the information has been re-expressed in your own words.

2. Submitting bought or commissioned work (for example from internet sites, essay "banks" or "mills") is an extremely serious form of plagiarism. This may take the form of buying or commissioning either the whole assignment or part of it and implies a clear intention to deceive the examiners. The University also takes an extremely serious view of any student who sells, offers to sell or passes on their own assignments to other students.

3. Double submission (or self-plagiarism) is resubmitting previously submitted work on one or more occasions (without proper acknowledgement). This may take the form of copying either the whole assignment or part of it. Normally credit will already have been given for this work.

4. Collusion is where two or more people work together to produce a piece of work, all or part of which is then submitted by each of them as their own individual work. This includes passing on work in any format to another student. Collusion does not occur where students involved in group work are encouraged to work together to produce a single piece of work as part of the assessment process.

5. Fabrication work (for example, practical or laboratory work) any part of which is untrue, made up, falsified or fabricated in any way. This is regarded as fraudulent and dishonest.

How can I avoid the use of unfair means?

To avoid using unfair means, any work submitted must be your own and must not include the work of any other person, unless it is properly acknowledged and referenced.

As part of your programme of studies you will learn how to reference sources appropriately in order to avoid plagiarism. This is an essential skill that you will need throughout your University career and beyond. You should follow any guidance on the preparation of assessed work given by the academic department setting the assignment.

You are required to attach a declaration form (this will be the coversheet) to all submitted work (including work submitted online), stating that the work submitted is entirely your own work.

If you have any concerns about appropriate academic practices or if you are experiencing any personal difficulties which are affecting your work, you should consult your personal tutor or a member of staff involved with that unit of study.

The following websites provide additional information on referencing appropriately and avoiding unfair means:

The Departmental website provides information on plagiarism and a guide to correct referencing of sources:

The Library provides a range of online tutorials on information skills, the tutorial on plagiarism is particularly relevant to this section, but you should also look at some of the others (for example, "Evaluating Information").

Having difficulties with your English skills?

Students who are guilty of plagiarism often cite difficulties with writing formal academic English as a contributing factor to their decision to use unfair means. There is, however, a legitimate solution to this problem: the English Language Teaching Centre operates a Writing Advisory Service,, through which students can make individual appointments to discuss a piece of writing. This is available for all students, both native and non-native speakers of English.

Non-native speakers of English may additionally register for courses in the English Language Support Programme (see, particularly the courses on Academic Reading and Writing (Science & Technology) and Academic Speaking and Listening (Science & Technology). We strongly recommend that you do this if your IELTS score is less than 7.5.

What happens if I use unfair means?

Any form of unfair means is treated as a serious academic offence and action may be taken under the Discipline Regulations. For a student registered on a professionally accredited programme of study, action may also be taken under the Fitness to Practise Regulations. Where unfair means is found to have been used, the University may impose penalties ranging from awarding a grade of zero for the assignment through to expulsion from the University in extremely serious cases.