Plagiarism, collusion and the use of unfair means in assessment

What constitutes unfair means?

How can I avoid the use of unfair means?

What happens if I use unfair means?

Unfair means procedure in ScHARR

Detection of the use of unfair means

The University expects its graduates to have acquired certain attributes (see The Sheffield Graduate). Many of these relate to good academic practice, and involve the student becoming:

  • a critical, analytical and creative thinker
  • an independent learner and researcher
  • information literate and IT literate
  • a flexible team worker
  • an accomplished communicator
  • competent in applying their knowledge and skills
  • professional and adaptable

Throughout your programme of study at the University you will learn how to develop these skills and attributes. Your assessed work is the main way in which you demonstrate that you have acquired and can apply them. Using unfair means in the assessment process is dishonest and means that you cannot demonstrate that you have acquired these essential academic skills and attributes.

What constitutes unfair means?

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 using of ideas or work of another person (including experts and fellow or former students) and submitting them as your own. It 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 without appropriate acknowledgement.
  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 piece of work 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 assessed work 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 piece of work 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 is submitting 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 provided on the preparation of assessed work.

You are required to declare that all work submitted is entirely your own work. You must attach a declaration form to all pieces of submitted work. 

Further guidance on submitting work for assessment

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 module leader, personal tutor, programme or another member of staff involved.

The Library provides online information via the Information Skills Resource.

The Library also has information on reference management software:

The English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) 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. 

The ELTC also provides online support materials, available through MOLE.

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 no grade for the piece of work or failure in a PhD examination through to expulsion from the University in extremely serious cases.

Unfair means procedure in ScHARR

If a marker suspects unfair means in your written work, or an invigilator reports any untoward events during an examination for a ScHARR module, we will need to interview you. Students often find being invited to such interviews worrying. If you have any anxieties when called to the interviews, you can contact the ScHARR Unfair Means Officer, Dr Richard Cooper, your personal tutor or the Student Advice Centre for guidance. At this stage we are not accusing you of doing anything wrong, but we are obliged by University rules to investigate. Primarily, such meetings are exploratory, as we wish to hear your side of the story and find out how you came to write and research the assessment for which we have concerns. The interview may uncover weaknesses in academic writing skills and we can offer support and advice to address these problems.

If you are invited to interview, we will not usually be able to complete marking your work or allocate a grade until we have discussed these issues with you, so it is very much in your interest to attend the meeting and answer communications from the course administrators about setting them up. Interviews can also take place remotely using, for example, Collaborate, Skype, video-conferencing, telephone etc. You may have a friend, supporter or colleague with you at the meeting. The School is usually represented by the marker, someone to minute the meeting, and another member of academic staff (programme leader or Unfair Means Officer) to chair.

At the end of one of these meetings, if we conclude that there were unfair means in your coursework, we may apply a penalty to your mark. Typically, this means that you fail the module and are allowed to resubmit the work, but for the second attempt, your mark will be capped at a maximum of 50%. More details of the possible outcomes can be found here. At this stage, we will also issue you with a formal warning and a copy of this will remain on your student record. In itself, this record will not have any implications for your completion of any other course work with the University of Sheffield, and the award of the appropriate qualification. However, should any unfair means be confirmed in later written work for the University, that may lead to referral to a discipline committee hearing (see below).

If you do not accept ScHARR’s decision in applying penalties to your work, you may submit an academic appeal to the Student Conduct and Appeals Office, 5 Favell Road, within fourteen working days of being notified of any such penalties.

Information about the Academic Appeals Regulations and how to submit an appeal 

Occasionally we have to treat unfair means more severely. This usually means that one or more of the following apply:

  • It is the second time unfair means have been confirmed in the same student’s work and the student has already had a formal warning
  • The unfair means is on a very large scale (e.g. plagiarism of a whole piece of assessment)
  • The unfair means are not accidental or due to weakness in academic skills, but represent a deliberate attempt to obtain marks from the University by deceit

In such cases, after interviewing the student, we are obliged to refer them on for a disciplinary hearing, which can impose much more severe penalties, such as refusing credits for modules or even exclusion from the University.

In practice, we have to interview very few students for unfair means, and if you make sure that you fully understand how to use techniques like quotation, paraphrasing, citation and referencing in your work, you should not have any problems with unfair means.

Detection of the use of unfair means

The University subscribes to a national plagiarism detection service, Turnitin, which helps academic staff identify the original source of material submitted by students. This means that academic staff have access to specialist software that searches a database of reference material gathered from professional publications, student essay websites and other work submitted by students. It is also a resource which can help tutors to advise students on ways of improving their referencing techniques.

Essay or dissertation writing services

You may be approached by people or companies, either face-to-face or by e-mail, offering help with academic written work, and specifically dissertations. These companies often target overseas students, and may hand out business cards especially in the streets around the University. They may tell you the service they provide is "100% plagiarism free."  Please do NOT use the services of any such companies or individuals. 

Please note that when you hand in ANY course work, either summative (mark bearing) or formative, the University expects this to be:

  1. For most written assignments, entirely your own individual work, based on your own research and reading.
  2. For work set as a group assignment, the equal, but original, work of each member of the group.
  3. For dissertations, your work may incorporate advice and feedback given by your supervisors.

If you have used ANY paid assistance to write or research any work, then the work is not your own and the University will regard this as unfair means. We may still be able to detect such work by use of Turnitin etc.

If any such material is found in your work, even if other parts of the essay are your own work, we will not allocate a mark for that work until we have interviewed you. If we feel that the you have paid an individual or a company to write or research ANY part of your essay for you then the University will regard that as the deliberate, not accidental, use of unfair means, and a deliberate attempt to deceive the University. All such cases will be referred to a formal discipline committee, which may impose severe penalties, up to and including refusal of credits and awards and even complete exclusion from the University.

Please do NOT use the paid services of any company or individual offering to help you with researching or writing any work for any University programme of study, including your dissertations: doing so may get you into serious trouble.

Proof reading

You may employ other people to proof read your written work before hand in. However, bearing in mind the regulations that such material must the student’s own work, the input of the proof reader must be limited to:

  • Bringing to the your attention errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar
  • Pointing out passages where poor English makes it hard to understand the points you are making or the arguments areare developing
  • Reminding you where citations and references are needed

You must make any corrections yourself, so that the work you submit is your own work.

Proof readers must NOT:

  • Rewrite any passages on your behalf
  • Provide any additional material, or references, to add to a written assignment

The University does not recommend or endorse any specific commercial or individual proof readers.