Unfair means

In short, unfair means refers to cheating. It involves any attempt by a student to:

  • gain unfair advantage over another student in the completion of an assessment or exam; or
  • assist someone else in gaining an unfair advantage.

You will face disciplinary action if we find you using unfair means.

There are four main types of unfair means:

  • Plagiarism: when you accidentally or knowingly submit someone else’s work or ideas as your own without proper acknowledgement. This includes submitting your own previously assessed work.
  • Essay buying: when you buy or commission part or a whole piece of work from another student or an essay-writing website and submit it as your own.
  • Collusion: when you work with someone else, or a group of others, on a piece of assessed work that you are supposed to be completing by yourself.
  • Fabrication: when you submit made-up/untrue information.

Further information

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 are found to have been used, the University may impose penalties ranging from awarding no grade for the piece of work through to expulsion from the University in extremely serious cases.

Unfair means procedure in ScHARR


If you are suspected of using unfair means in your written work or in an examination for a ScHARR module, we will interview you.

At this stage, we are not accusing you of doing anything wrong, but University rules require us to investigate. These meetings allow us to explore what has happened. You have a chance to explain how you researched and wrote the assessment about which we have concerns. In the interview we may uncover weaknesses in your 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. 

The interview is usually chaired by the Unfair Means Officer. The marker will usually also be present and a member of the Teaching Support Unit will minute the meeting. You may bring a friend, supporter or colleague to the meeting. 

Interviews can also take place remotely using, for example, Collaborate, Skype, video-conferencing, telephone etc.

Being invited to such an interview may be worrying. If you are anxious about it, you can contact the ScHARR Unfair Means Officer, Dr Chris Blackmore, your personal tutor or the Student Advice Centre for guidance.


At the end of the interview, if we conclude that unfair means were used 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. Your mark for the second attempt will be capped at a maximum of 50%. More details of the possible outcomes can be found here. We will write a letter to you outlining the decision.

We will also issue you with a formal warning which 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.

If you are found to have used unfair means on a second or subsequent occasion, 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, 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.

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.