Skip to main content

Fully reference and acknowledge the work of others

Understanding how to use and appropriately acknowledge your debt to the work of others is an essential step in learning how to avoid plagiarism.

Make sure that when you are reading or researching for any written work or presentation, you include in your notes, or on any photocopies, the full reference details (see the Student Learning Centre guide: Referencing & Bibliographies) of each source that you use. This will ensure that you have all the information you need to acknowledge your sources fully when you come to use this material in your own work.

When you write down the precise words of a writer, or even of a lecturer, make sure that you mark clearly in your notes that you have included an exact quotation, and add the relevant page number to the other reference details (this includes the citation of sources on the Web, and online discussion lists/mail bases/databases). This will ensure that when you go back to your notes at a later date you will be able distinguish your own words from those of your sources. An appropriate sentence or phrase quoted from an expert in the field can be used with great effect within an essay or dissertation, but it needs to be fully referenced and clearly distinguished from your own words.

The paragraph below is taken word for word, fully referenced, from an article by Peter Scott in a book on the future of higher education and is used here as a source for a hypothetical essay on the topic of Higher Education in the 1990s.

Widening access to higher education is no longer conceived... as a crusade to help the educationally and socially deprived, to reach out into the depths of Britain's democracy (and, incidentally, to save departments and institutions from threatened closure!). Instead it is seen in much less heroic terms, as the careful management of burgeoning demand mainly, but not exclusively, from standard school leavers and other conventional sources (Scott 1991 p.57).

Scott, P. 1991: Access: an overview. In T. Schuller (ed.) The Future of Higher Education. Buckingham: SRHE & Open University Press, pp. 55-60.

The paragraph below, from the essay returned by student A, has clearly been plagiarised. Although the wording has been changed slightly, the words are essentially those of Scott and not of the student writer; there is no reference to the original source.


The driving force behind Britain's move towards a mass higher education system is no longer conceived as a crusade to help the educationally and socially deprived. It has become a way of meeting the demand from standard level student leavers and other conventional sources.

Student A's plagiarism may not have been deliberate but the result of poor note taking which did not distinguish between the student's own words and ideas and those of other writers. Such plagiarism would nonetheless be taken very seriously. The paragraph below from student B's essay is not plagiarised.


The early 1990s saw considerable changes in the organisation of Higher Education in Britain, as it moved from an elite to a mass education system. At this time, the Editor of the Times Higher Education Supplement was Peter Scott, whose job placed him in a unique position to take a broad, and well informed, overview of these changes. He viewed the move to mass education as 'the careful management of burgeoning demand mainly, but not exclusively, from standard school leavers and other conventional sources' and not, as others might have seen it ' as a crusade to help the educationally and socially deprived, and to reach out into the depths of British democracy' (Scott 1991 p.57).

Student B chose to include quotations to make a particular point, but these have been fully referenced. The quotations are included within a paragraph, which clearly shows the personal stamp and contribution of the student writer. This is seen in, for example, the comment on the background to Scott's viewpoint (as editor of the Times Higher) and the suggestion that his view is not universally held ('and not as others might have characterised it'). Student B might then go on to discuss, and give his opinion of, these other views, making sure that appropriate references were included.

For more information on note taking and on referencing your sources in written work, read the Student Learning Centre guides: Effective Note Making and Referencing & Bibliographies.