School of Social and Political Science

Referencing and avoiding plagiarism


We recommend that you take time to familiarise yourself with our School guide before you start working on your assessments. 

What is academic misconduct?

Academic misconduct is any kind of cheating – deliberate or not – that occurs in relation to a formal academic exercise. It is the responsibility of every student to understand what is and is not permitted; lack of awareness is not considered a defence to academic misconduct.

The university takes a zero-tolerance approach to:

  • Plagiarism - the presentation of another person’s work as your own, where this is inappropriate or without proper acknowledgement.
  • Self-Plagiarism - the presentation of work you have already submitted for credit – at this institution or elsewhere - as original work.
  • Collusion - completing assessed work with another student when this is not expressly permitted.
  • Falsification - knowingly providing false information, e.g. fabricated data, fake citations.
  • Cheating - receiving or giving unauthorised assistance. This includes using an essay mill or AI to generate all or part of your essay.
  • Personation - assuming the identity of another with the intent to deceive or gain advantage.
  • Students found to have engaged in these practices may be subject to formal disciplinary procedures as well as (sometimes heavy) grade penalties.

The most common form of misconduct we encounter in the School of Social and Political Science is plagiarism, including self-plagiarism.


How to avoid penalties for plagiarism and self-plagiarism

Plagiarism is giving the impression that information or words you have included in your assignment are your own, when they are not.

Every year, students who do not intend to plagiarise receive penalties for plagiarism because they did not understand what was required of them, or were not cautious enough. It is therefore really important that you understand how to use and reference the work of others – whether you are directly quoting them or not.

Write in your Own Voice

To avoid plagiarism, write in your own ‘voice’ as much as possible, and provide a citation whenever you reproduce someone else’s words or ideas. Ideally, this approach to writing will start when you take notes, so as to avoid accidental plagiarism. Close paraphrasing, i.e. using a chunk of someone else’s text and just rearranging or changing some words, is plagiarism.

Reference Appropriately

Use a recognised referencing system. Every time you include information such as facts or ideas from other people’s work, add an in-text citation, giving the author(s) name(s) and publication date, like this:

Pro-environmental values do not necessarily lead to action (Barr, 2006).

When you are directly quoting an author (i.e. reproducing someone else’s work word for word) use quotation marks (“-”) and provide a reference which includes page number(s) to indicate where the quote is to be found in the original source, like this:

Values are “guiding principles in the life of a person or other social entity” (Schwartz, 1994, p.21).

Avoid using a lot of quotes; more than 2 or 3 in an essay normally means you are not expressing ideas in your own words enough.

If you copy statistics, tables, diagrams etc directly from others’ work you should clearly cite the source, including a page number if possible.

Avoid Secondary Citation

Citing sources you have not personally read, which appear in someone else’s work, is called ‘secondary citation’ and is a form of academic misconduct as it misrepresents the work you have done.

If you read an article/book by author Y that refers to work by author X, and you want to discuss the work of Author X in your assignment, read Author X’s work and give your own summary of it. If that is not possible, then you should cite what you have read about Author X’s work in Author Y’s article/book. This will look like this:

Zhang, 2015, as cited by Smith, 2019 OR Zhang, 2015, in Smith, 2019

Include a Reference List/Bibliography

You should list all the sources you have cited in a reference list at the end of your assignment.


You must never copy from an assignment you previously submitted for credit, either at this university or another, unless your course organiser expressly permits you to do so.

If you retake a course, an assignment (or any part of it) submitted one year cannot be resubmitted in a different year. Similarly, you must not copy from a previously submitted assignment into a resit assignment for the same course, or from an assignment for one course into an assignment for a different course, either in the same year or a different year.

It is possible that you will be asked to reflect on the same topic (e.g. an intended research project) in more than one assignment. In this situation, it is acceptable to revisit the same ideas or bodies of scholarship. However, you must never reproduce text submitted for credit on another course, or closely paraphrase such texts.

Use of Similarity Checking software (Turnitin)

To detect plagiarism we use Turnitin, which compares your assignments against a constantly-updated global database of existing work.

If you are found to have included plagiarised or self-plagiarised material in your work, this will be reported to an Academic Misconduct Officer for investigation. Penalties range from 10 marks deducted to the assignment grade being reduced to zero.

Do not put your work through Turnitin yourself before submission. This can lead to you being investigated for academic misconduct by making it seem that an identical assignment already exists.

Use of translation software/services and proof-reading services

You must not use translation software or services (including unpaid services of friends or relatives) to translate your assignments from another language into English, as this means the work is not yours alone. It is best to write as well as submit your work in English. You are allowed to write in another language and then translate the work yourself but this is not efficient.

A proof-reader is a person who may make suggestions for minor changes to spelling, punctuation, grammar, and syntax in order to improve the readability of written assignments. There is a University of Edinburgh proof-reading service for students whose first language is not English, and for those who have a learning adjustment schedule allowing use of a proof-reader.

You are also allowed to use a proof-reader (a friend, family member, or paid professional) who is not part of the University service but there are strict guidelines about what proof-readers are allowed to do. You must read these guidelines and share them with anyone you ask to proof-read your work who is not part of the University proof-reading service.

If you do not follow the guidance, you may be reported for academic misconduct if the proof-reader has altered the work too much for it to be considered solely yours.

Read the guidelines on the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences webpages.

Guidance for students on the use of Generative AI (such as ChatGPT)

The University has recently (March 2023) developed guidance on the use of Generative AI (such as ChatGPT) which should be reviewed by students: 

 Guidance on the use of Generative AI (such as ChatGPT)

Please note that using AI to generate essay content is considered cheating, unless expressly permitted by your course organiser. If you have any questions about the proper use of AI, you should contact your Course Organiser or the appropriate Academic Misconduct Officer (below) to discuss.


Other sources to help avoid academic misconduct

For further details on plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct, and how to avoid them, visit the Institute for Academic Development:

If you have any questions or would like to discuss anything related to matters of academic misconduct, contact your personal tutor or the appropriate School Academic Misconduct Officer

Student category
Teaching and Learning