As part of this commitment to supporting teaching and learning that promotes academic literacy and ethical scholarship for all staff and students, UWA has policy relating to academic misconduct, including plagiarism.

These notes outline UWA's approach to, and definition of, plagiarism.

  1. Plagiarism is usually defined as the unattributed use of someone else's words, creations, ideas and arguments as one's own. Within university policies it is usually further extended to include the use of 'too close' or extensive paraphrase.
  2. Further, within particular areas of study, different forms of plagiarism may require emphasis and explanation for the guidance of students. As well as direct plagiarism and close paraphrase, it is important to specify further, for example, that the recycling of work is unacceptable and constitutes a form of self-plagiarism; or that copying and disguising computer codes is a serious breach of academic integrity.
  3. It is important for faculties to maintain or devise area-specific guidelines about the constitution of plagiarism for the information of its students, the task of defining plagiarism in the context of such guidelines is inevitably complex.
  4. One area of particular complexity is the issue of measurement: how much and what kind of plagiarism constitutes 'minor', 'moderate' and 'major' misconduct? How may balance be achieved to ensure reasonable parity of approaches between faculties, while remaining responsive to the specific academic and assessment context within faculties? A common policy approach is one that sets in place a measure of quantity as the defining factor in levels of seriousness of plagiarism. This is an approach employed within some existing faculty policies at UWA. 'Break points' in levels of seriousness of plagiarism are commonly set at around less than 10 per cent of a work to qualify as 'minor'; from 10-25 per cent to qualify as 'moderate'; and 'more than 25 per cent' to be classified as 'major'. In a purely quantitative framework, however, further issues arise. For example, it may be necessary to further define what constitutes 'the work' within which the proportion of plagiarism is to be established: does it include text only, or text, quotes, footnotes and illustrative material? In relation to visual or tabulated material within an essay, what 'percentage per illustration/table' should be brought to bear, when calculating extent? What measures may be included to encompass musical composition and performance, computer codes, or oral presentations that are based on plagiarised material? Such questions may seem contrived, but do illustrate the limitations of any purely quantitative approach within a diverse institution.
  5. Fair assessment of a case requires reference as well to the nature of the plagiarism. For example, one may argue that an assessment submitted by a first-year student that consists of 200 words (or 20 per cent) of material in a 1000-word essay based on inappropriate close paraphrase or absence of referencing is academically less serious than plagiarism of 3000 words (or 20 per cent) of material that has been downloaded and pasted direct from an internet essay mill within a 15,000-word honours dissertation.
  6. A combination of both quantitative and qualitative approaches to assessments of plagiarism is preferred. While quantitative measure alone is an imperfect measure of 'seriousness', it nonetheless provides a useful initial guide for students and staff in understanding the varying levels of misconduct in the area, and the general seriousness with which it is taken within the University. The subsequent application of qualitative judgment is also needed, and is in keeping with the overall thrust of the University Policy.

Further Information

If you would like further information about originality and academic integrity, contact the Educational Enhancement Unit.
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