Simply put, plagiarism is using or copying someone else’s ideas or work without giving them proper acknowledgement. This includes using words or images or any form of representation made by someone else (including, but not limited to, researchers, authors, critics, journalists, academics, artists, lecturers, tutors, and other students). Without acknowledging the source of someone else’s idea or work, you are presenting it as if it were your own; regardless of whether this is done intentionally or unintentionally, it is considered to be plagiarism 

Proper acknowledgement means providing a correct reference (or in-text citation) whenever you include information from other sources in your work and including full information about the source in a reference list.

No, plagiarism is not limited to using or copying someone else’s words or ideas without proper acknowledgement; it also includes using or copying materials such as video and audio recordings, art and graphics, photographs, maps, diagrams, statistics, data, graphs and tables, computer programs or codes, research, and so on. These materials can come from published sources (such as books, journals, websites, films, newspapers etc.), as well as unpublished sources (such as lecture and tutorial notes, work by other students etc.). 

No, not everything.

  • If something is considered “common knowledge”, you don’t need to provide a source for the information. Common knowledge is something that most people know, or something that is widely known within a cultural or national group, or something that is known by people in a particular field of study or expertise.

    For example, it’s common knowledge that Italy is a country in Europe, so you would not have to provide a source for that fact. However, the fact that Italy’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2021 was approximately US$2.1 trillion would not be considered common knowledge so the source of that fact would have to be provided.
  • You don’t have to provide a source for your own ideas, observations, insights, experiences or conclusions, but you do have to acknowledge the source of others’ ideas, work or other materials that you use as evidence to support your own ideas or that you have used to form those ideas. Similarly, you don’t have to provide a source acknowledgement for data or results obtained from your own experimental work or data collection.


There are two main reasons why you should acknowledge your source of information:

  • By not acknowledging the source, you are in effect stealing the ideas, work or intellectual property of others (and you risk being penalised for plagiarism).
  • By acknowledging the source correctly and effectively, you are supporting the reliability, validity and integrity of your own work and arguments, as well as enabling your readers to find and read those sources themselves.

The University of Wollongong’s policy that deals with plagiarism – the Academic Integrity Policy – states that when students fail to properly acknowledge the sources they use to inform their work, it is:

  • unfair to the author;
  • unfair to other students who do their own work without copying;
  • failure to produce independent work as expected in a university; and
  • breach of copyright.

Generally speaking, trusted sources of evidence – e.g., of statistics, facts, research findings, expert opinion, and examples – strengthen your work by showing that your views are well-informed and well-supported. To effectively integrate sources of evidence in your work, you need to learn certain academic conventions such as when to use direct and indirect quotations, paraphrasing, summarising and synthesising. Some of these conventions are discussed in How can I avoid plagiarism?

The penalties for plagiarism can be severe. They range from a zero grade for an assignment or subject through to expulsion from a subject or even from the university. For this reason, you need to learn how not to plagiarise.

To avoid plagiarism, you need to develop your awareness of and proficiency in the academic writing skills and conventions required when using the work of others, including:

  • Efficient and effective note-taking and note-making strategies;
  • How and how often to use direct quotations;
  • How to paraphrase and summarise effectively; and
  • Familiarity with the referencing style and acknowledgement conventions that you are required to use in your assignments.

Short explanations of these conventions and skills are provided below. It should be noted that this information is highly condensed and only provides you with general advice. You must follow the guidelines of your School or Faculty or advice from your lecturers or tutors if they differ from the general advice given here.

Note-taking/Note-making strategies

Effective note-taking and note-making strategies will help you to keep records of where you found the information and the details you need to reference it. Finding information and integrating it into your work, but not remembering where you found it is a frustrating waste of time. And remember, if you can’t reference the information, you shouldn’t use it.

One effective and efficient method of note-taking is the Cornell Method as you can categorise your notes into themes, notes and responses, in the process helping you to develop your critical reading and ability to extract important and relevant information.

Direct quotations

A direct quotation is when you use the exact words taken from another source in your work. A direct quotation is usually presented within double quotation marks and must be referenced (or cited) within your text (the in-text citation usually includes the page number of the original text that the quote appears on) and referenced in full in your reference list at the end. Generally, only up to 10% of all of the in-text citations in your writing should be direct quotations. Overuse of direct quotations makes it appear that you don’t have a good understanding of what the source is saying or how to integrate other people’s ideas or work into your writing.

Summarising and paraphrasing

Summarising and paraphrasing are methods for presenting the ideas (etc.) from another source, expressed in your own words. Even though summaries and paraphrases are written by you, they need to be accompanied by references (or in-text citations) that acknowledge the source of information or ideas that you have summarised or paraphrased, and a full reference for each source must be included in the reference list at the end.

Summarising involves reading a source to extract the main information and ideas that are relevant to your topic and writing them down in your own words. Your summary should be much shorter than the original source text, and can have a different focus from that of the original. The focus of your summary will be guided by your topic and your purpose for using the information. For example, if your topic is about technologies for efficient industrial manufacturing, your summary of a source about the evolution and application of 3D printing might focus on how the technology is used across different industries, but not on the history of the technology itself as that information is not relevant to your topic.

Paraphrasing is often loosely regarded as using your own words to express someone else’s ideas. However, paraphrasing is actually a more complex process than this. A simple, close re-wording of another text can put you at risk of plagiarism, even if you acknowledge the source. Rather, paraphrasing requires you to process the information – make sense of it – before using it within the context of your own work. This means you shouldn’t paraphrase one sentence at a time. Instead, read the whole paragraph (or more) to make sense of the information and ideas in it before paraphrasing the sentences that are most relevant. This way, it is more likely that your interpretation and paraphrase will accurately reflect the meaning in the original text.

Being able to paraphrase well demonstrates your good understanding of the original source and your ability to interpret information accurately. It also demonstrates your proficiency in using language to express the ideas of the original text in a new context (i.e., your text). If you don't paraphrase well, you might risk altering the meaning of the original text which would suggest you didn’t read it thoroughly or closely enough to understand it.

Referencing and citing conventions

While referencing is essential in academic writing in order to acknowledge sources and to avoid the risk of plagiarism, done correctly it also allows readers to find and follow up information. If you have ever used a reference in a scholarly journal article to find further information about a topic, you were probably able to locate that information quickly and easily because the reference followed a standard referencing convention and, therefore, provided all the information you needed.

Note that reference (or referencing) is often used interchangeably with citation (or citing) to refer to both the in-text information about a source and the entry in the list of sources at the end of a text (e.g. a journal article or written assignment). Citation (or to cite) is also often used to refer specifically to the information about a source that appears within the text in short form (e.g. (Lee 2022) or [1]), such as in the term in-text citation.

When and where to reference

In your assignments, you should include a reference whenever you use work or ideas which are not your own... The exception to this rule is information that is generally considered common knowledge in your discipline or more widely. A reference is required regardless of whether the exact words from the source are quoted, or whether you have used your own words to paraphrase or summarise someone else’s ideas or work.

In-text references don’t have to be placed at the end of a paragraph or a sentence, and can appear early in a sentence or somewhere in the middle. Next time you read an academic journal article, have a look at how the in-text referencing is done and think about why it was done that way (e.g. does every sentence contain a reference? Where are the in-text references placed and why? Is only one source usually referenced in a paragraph (or are there many), and how many references to that source appear? Why are some references grouped together?). If you feel that you are ‘over-referencing’ or referencing the same source too often in a paragraph, you probably need to improve your summarising and paragraphing skills.

Referencing styles

Different faculties, schools and academic disciplines have preferred referencing styles. Information about what style you should use in your assignments can usually be found in the Subject Outline. If you’re unsure what to use, ask your lecturer or tutor.

Referencing styles commonly used at the University of Wollongong include the ‘Author-Date’ styles UOW Harvard and UOW APA7. History uses a footnoting system, and IEEE uses a notation (numbering) system.