Plagiarism is probably the type of academic misconduct that markers will see most often. It is defined by the University as, “the use, without adequate acknowledgment, of the intellectual work of another person in work submitted for assessment”.


Plagiarism: FAQs

How do we investigate and identify plagiarism?

The University uses Turnitin™ and Safe Assign™ software to help identify possible instances of plagiarism, but staff must be aware of what the software is designed to do. The software checks for similarities between the student assignment and online sources, such as web pages, books, journal articles, and previously submitted academic assessments.

The originality report on student submissions is provided by both Turnitin and Safe Assign via a similarity index, which indicates the percentage of the text in the assignment that has been matched to online sources. This similarity index is not by itself evidence of plagiarism. There is no set percentage of similarity that determines whether submitted work contains plagiarised material; the process relies entirely on academic judgement to determine whether the instances of similarity in the submitted work constitute plagiarism. For example, an essay may have been highlighted as having 20% similarity, but that may comprise:

a)            numerous small sentences, partial sentences or technical phrases or terms that are widespread throughout the essay, OR

b)            a whole section of the essay.

How academic staff deal with these two examples will differ. For a) it is likely that no further investigation is needed. Although highlighting how and why this should not occur in the student feedback is required, but for b) the situation may require further investigation of possible academic misconduct. The Code of Practice on Student Discipline (Academic) outlines the procedure Schools should follow. If this is a first instance of such academic misconduct, Schools should use this as an opportunity to educate the student how to avoid plagiarism in the future. 

Further information for staff is available at:

What happens if Turnitin or Safe Assign identifies a match with an earlier submission from the same student?

This is classed as ‘self-plagiarism’ and often occurs when a student is repeating a year of study and submits a lightly edited, or identical version of the same assessment that they had submitted the previous year. Unless the student has been given permission by the Course Co-ordinator to resubmit the same assignment, such self-plagiarism is classed as academic misconduct, and should be investigated.

What is the penalty for plagiarism?

The standard penalties that can be applied are outlined in the Code of Practice on Student Discipline (Academic). If it is a first offence, it can be dealt with at School level and the penalty may range from a reduced grade (because the plagiarised part of the assessment has been discounted), to the award of G3 for the assessment and a need to resubmit. Academic schools should take the opportunity to give the student further advice on how to avoid plagiarism in the future.  The Achieve and Achieve+ skills development sites in MyAberdeen, offer helpful student guidance on how to avoid plagiarism.  Subsequent plagiarism offences are considered by a University Investigation Officer and the penalty awarded will be dependent on the extent of plagiarism, and whether there were mitigating circumstances. Penalties can range from the award of G3 for the assessment, to G3 for the course.  Multiple instances of plagiarism can result in expulsion from the University.

How can staff help minimise plagiarism opportunities in assessments?

There are a range of strategies and approaches to help academics design out plagiarism opportunities for students in assessments; these include, but are not restricted to:

  • Avoiding recycling assignment titles or questions each year.
  • Ensuring students understand how to reference and acknowledge sources in assessments.
  • Creating individualised assessment tasks, such as a reflective report.
  • Offering analysis and evaluation assignments, rather than descriptive assignments.
  • Supporting students through a linked, short formative assessment, to build their confidence and academic capabilities.
  • Building students’ assessment literacies through discussions in scheduled teaching sessions.

Academic Integrity Principles for Assessment Design

The following 12 principles are intended, to help guide and inform academic assessment design and encourage academic integrity. The principles are grouped into three categories, Institution Standards, Assessment Design and Student Ownership.

Institutional Standards

1. Set high academic integrity standards which value University, programme and student/graduate reputations.

7. Adopt a scaffolded and integrated assessment strategy across a programme, including multiple feedback points throughout the assessment process.

2. Provide detailed information and direction on how students might avoid breaches of academic integrity and ensure consistency across a programme team.

8. Consider assessment briefs that have open-ended solutions or more than one solution.

3. Regularly update and edit assessments and programme assessment strategies.

Student Ownership

9. Include elements for students to record their individual pathways of thinking, demonstrating students own work.

Assessment Design

4. Use clear marking criteria and rubrics to reward positive behaviours associated with academic integrity.

10. Develop assessments that allow students to prepare personalised assessments (either individually or group-based).

5. Design assessments that motivate and challenge students to do the work themselves (or in assigned groups/pairs).

11. Build in a form of questioning or presentation/viva-type defence component.

6. Ensure assessments are authentic, current, and relevant.

12. Co-design assessments or elements of assessments (e.g. rubric) with students.

The Table is adapted from 12 academic integrity principles, licensed by Dr. Fiona O’Riordan and Dr. Mark Glynn of DCU, TEU under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Further information about how to use the 12 principles for assessment design is available at: