What is considered plagiarism and which consequences may result from submitting plagiarised work is not always clear to students. The University of Oxford has an excellent page on plagiarism, but since the regulations at Ulm University are slightly different and in order to provide examples closer to the (computer) science, the following provides an adaptation of the web page of the University of Oxford to the situation at Ulm University. 

Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition. Plagiarism may be intentional or reckless, or unintentional. Under the regulations for examinations, plagiarism leads to failing the exam or, in repeated cases, to loosing the right to take examinations.

The necessity to acknowledge others’ work or ideas applies not only to text, but also to other media, such as code, illustrations, graphs etc. It applies equally to published text and data drawn from books and journals, and to unpublished text and data, whether from lectures, theses or other students’ essays. You must also attribute text, data, source code, or other resources downloaded from websites and even code that is published as open source cannot be incorporated without a reference. Note that, in particular for exercise submissions, you are often expected to submit your own, original work. If you submit copied code or other resources, you might receive 0 marks even if you acknowledge the source. 

The best way of avoiding plagiarism is to learn and employ the principles of good academic practice from the beginning of your university career. Avoiding plagiarism is not simply a matter of making sure your references are all correct, or changing enough words so the examiner will not notice your paraphrase; it is about deploying your academic skills to make your work as good as it can be.

Aspects of Plagiarism

Verbatim (word for word) quotation without clear acknowledgement
Quotations must always be identified as such by the use of either quotation marks or indentation, and with full referencing of the sources cited. It must always be apparent to the reader which parts are your own independent work and where you have drawn on someone else’s ideas and language.

Cutting and pasting from the Internet without clear acknowledgement
Information derived from the Internet must be adequately referenced and included in the bibliography. It is important to evaluate carefully all material found on the Internet, as it is less likely to have been through the same process of scholarly peer review as published sources.

Paraphrasing the work of others by altering a few words and changing their order, or by closely following the structure of their argument, is plagiarism if you do not give due acknowledgement to the author whose work you are using.

A passing reference to the original author in your own text may not be enough; you must ensure that you do not create the misleading impression that the paraphrased wording or the sequence of ideas are entirely your own. It is better to write a brief summary of the author’s overall argument in your own words, indicating that you are doing so, than to paraphrase particular sections of his or her writing. This will ensure you have a genuine grasp of the argument and will avoid the difficulty of paraphrasing without plagiarising. You must also properly attribute all material you derive from lectures.

This can involve unauthorised collaboration between students, failure to attribute assistance received, or failure to follow precisely regulations on group work projects. It is your responsibility to ensure that you are entirely clear about the extent of collaboration permitted, and which parts of the work must be your own.

Inaccurate citation
It is important to cite correctly, according to the conventions of your discipline. As well as listing your sources (i.e. in a bibliography), you must indicate, using an in-text reference (or a footnote, depending on the discipline), where a quoted passage comes from. Additionally, you should not include anything in your references or bibliography that you have not actually consulted. If you cannot gain access to a primary source you must make it clear in your citation that your knowledge of the work has been derived from a secondary text (for example, McDermott, D. "A temporal logic for reasoning about processes and plans", discussed in Alan, J. F., "Maintaining Knowledge about Temporal Intervals", Communications of the ACM 26(11): 832–843, 1983).

Failure to acknowledge assistance
You must clearly acknowledge all assistance which has contributed to the production of your work, such as advice from fellow students, laboratory technicians, and other external sources. This need not apply to the assistance provided by your tutor or supervisor, or to ordinary proofreading, but it is necessary to acknowledge other guidance which leads to substantive changes of content or approach.

Use of material written by professional agencies or other persons
You should neither make use of professional agencies in the production of your work nor submit material which has been written for you even with the consent of the person who has written it. It is vital to your intellectual training and development that you should undertake the research process unaided.

You must not submit work for assessment that you have already submitted (partially or in full), either for your current course or for another qualification of this, or any other, university, unless this is specifically provided for in the special regulations for your course. Where earlier work by you is citable, ie. it has already been published, you must reference it clearly. Identical pieces of work submitted concurrently will also be considered to be auto-plagiarism.

Plagiarism is a breach of academic integrity. It is a principle of intellectual honesty that all members of the academic community should acknowledge their debt to the originators of the ideas, words, and data which form the basis for their own work. Passing off another’s work as your own is not only poor scholarship, but also means that you have failed to complete the learning process. Plagiarism is unethical and can have serious consequences for your future career; it also undermines the standards of your institution and of the degrees it issues.

There are many reasons to avoid plagiarism. You have come to university to learn how to think clearly, not merely to reproduce others - at least not without attribution. At first it is a real challenge to precisely formulate an algorithm and you will probably find yourself looking for solutions developed by others. However, it is important that you learn to assess critically the work of others and to practise structured thinking, which is essential for developing algorithms. Students who plagiarise undermine the ethos of academic scholarship while avoiding an essential part of the learning process.

You should avoid plagiarism because you aspire to produce work of the highest quality. Once you have grasped the concept of plagiarism and the principles of source use and citation, you should find it relatively straightforward to steer clear of plagiarism. Moreover, you will reap the additional benefits of improvements to the lucidity and quality of your writing and to your programming. It is important to appreciate that mastery of the techniques of academic writing is not merely a practical skill, but one that lends both credibility and authority to your work, and demonstrates your commitment to the principle of intellectual honesty in scholarship.

The University regards plagiarism as a serious matter. Cases will be investigated and penalties may range from deduction of marks to expulsion from the university, depending on the seriousness of the occurrence. Even if plagiarism is inadvertent, it can well result in a penalty. 

The regulations regarding conduct in examinations apply equally to the ‘submission and assessment of a thesis, dissertation, essay, or other coursework not undertaken in formal examination conditions but which counts towards or constitutes the work for a degree or other academic award’. Intentional plagiarism means that you understood that you were breaching the regulations and did so intending to gain advantage in the examination. Reckless plagiarism means that you understood or could be expected to have understood (even if you did not specifically consider it) that your work might breach the regulations, but you took no action to avoid doing so. Intentional, reckless or repeated plagiarism may incur severe penalties, including (retrospective) failure of your degree or the loss of the right to take examinations.

If plagiarism is suspected in a piece of work submitted for assessment, the matter will first be examined by the examiner who can determine that you fail the exam. If repeated plagiarism is suspected, your case is referred to the subject-specific examination board. The board will thoroughly investigate the claim and call the student and potential suspects (co-workers) concerned for interview. You may ask another member of the university (e.g. a fellow student) to accompany you into the interview. If, at this point, there is no evidence of a breach of the regulations, no further action will be taken although there may still be an academic penalty. However, if the board deems your case to be severe, actions might be taken that go as far as declaring that you loose the right to take examinations (which means you can no longer continue your studies here or at another German university for a degree that is deemed related to the degree coursse for which you lost the right to tke examinations). 

On the contrary, in particular in seminars or in your final thesis, it is vital that you situate your writing within the intellectual debates of your discipline. Academic essays almost always involve the use and discussion of material written by others, and, with due acknowledgement and proper referencing, this is clearly distinguishable from plagiarism. The knowledge in your discipline has developed cumulatively as a result of years of research, innovation and debate. You need to give credit to the authors of the ideas and observations you cite. Not only does this accord recognition to their work, it also helps you to strengthen your argument by making clear the basis on which you make it. Moreover, good citation practice gives your reader the opportunity to follow up your references, or check the validity of your interpretation.

You may feel that including the citation for every point you make will interrupt the flow of your essay and make it look very unoriginal. At least initially, this may sometimes be inevitable. However, by employing good citation practice from the start, you will learn to avoid errors such as close paraphrasing or inadequately referenced quotation. It is important to understand the reasons behind the need for transparency of source use.

All academic texts, even student essays, are multi-voiced, which means they are filled with references to other texts. Rather than attempting to synthesise these voices into one narrative account, you should make it clear whose interpretation or argument you are employing at any one time - whose ‘voice’ is speaking.

If you are substantially indebted to a particular argument in the formulation of your own, you should make this clear both in footnotes/references and in the body of your text according to the agreed conventions of the discipline, before going on to describe how your own views develop or diverge from this influence.

On the other hand, it is not necessary to give references for facts that are common knowledge in your discipline. If you are unsure as to whether something is considered to be common knowledge or not, it is safer to cite it anyway and seek clarification. You do need to document facts that are not generally known and ideas that are interpretations of facts. 

Although plagiarism in home work or exercise submissions is not plagiarism in an exam and, as such, this is not covered by the general exam regulations, it may well lead to disciplinary measures. Even in seminar work or other exercise submissions, it is necessary to acknowledge your sources. Many lecturers will ask that you do employ a formal citation style early on, and you will find that this is good preparation for later project and dissertation work. In any case, your work will benefit considerably if you adopt good scholarly habits from the start, together with the techniques of critical thinking and writing described above.

As junior members of the academic community, students need to learn how to read academic literature and how to write in a style appropriate to their discipline. This does not mean that you must become masters of jargon and obfuscation; however the process is akin to learning a new language. It is necessary not only to learn new terminology, but the practical study skills and other techniques which will help you to learn effectively.

Developing these skills throughout your time at university will not only help you to produce better coursework, dissertations, projects and exam papers, but will lay the intellectual foundations for your future career. Even if you have no intention of becoming an academic, being able to exercise critical judgement, analyse proofs, think and write clearly are skills that will serve you for life, and which any employer will value.

Borrowing essays or exercise solutions from other students or from solutions given in previous terms to adapt and submit as your own is plagiarism, and will develop none of these necessary skills, holding back your academic development. Students who lend their work for this purpose are doing their peers no favours.

Not all cases of plagiarism arise from a deliberate intention to cheat. Sometimes students may omit to take down citation details when taking notes, or they may be genuinely ignorant of referencing conventions. However, these excuses offer no sure protection against a charge of plagiarism. Even in cases where the plagiarism is found to have been neither intentional nor reckless, there may still be an academic penalty for poor practice.

It is your responsibility to find out the prevailing referencing conventions in your discipline, to take adequate notes, and to avoid close paraphrasing. If you are offered induction sessions on plagiarism and study skills, you should attend. These will help you learn how to avoid common errors. If you are undertaking a project or dissertation you should ensure that you have information on plagiarism and collusion. If ever in doubt about referencing, paraphrasing or plagiarism, you have only to ask your tutor or lecturer.

The following examples demonstrate some of the common pitfalls to avoid. The example is taken from Allen's seminal paper "Maintaining Knowledge about Temporal Intervals" [1]:

Source Text: "Most of the work in philosophy, and both the situation calculus and the work by McDermott, are essentially point-based theories. Time intervals can be constructed out of points, but points are the foundation of the reasoning system. This approach will be challenged in the upcoming section."

[1] Alan, J. F., "Maintaining Knowledge about Temporal Intervals", Communications of the ACM 26(11): 832–843, 1983

Note that source text does not give full references for the work in philosophy, the situation calculus and the work of McDermott. This is ok since Allen writes "The work in philosophy is excellently summarized in a textbook by Rescher and Urquhart [16]. Notable formal models in artificial intelligence include the situation calculus [14], which motivates much of the state space based work in problem solving, and the more recent work by McDermott [15]." shortly before the quote we use here. In general, you should give the reference in full the first time you use it; thereafter it is acceptable to use an abbreviated version. 

We use a plain numbered citation style, but note that citations styles might differ between disciplines. 


  1. Many of the approaches in philosophy, and both the situation calculus and the work by McDermott, are essentially point-based theories. Time intervals can be constructed from time points, but time points are the foundation of the reasoning system. 
    Explanation: These are phrases copied verbatim from the source, with just a few words changed here and there. There is no reference to the original author and no indication that these words are not the writer’s own. 
  2. Most of the work in philosophy, and both the situation calculus and the work by McDermott, are essentially point-based theories. Allen [1] challenges this approach and introduces a time interval-based temporal representation. 
    Explanation: This is a mixture of verbatim copying and acceptable paraphrase. Although only one phrase has been copied from the source, this would still count as plagiarism. The summarization of (previous) work is taken verbatim from Allen's paper and has not been attributed at all. The second sentence correctly attributes Allen.
  3. Allen [1] argues that "most of the work in philosophy, and both the situation calculus and the work by McDermott, are essentially point-based theories. " Time intervals can be constructed out of points, but points are the foundation of the reasoning system. 
    Explanation: This contains a mixture of attributed (first sentence) and unattributed (second sentence) quotation, which suggests to the reader that the second sentence is original to this writer. All quoted material must be enclosed in quotation marks and adequately referenced.
  4. Most of the work in philosophy, and both the situation calculus and the work by McDermott, are "essentially point-based theories" [1]. Allen challenges such point-based theories with his interval-based time representation. 
    Explanation: Although the important point of previous systems being point-based theories is placed within quotation marks and correctly referenced, and the original author is referred to in the text, there has been a great deal of unacknowledged borrowing, which should have been put into the writer’s own words instead.
  5. Many of the approaches for representing time in philosophy and other approaches, e.g., the situation calculus and the work by McDermott, are theories based on time points. While time intervals can be constructed from time points, time points remain the basis of the reasoning system. Allen [1] challenges this approach.
    Explanation: This may seem acceptable on a superficial level, but by imitating exactly the structure of the original passage and using synonyms for many words, the writer has paraphrased too closely. The reference to the original author does not make it clear how extensive the borrowing has been. Instead, the writer should try to express the situation in his or her own words, rather than relying on a ‘translation’ of the original.


  1. Allen proposes an interval-based theory for representing time [1] based on his observation that previous works are essentially point-based theories. While time intervals can be expressed in terms of time points, Allen notes that the systems used for reasoning over time are based on the use of time points only. 
    Explanation: This paraphrase of the passage is acceptable as the wording does not follow the original too closely and the source of the ideas under discussion has been properly attributed.
  2. Allen [1] argues that previous work on representing time is mainly based on time points and he proposes an alternative interval-based time representation.
    Explanation: This is a brief summary of the argument with appropriate attribution.