The idea of going to uni can be pretty scary for a number of reasons. It’s a new place, there’s a tonne of fresh faces and a whole queue of terrifying assignments.

There’s a whole lot more independent learning at uni than in high school, your tutors aren’t like your high school teachers and the whole assignment submission process is completely different.

It seems pretty simple: don’t plagiarise. But things get complicated when you need to reference and cite other people’s work and chucking a bibliography at the end of an assignment just isn’t going to cut it at uni.

The consequences of plagiarism can vary- a fail, academic suspension or in worst cases, being kicked out of your course. Which is why it’s worth getting your head around referencing as soon as possible.


1. Never copy word for word

This is plagiarism in its most basic form and you know not to do this from high school. If you go and rip a paragraph out of your mate’s essay from last year, or even from one of your own past papers, your uni will know. Software like Turnitin is literally designed to catch you doing this and it will compare your essay to every other assignment ever uploaded into the system.

While Turnitin’s similarity scores can be the stuff of nightmares, if it’s pretty low you’ve got nothing to worry about. Just keep in mind that there’s no cheating the system; just because you’ve taken a cheeky paragraph from your big sisters essay from three years ago, doesn’t mean the program won’t notice.

Even when you’re working off your own past papers, rephrase your arguments and key points- technically you should even be referencing yourself when reusing ideas.

2. Use quotation marks (but not for everything)

A couple of quotation marks will save you from figuring out how to rephrase the perfect quote as well as keeping you off the plagiarism radar but try not to pack your entire essay with them.

Direct quotes should be used sparingly and the bulk of your references should come after you’ve paraphrased the main ideas, then offered your own analysis.

Keep in mind that quotation marks won’t bring down your similarity rating. However, it will make it obvious to your marker that you’re aware you’re using someone else’s words and have correctly attributed them.

3. Do your own analysis

Like I said above, your work should never be a wall of quotes. Your assignment won’t have the analysis the markers are looking for because you’ll be wasting your word count on things other people have said, plus, you need to show that you really understand the point they’re trying to make.

4. Reference anything that isn’t yours

While quotations are important for referencing in an assignment, they’re only half the battle. In-text referencing will tell your marker exactly who, where and when you got the information and/or quotes from.

This goes for everything including the textbook notes, images and slides your lecturers have made throughout the semester. If you’re confused, particularly when it comes to lecture notes that have been given to you, just ask. Email your lecturer and ask how to reference them correctly.

The effort it’ll take to send a quick email and get it right the first time will save you a lot of trouble down the track if you get done for plagiarism.

5. Look at your faculty specific guidelines

No two universities are the same when it comes to referencing formats. And, to make it even more confusing, different faculties will use different styles (shit for any of us who are doing double degrees, or units from all over the uni). Some faculties will prefer Harvard, others APA. Don’t assume to know which without referring back to your course guides, marking rubric or asking a tutor or lecturer.

Incorrect referencing is a major source of accidental plagiarism plus it’ll lose you easy marks even if you have an essay that’s worthy of a HD.

Above all else, if you take one piece of advice from this article let it be this:

Don’t leave your referencing to the last minute.

It will always take longer than you think and will be more painful than any other part of your assignment. Do it as you go rather than one massive chunk at the end. You’ll thank me later.

by Kaitlyn Hudson-O'Farrell