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Plagiarism

Plagiarism covers everything from outright cheating to copying an image from the Internet and putting it in a report without acknowledging where it came from.

You must not copy the work of another student, or from books or other sources such as the Internet, without proper acknowledgement. At registration, you signed the University regulations in which you undertook not to engage in any form of plagiarism. The definition reads "plagiarism is the incorporation of material from other works without acknowledgement and with the intention of passing it off as your own". Each time you submit something using the online system, clicking on the "submit" button means you are agreeing to the statement above it that reads "I declare that this work is entirely my own, except as allowed by the Department handbook".

It is important to realise that this policy extends to all submitted work: it includes both assessed and unassessed components (for example lab exercises or components which are not included in the marking scheme), both written work (for example text and diagrams in reports and theses) and program source code. If you submit work, you are declaring that you did it unless otherwise stated. If you submit work containing material which violates this rule, the Department will pursue this as a serious matter.

Procedure

Before and during the marking process, the marker will use a number of tools to automatically compare submissions with each other (including submissions from previous years) and to content on the Internet. This provides them with a fast way to identify potential problems alongside the normal method of comparison by hand. These problem submissions are further inspected by the marker and members of the Departmental plagiarism panel to identify a final set of submissions where plagiarism of some form seems likely to have occurred. Marks are then released as normal (i.e. ignoring cases of plagiarism) but are provisional and could be altered depending on the outcome of further investigation.

The marker (who may or may not be the Lecturer who set the assignment) does not deal with this investigation themselves. The student who submitted the work will be required to attend an interview with the Head of Exam Board for their degree programme or an appointed delegate; for Computer Science programmes this would normally be the Head of Department or members of the Departmental plagiarism panel. For students from another Department, the case may be passed wholesale to the home Department or the interview conducted within Computer Science with a member of the home Department present. The student may, if they wish, bring someone to the interview for moral support, for example a friend or personal tutor. The goal of the interview is to give the student a fair chance to explain the situation from their point of view. During the interview the submission will be discussed with the goal of determining whether the allegations are founded and, if so, answering questions such as how the situation occurred and who else might be involved. The ideal outcome of the interview is a clear explanation from which the Head of Exam Board makes a decision about whether a disciplinary offence has been committed. Where a clear explanation is not forthcoming, a further interview my be necessary.

You should be aware that any statements you make may be used against you later, and that if you are found to have misled staff a charge of misconduct may result. (See section 2.3 f of http://www.bristol.ac.uk/secretary/studentrulesregs/disciplinary.html which indicates 'fraud, deceit, deception or dishonesty in relation to the University or its staff' constitutes misconduct.) This would be separate from a charge of plagiarism and is itself a very serious offence.

Where the Head of Exam Board decides an offence has been committed, the penalty is decided by the offence type and severity. With a first offence, the case is dealt with inside the Department using the appropriate penalty. With a second offence, or if the offence is deemed to be too serious to deal within the Department, the case will normally be referred to the University Registrar and dealt with as described under Paragraph 4.4 of the University Exam Regulations (which can be found online at http://www.bris.ac.uk/secretary/studentrulesregs/examregs.html). The consequences of this can be very serious and may, for example, result in you being suspended from the University.

The student will receive confirmation of any decision via an official letter (and potentially via e-mail if this is suitable in a given situation). If the student does not agree with the outcome of the interview, they can appeal the decision in the first instance to the Head of Exam Board. The decision will be kept on file, although it will not appear explicitly on a transcript for example.

Forms of Plagiarism and Penalties

Unauthorised Group Work

Engaging in work where more than one person contributes to the end result is group work. Some assignments demand this form of working practise; a group project is a prime example. However, individual assignments demand that the work is done individually; group work is not allowed. Of course, we encourage you to discuss ideas with each other, to help each other, and to study together: this is considered a vital part of the learning process. However, if the work submitted contains material that was not developed by you alone, it must be acknowledged. For example, when discussion leads to more concrete help, for example in the form of source code changing hands, the boundary into group work has been crossed.

In either case, the correct way to deal with the situation is to clearly declare which members of the group contributed which parts of the work; this is the only way the marker can fairly apportion marks. If you do not make this form of declaration, the work is deemed unauthorised group work and your mark will potentially be reduced to zero.

Passing Work

Although, as stated above, we encourage you to discuss ideas with each other this becomes a problem when physical work is passed between students. Examples of this include exchange of program source code (or fragments thereof) via e-mail or instant messaging, or allowing access to work hosted on your personal file store (i.e. within your home directory).

When a fellow student asks for your help, passing them your work to look over might seem like a sensible thing to do. However, our experience is that it seldom helps their understanding in the long term and often leads to cases of plagiarism: it is simply too tempting for someone who is already struggling to base their work too heavily on your own, or even copy it outright, rather than understand and re-write it from scratch. As a rule of thumb, you should not help another student any more than a lab demonstrator would. Demonstrators are not there to solve problems or write code for students; they are there to explain concepts. Once someone understands the concepts they can solve the problem themselves.

Not only do students not learn much when they are passed work, it can disguise the fact they are having problems and make it harder for staff to help them. Dealing with such cases also creates more work for staff. So, although passing work to fellow students is a less serious offence than an outright act of plagiarism, it is still an offence under the University regulations. The potential penalty is an official warning, which may not affect your mark but does constitute a first offence as detailed above.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is clearly defined as the intentional submission of work which was not done by a student, with the aim of passing it off as their own work. There are several routes by which this can occur: for example lack of citation of resources taken from the Internet is plagiarism but is somewhat less serious an offence than stealing work from a fellow student and submitting it as your own. Note that having someone from outside the University do the work for you on a paid or unpaid basis and submitting the work as your own is plagiarism. This means that using web-sites such as rentacoder, or companies who will write essays for you, or friends from another University is not allowed. You may also be tempted to obtain work from someone else to get ideas for your own solution. However, if this work meets any of the requirements of your assignment, and you do not clearly indicate that you have used it to get ideas, this is also plagiarism. Also note that slides or material given to you by a Lecturer are a resource like any other: if you use them in your own work, and usually it is allowed to do so, you should make it clear that the material came from somewhere else and was not written by you.

Where two submissions are very similar, the explanation that this happened "by coincidence" is not acceptable. Although there is a grey area with regard to short fragments of work it is highly unlikely that two people tasked with solving the same problem will produce exactly the same solution. Likewise, it is almost impossible to start with some work and edit it to produce new work which cannot be recognised as a modified copy of the original. Where the decision is that plagiarism has occurred, the mark will potentially be reduced to zero.

Avoiding Plagiarism

We recognise that students often find themselves under pressure from issues such as high workload, illness or personal problems. However, plagiarism is never a good way to resolve such problems. The aim of coursework assignments is to assess your capability and understanding. By plagiarising work, this assessment mechanism fails: it means you gain marks where you should not, which is unfair to your peers, and it masks the fact that you might need help.

In the first instance, a far better way to approach such problems would be to talk to someone such as your personal tutor (or MSc programme director), the Unit Director or Lecturer; they will be able to advise and help you. After this, it is important to realise that it is always better to submit incomplete work of your own than attempt to mask your problems via plagiarism. That is, by handing in incomplete work of your own you can be awarded partial marks (even if these are low) whereas plagiarised work is likely to incur a worse penalty such as zero marks.

If there is a single, golden rule to avoiding the accusation of plagiarism, it is to make a clear, unambiguous declaration of where work comes from.

Programming Work

If you were to clearly state "I received help from my friend X, he gave me the function Y which I included in my submission" then this will not be dealt with as plagiarism: the marker can simply deduct the impact of your not writing "function Y" from the mark. Likewise, the statement " the function Y was obtained from Wikipedia page Z" again makes it clear where the code came from and the marker can apportion marks accordingly. These sorts of statement are easily included in your code as comments (which are ideally located in close proximity to function Y for example), or as a clearly named external file, for example README.txt.

If you do not make this sort of declaration and our detection mechanism shows a match between your submission and another source, this is dealt with as a case of plagiarism, i.e. as if you copied the work from that source.

Written Work

In written work, the marker is primarily concerned with how well ideas and concepts are understood and articulated; such ideas and concepts could be novel (i.e. the work of the student) or from elsewhere (i.e. the work of someone else). Copying text from elsewhere without attribution is plagiarism; it is always better to explain write things in your own words, even if your own text contains spelling mistakes or poor grammar. The marker can cope with these features and award or deduct marks accordingly.

For example, this paragraph is part of a research paper:

XCS introduced a number of innovations, foremost among them its accuracy-based fitness under which rule fitness is related to its classification accuracy and not the magnitude of the reward it receives as in earlier systems. For lack of space we do not include the details of the XCS updates, but suffice it to say that XCS evaluates the prediction and fitness of each rule. Prediction is, for concept learning tasks such as those we study here, an estimate of the proportion of inputs matched by the rule which belong to the positive class. Prediction is used in conflict resolution, when matching rules perform a weighted vote on the classification of a data point. Accuracy is a measure of the consistency of prediction. Rules with prediction near the maximum or minimum value have high fitness. Higher fitness rules are allocated more reproductive opportunities by the genetic algorithm in XCS, and fitness is also factored into the classification vote.

You can refer to this research paper by adding an entry to the bibliography, for example:

[1] T. Kovacs and M. Kerber. High classification accuracy does not imply effective genetic search. To appear in the proceedings of GECCO 2004.

and then citing it within your own text:

XCS made many innovations, of which accuracy-based fitness was the most important [1]. With accuracy-based fitness, a rule's fitness is based on its classification accuracy, not on the magnitude of the reward. XCS evaluates the prediction and fitness of each rule in the system. For concept learning tasks, prediction is an estimate of the proportion of inputs matched by the rule which belong to the positive class.

Notice that although all of the above paragraph is based on the research paper, there is only one citation at the end of the first sentence. It is reasonable to assume that the rest of that paragraph is based on the same cited paper, since the whole paragraph is about the details of the same system.

If you want to cut-and-paste some exact text from the research paper, you should use quotation marks and cite it:

Kovacs and Kerber said: "XCS introduced a number of innovations, foremost among them its accuracy-based fitness under which rule fitness is related to its classification accuracy and not the magnitude of the reward it receives as in earlier systems" [1].

This makes it clear where the text came from. Without the quotation marks or the citation this is not clear and could be viewed as you having used the text without attribution and result in a case of plagiarism. However, even with the quotation marks and citation you should try to avoid using this sort of writing style since it demonstrates no understanding of the source material and would hence receive less marks.

The worst case is to write a paragraph such as:

XCS introduced a number of innovations, foremost among them its accuracy-based fitness under which rule fitness is related to its classification accuracy and not the magnitude of the reward. XCS evaluates the prediction and fitness of each rule. Prediction is an estimate of the proportion of inputs matched by the rule which belong to the positive class. Accuracy is a measure of the consistency of prediction. Higher fitness rules are allocated more reproductive opportunities by the genetic algorithm.

which is simply a shorter version of the paragraph in the original paper. Not only does this show no understanding of the source material, it is not even clear that the text has come from elsewhere since there is no reference or quotation marks. If you write reports by cutting-and-pasting parts of other work, this would result in a case of plagiarism and a potential zero mark.

Protecting Your Work

Your personal file store (i.e. your home directory) is hosted on a Unix filesystem, each file and directory on such a filesystem has a number of permissions associated with it. You can see these permissions if you use the ls -l command to list files in the current directory. For example, in this listing:

$ ls -l
-rw------- 1 page csstaff 0 Jun 19 17:24 .bash_history
-rw-r--r-- 1 page csstaff 1010 Jun 17 2005 .bashrc
drwxr-xr-x 53 page csstaff 1536 Jun 19 13:51 research/
drwx------ 12 page csstaff 512 Jun 20 08:55 teaching/

the characters to the left hand side show the permissions of two files and two directories; the directories have d as the first character whereas files have -. The next nine characters are grouped into three groups of three, the groups determine permissions for the file owner, the file group and the whole world. In this case the file owner is the user page and the file group is csstaff. The directory research has rwx as the first three permission characters; this means the directory is readable, writable and executable by the file owner. The next three permission characters are r-x which mean the directory is readable and executable by members of the group csstaff. The last three permission characters are also r-x which mean the directory is readable and executable by the whole world.

The implications for this are that if you do not explicitly set permissions on you files and directories, they could be readable by anyone who cares to look. In the context of plagiarism this is bad news: if someone else takes your work without your knowledge, this could implicate you in passing them work or in an actual case of plagiarism. You can protect yourself from this by pro-actively changing permissions to prevent other people reading your work. In your home directory there should already be a directory called private which is protected: saving work in here will prevent other people reading your work. For other files and directories you make yourself, you should use the chmod command to change their permissions so other people cannot read them.