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Plagiarism: Facing the truth

How to avoid committing plagiarism.

The practice of plagiarism - or presenting someone else’s material as your own - is illegal. The ICE’s Code of Conduct states that members must not be guilty of any form of plagiarism, must not collude with any form of plagiarism and they must exercise reasonable care in relation to evidence of any form of plagiarism.

In a recent decision by the ICE disciplinary board, a graduate member was found guilty of plagiarism in his professional review submission as a result of presenting another’s work as his own. This has resulted in his membership being suspended for a year which no doubt will have an impact on his career prospects. This case reflects a growing number of cases that we are seeing before the Professional Conduct Panel, where candidates are not recognising the proper procedures.

So what must we all do? Ignorance is no defence, so whether you fail to reference material through a lack of diligence, or through wilful illegal practice, makes no difference. And it is worth remembering that these rules apply to all of us in all the work that we do, not just graduates going through professional review.

There is guidance on offer from a variety of sources. All good academic courses commence with advising their students on how to reference source material properly, along with reminding them of the seriousness of failing to do so, given this is considered an act of theft.

The Oxford University offers a definition on its website. It says: “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 All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition.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, intentional or reckless plagiarism is a disciplinary offence.”

ICE’s Code of Conduct sets out a very similar definition, and provides examples of where plagiarism may occur in our industry - such as reports and publications of any kind including articles and books; and course work or answers in examination papers submitted for academic or professional qualifications. This will include the use of “model” reports, and “model” answers to examination questions, where text is copied and used verbatim or with minor alteration.

In some circumstances, plagiarism might constitute criminal deception, thus rendering the guilty person liable to prosecution and a criminal conviction, and, in the case of published works, civil action for damages where copyright law has been breached.

The ICE’s Professional Review Guidance also gives advice on how to avoid it. So be diligent, follow the rules for referencing sources properly and if in doubt seek further help on how to avoid it. Further advice and guidance is planned for publication in the Civil Engineering Journal.

Read Professional Review guidance here

The ICE Code of Conduct is here

University of Oxford academic good practice is here


  • Sally Sudworth is on the ICE professional conduct panel

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