School of
Information Technology and Electrical Engineering

Computer Coding

Sometimes students are uncertain about whether they have plagiarised while working on an assignment with friends. The Department of Computer Science at RMIT University has advice for students completing computer coding assignments, which have been adapted below for UQ students undertaking courses offered by the School of ITEE.

Are you guilty of plagiarism?

If you have not plagiarised, the honest answer to each of these questions is yes:

  • Has code I copied from elsewhere been fully acknowledged?
  • Did I write all the rest of the program myself?
  • Did I write the comments myself?
  • If asked, could I explain the solution to the lecturer?
  • Can I explain the purpose of every variable, declaration, function and loop?

If you have not plagiarised, the honest answer to each of these questions is no:

  • Has anyone, other than myself (or members of my team for a group work submission), made use of the same solution?
  • Did anyone, other than myself or members of my team, contribute to the design of the solution?
  • Did anyone give me a document to copy?
  • Have I taken some or all of somebody else’s code and simply recorded or renamed some expressions, changed some variables or rewritten some comments?
  • Did I read another solution to figure out what to do and not acknowledged or referenced the document?
  • Was any of this work copied from the web and not referenced?
Other Assignment Types

The questions above can equally be applied to text-based assignments including software design documentation, team project reports, practical solutions and multimedia productions.

Buying, accepting, borrowing or looking at an assignment from a past or current student (or from another source) and submitting it as your own can also be considered to be plagiarism if you:

  • Submit it as your own.
  • Use it a model for the structure and/or style of your own assignment.
  • Use it as a model for the content of your own assignment.
  • Copy it but make small changes (eg replacing a few verbs, replacing and adjective with a synonym).
  • Cutting and pasting one or more paragraphs by using sentences of the original but leaving out a small number and putting some sentences in a different order.
  • Taking verbal and/or written advice from another past or current student about what to include in an assignment is also considered behaviour that can lead to plagiarism.

The following is advice from Swinburne University of Technology and was published in an article by Marcia Devlin in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, Vol. 28, No. 1, March 2006, pp.45-48.

Discussion with friends

Some students being investigated for plagiarism claim that similarities between their submissions have arisen because of discussions about how to approach the assignment, rather than copying. This excuse is often used in an attempt to hide the true level of collaboration that has occurred. A decision-maker only has to find a greater than 50% probability that the similarities have occurred by something more than mere discussions or that those discussions have been too specific, to make a finding of misconduct. Students wishing to gamble with probability do so at their own risk.

Avoiding others copying from you

You can minimise the chances of being accused of misconduct by assisting another student to cheat by adhering to the following advice (adapted from Swinburne University of Technology’s guide for students in avoiding plagiarism and cheating, 2nd edition):

  • Never leave your individual work unattended on a computer – even for a short time to go to a printer in another room or to go to the bathroom. Close down the document or program on which you have been working and wipe from the machine any trace of your work or lock the terminal, if possible.
  • Never leave discs containing copies of your individual work unattended, even for a short time.
  • Never save your work to shared drives or set permissions for others to access your personal drive.
  • Never leave hard copies of your individual work unattended, even for a short time (eg on a printer, even if it is only a draft).
  • Do not lend your draft or completed individual report/assignment or work to another student, even briefly. Even though the due date might have passed, you do not know that the student wanting to see how you did the work has not been granted an extension.
  • Do not let other students look at your draft or completed individual report/assignment or work, even in your presence.

In the end, the best way to help a friend in need is to refer them to the Course Coordinator, the tutor or Student Support Services.