Essay Tips & Plagiarism

Tips for Success as a First-Year Writer of University Essays

  • As soon as you have your essay topics, choose your topic and begin reading the relevant material.
  • Work out a rough outline and a tentative thesis at least a week or two before the due date, and consult with your teaching assistant and/or professor about your ideas. It doesn’t matter if the paper is only three pages long and you think you can write that much in a day. You may be on the wrong track entirely – leave yourself enough time to start again if you have to. Writing a successful university essay is harder than it looks!
  • Write a draft of your essay and then leave it for a few days. What looks like brilliance in the heat of the moment may look less spectacular when you have some distance from it. Complete and print out (or upload to the course site) your final draft is at least 24 hours before it is due. Professors are not sympathetic to complaints that a printer is broken or that a student can’t figure out how to submit the paper electronically (as is required in some courses).
  • If you have a medical or family emergency that makes it impossible for you to complete your essay by the deadline, visit the academic counsellor of your home faculty. They will let you know what documentation is required and when they have that documentation they will contact your professor about extending the deadline.
  • Think of becoming an excellent writer as a personal goal, rather than as something imposed on you by professors or programs. You have everything to gain by becoming effective writers capable of communicating ideas that are important to you. The university wants to help you achieve that goal: it is a key part of becoming a global citizen.
  • Never, ever cheat on an essay. If you’re caught plagiarizing in a university class, you are in BIG trouble.


Students must write their essays and assignments in their own words. Whenever students take an idea or passage from another author, they must acknowledge their debt both by using quotation marks where appropriate and by proper referencing such as footnotes or citations.

Plagiarism (the unacknowledged use of another person's work) is one of the most serious academic offences, since it involves fraud and misrepresentation. In plagiarizing, one is in effect claiming another person's words or ideas or data as one's own work, and thus misrepresenting material subject to academic evaluation. It is necessary, therefore, that plagiarism carry appropriate penalties. These are within the discretion of the Chair of Undergraduate Studies, but may include failure of a course or a grade of zero on an assignment, without the privilege of resubmitting it.

Students found guilty of a second serious offence will be expelled from Department of English courses. Further action may be taken by the Dean's Office.

Identify Sources

Students must acknowledge each printed or electronic source (including study guides such as Cole’s Notes, SparkNotes, and Internet materials) by author, title, date and place of publication, and page number if:
  1. they quote from it directly;
  2. they paraphrase its ideas;
  3. they are conscious of any influence its ideas may have had on their own work. 
Every source (including websites) that students have consulted (whether they refer to it directly or not) must be included in a bibliography (Works Cited). Some instructors may require that students provide copies of material downloaded from the Internet.

It is not always possible to identify the sources of inspiration of one's own ideas with total accuracy. A reasonable and conscientious effort is all that is required. However, it is entirely the student's responsibility to be aware of the nature of plagiarism. If students have any questions about plagiarism, they should ask their instructor. If students have any doubts about the documentation of their own essays, they should see the instructor before the essays are due. Information about correct forms of documentation may be found in the MLA HANDBOOK For Writers of Research Papers (New York: Modern Language Association, 2009), available in the Reference section at Weldon (LB 2369.M57).

Students found to have submitted the work of another person as their own work will automatically fail the course. Any students who know their own work has been used improperly have a responsibility to inform the Department of that fact; otherwise they will be considered collaborators.

Since honest students (by far the majority) are potentially affected by the actions of the dishonest few, some may choose to bring instances of plagiarism or other forms of cheating confidentially to the attention of the Chair of Undergraduate Studies.

See Academic Calendar for more details.

Plagiarism Checking

All required papers may be subject to submission for textual similarity review to the commercial plagiarism detection software under license to the University for the detection of plagiarism. All papers submitted for such checking will be included as source documents in the reference database for the purpose of detecting plagiarism of papers subsequently submitted to the system. Use of the service is subject to the licensing agreement, currently between The University of Western Ontario and