Cheating and plagiarism

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Supervision and responsibility for cheating

An essential part of the supervision of academic writing and theses is instructing the student in the responsible conduct of research and academic ethics. As students practise their academic writing skills, they learn to use sources and references appropriately and in accordance with the discipline’s common practices. This is a good time to remind students of what constitutes cheating and plagiarism. It is especially important to instruct multicultural student groups that may consist of students with varying levels of knowledge and experience of fraudulent conduct in studies and thesis work. 

The Ouriginal plagiarism detection system offers a good teaching and instruction tool when you want to demonstrate the clarity of citation practices and plagiarism. You can also use Ouriginal as a tool for assessing students’ essays and essay question answers in Moodle and otherwise. 

The students are responsible for any major decisions they make concerning their work, as well as any fraudulent activities. Thus, even if the teacher has not specifically instructed the student to use the right citation style or explained cheating and plagiarism during their course, the student is still responsible for any cheating in their work.


What are cheating and plagiarism?

The responsible conduct of research and good academic practice are essential requirements in all university studies. Credits must be earned honestly, with the student accurately demonstrating their knowledge. All types of cheating and plagiarism are forbidden.

Cheating refers to dishonest conduct that goes against the responsible conduct of research and good academic practice. A person who engages in cheating acts contrary to the generally accepted scientific and academic practices either intentionally, for the purpose of deception or through negligence (due to ignorance or indifference).

Plagiarism refers to the unauthorised use of someone else’s work (text, chart, software code, picture, etc.) as your own. In addition to the unauthorised use of someone else’s work and presenting it as your own, plagiarism can also take the form of self-plagiarism.

Cheating includes, among other things, the following types of conduct:

• Fabrication (presenting fabricated observations or facts).
• Misrepresentation (intentionally altering or presenting original findings or information in a distorted way).
• Stealing (unauthorised presentation of a confidentially presented original idea, plan or observation as one’s own).
• Cheating in examinations (using forbidden methods or study aids in a context such as an examination, or attempting to do so).
• Falsifying attendance records (giving a false representation of one’s own attendance, or another person’s attendance, in a course).
• Forbidden cooperation (e.g. jointly completing an assignment intended as an independent exercise or using a “ghost writer”).
• Plagiarism (presenting someone else’s work, or part thereof, as your own).

Plagiarism includes, among other things, the following types of conduct:

  • Using someone else’s text as one’s own by omitting the author entirely.
  • Using someone else’s text as one’s own by making minor changes to the text (also known as “servile imitation”, for example, by changing a few words or slightly altering the word order).
  • Exact quotations that include the source information but no indication that the text is a direct quotation rather than a reference (the “copy-paste” method).
  • Using an insignificantly altered text with source information (the “copy-paste” method combined with “servile imitation”).
  • Self-plagiarism, or presenting one’s own prior work as a new work for another assignment without indicating that the work in question has already been submitted elsewhere.

Source: Walker, J. (2010) Measuring plagiarism: researching what students do, not what they say they do, Studies in Higher Education, 35:1, 41-59.

Please note that ideas and practices concerning plagiarism and the sharing of information may vary from culture to culture. You cannot assume that all foreign students in Finland share our idea of citations and the use of sources. It is necessary to have a discussion of what is understood by plagiarism at the University of Helsinki and what kind of academic writing is the expected in the studies. Language-related problems may cause plagiarism or comparable expressions if the student’s language skills or faith in their own writing are not sufficient to support autonomous processing and writing.

Detecting plagiarism

The University of Helsinki uses the Ouriginal plagiarism detection system. Ouriginal is used as a tool to determine whether texts are original. Teachers may also use Ouriginal as a tool in their teaching and supervisory work. All theses go through an Ouriginal check, but it is also recommended for checking other texts, such as seminar papers and essays. Instructions for using Ouriginal can be found on Instructions for Teaching.

How the plagiarism detection system works:

Digital documents can be submitted to Ouriginal in the following ways:

Once the document has been received by Ouriginal, the originality of the text will be compared to the following sources in the system:

  • the open Internet 
  • publication databases
  • documents saved in Ouriginals database

The Ouriginals report itself is not sufficient proof of plagiarism; instead, detecting plagiarism requires checking the references and citation technique used in the text.


What should you do if you suspect a student of cheating?

Below, we have briefly listed instructions for a situation where you are already suspicious of a student for cheating in their exam or writing task. You need to address the cheating. It is important that any suspicion of cheating at the university is processed equally and through an appropriate procedure that takes the student’s legal protection into account. 

• Assess the situation and ask the student to explain the matter.
• If the discussion clears up the suspicion and the student has simply acted carelessly or ignorantly without any intention of cheating, you should advise the student on the correct practices and take any deficiencies in the student’s work into account in grading.

• If the suspicion is not cleared up, report it to the director of the degree programme or the education planning officer, who will request a statement from the student and arrange a hearing.
• The student is allowed to bring a support person, such as a fellow member of the Student Union, to the hearing. Minutes will be taken at the hearing. Persons present at the hearing include the student and their support person, if any, the teacher who has submitted the suspicion, the director of the degree programme and an employee of the University Services.
• If the student admits to cheating or the suspicion is otherwise substantiated, the student receives a failing grade for the course. It is up to the teacher to decide if the student should fail.
• The minutes of the hearing are forwarded to the Dean. If the Dean feels that the matter should be clarified further, they may arrange another hearing. 
The Dean may, using their discretion, refer the matter to the Rector.
• The Rector may, using their discretion, issue a warning or refer the matter to the Board.
• In serious cases or in the case of recurring misconduct in spite of a warning, the Board may suspend the student for a fixed period of time (at most one year).

The plagiarism detection systems is a tool for detecting cheating and plagiarism. The system is based on detecting similarities between texts. However, even a high correspondence percentage detected by Ouriginal does not necessarily mean that the student is cheating as a case-by-case academic evaluation is always required for the assessment and investigation of plagiarism. 

Further information and support for difficult situations

For instructing the student:

For detecting plagiarism or trying to prevent it:

  1.      Hyytinen, H., Löfström, E., & Lindblom-Ylänne, S. (2016). Beginning students’ problems in academic writing. Scandinavian Journal of Education.
  2.      Shephard, K., Trotman, T., Furnari, M. & Löfström, E. (2015). Teaching research integrity in higher education: policy and strategy. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, DOI: 10.1080/1360080X.2015.1102823
  3.      Löfström, E. & Kupila, P. (2013) The Instructional challenges of Student Plagiarism. Journal of Academic Ethics, 11(3), 231-242. DOI:10.1007/s10805-013-9181
  4.      Löfström, E. & Kupila, P. (2012). Plagioinnin syyt ja yliopisto-opetuksen keinot puuttua niihin. Yliopistopedagogiikka, 19(1).
  5.      Löfström, E., (2011) “Does plagiarism mean anything? LOL” Students’ conceptions of writing and citing. Journal of Academic Ethics, 9, 257-275.
  6.      Löfström, E. & Kupila, P. (2011). Plagiaatintunnistamisjärjestelmä oppimisen ohjaamisen välineenä? Pedaforum Yliopistopedagoginen aikakausjulkaisu, 18(2), 17-20.

Do you need support? Contact:

The use of the plagiarism detection system (user information, the use of Urkund)

Legal matters, clarifying a suspicion of plagiarism: the education planning officer and director of your degree programme, and, if necessary, the university’s legal services at


Read the Urkund user instructions



See also the Instructions for Students

You will find related content for students on the Instructions for Students Service.