Maintaining ACADEMIC Integrity


Universities are knowledge producers. Cheating, in its various manifestations, damages the integrity of the knowledge produced and destroys the reputation of students, professors, and the university. Academic integrity isconcerned with moral and ethical issues,  including  respecting  other’s  dignity, rights, and property. Violations can include cheating on exams, falsifying documents, and unauthorized collaboration. This chapter dealsspecifically with plagiarism as it applies to thesis writing. Most universities focus their efforts on educating about and preventing plagiarism at the undergraduate level, as the majority of academic misconduct casesinvolve undergraduate students. Professors assume graduate students have learned how to properly cite as undergraduates. Their syllabi warn of the consequences of plagiarism, but rarely do they discuss what the misconduct entails. This article draws on academic literature concerning plagiarism and my experience as a code administrator1 to help students avoid committing academic misconduct when writing a thesis. Last, I offeradvice on how to deal with a plagiarism charge.

At the most basic level, plagiarism is defined as claiming knowledge that is not one’s own. It can be lifted be from another student’s work or from a published source. It can also refer to images, formulae, music, and other forms (Sutherland-Smith, 2005). “Self-plagiarism,” occurs when students submit the same paper or work for two courses without their instructors’ permission. This is also called “multiple submission.”

Plagiarism can be deliberate or unintentional, but most university codes of conduct treat all offences as deliberate. It is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between the deceptive and the desperate. Most codeadministrators report that they cannot ascertain whether students intended to cheat or if they are guilty of sloppy paraphrasing or have poor referencing skills (Pecorari, 2003; Sutherland-Smith, 2005). Students are responsible for knowing and abiding by citation rules, and pleading ignorance will not make an offence disappear.

Intentional plagiarism is akin to premeditated murder, in that it is deliberate and planned (Park, 2003). At its worst, it involves buying a paper from    an Internet source or from another student, or hiring a ghostwriter to write a customized paper. Some ghostwriters use dated print sources to avoid being caught by online detection software. Professors know students use online sources and are suspect of a paper with many older references. Plagiarism can also involve copying a passage verbatim from another source without crediting the author. Unintentional plagiarism, on the other hand, might mean a student forgot to cite a paraphrased section of a paper or inadvertently   left the page number off a direct quotation. Intentional or not, a plagiarism charge carries the weight of a moral failing.

International students have a high risk of being charged with plagiarism, and the literature suggests they make up the up the greatest number of misconduct cases (Abasi & Graves, 2008; Gu & Brooks, 2008;  Park, 2003). Researchers offer conflicting perspectives on why this is the case. Hayes and Introna (2005), for example, suggest that Asian students hold different views of what academic writing entails and have high respect    for authority. Accordingly, these students state the author’s words and are reluctant to paraphrase or critique them. Gu and Brooks (2008) refute this claim, suggesting this is an overgeneralization and, in some cases, notbased on fact.

I believe international students get caught plagiarizing because it is easy to detect copying in their written work. Course instructors are alerted to the possibility of plagiarism when the submitted work displays an inconsistent writing style. The copied section differs in style and tone from the rest of the paper. Students, who normally write short, simple statements, arouse suspicion when they suddenly use compound sentences  with the correct use of colons and semicolons. Professors take note when the vocabulary and fluency of the written work is in sharp contrast with the student’s oral skills. At times, plagiarism is a result of poor time management. Students who study in languages different from their own must spend more time reading and writing than do their native speaking counterparts. However, graduate programs are competitive and international students are not given additional time to complete assignments. I also suspect that professors report international students more than others because they do not experience a bond with them. Often, these students are shy to participate in class because they have little confidence in their speaking skills, and they do not share a common popular culture with their professors. These students cannot discuss the professor’s favorite film during informal gatherings. Professors are less likely to take formal action against students with which they have a personal connection. The problem is acerbated in that some students are reluctant  to defend themselves against the charges, even when they are innocent. They may not know how to defend themselves, thinking that if they make excuses, it will make things worse.

Graduate students in sciences and technology programs are also at a    risk of plagiarizing. Unlike those in the humanities and social sciences, science and technology students cannot use direct quotations for technical writing (Eckel, 2010). For them, paraphrasing requires mastery of the original concept and the ability to synthesis it in one’s own words. Some students who have not mastered these skills use a writing strategy known as patchwriting (Howard, 1993). Like a patchwork quilt, a patchwritten text is made with existing bits and pieces taken from other sources stitched together to make a cohesive statement. Students may cut and paste a phrase, then use a thesaurus to find substitutes for key words. Howard et al. (2010) hold that these students do not intend to deceive, but rather their writing is indicative of a poor understanding of the language or the concepts it describes. These students mimic academic language but cannot synthesize the writing and ideas of others. They suggest that patchwriting is a strategy that students use until they find their own voice.


How Can Plagiarism Be Prevented?

The best way to avoid plagiarism is to be proactive. Nearly all universities have explicit, written policies on plagiarism and students are advised to become familiar with them before writing their first assignment. Manytimes, students are not aware of plagiarism rules, particularly when citing their own work. Not all undergraduate programs teach proper citation and some are quite lax in what they deem acceptable. Libraries often give workshops on citation practices at the beginning of each academic year. Although these workshops are geared toward undergraduates, they can serve as a refresher course for graduate students. Students should not take for granted that they know how to cite properly. When writing from sources, analyze rather than describe. After each point, ask, “How do I know this?” “Is this from personal experience, my own research, or did I read about it?”

Students may address the same topic in two or more courses. Students may wish to combine the courses to work on a large project rather than two that are smaller and unrelated. In this case, transparency is necessary toavoid multiple submission or self-plagiarism. Before turning in the same or similar work to two professors, discuss plans to do so with both. Offer to submit both papers to each professor, which allows them to see howmuch work was repeated or overlapped.

Be cautious when working with several digital documents, and avoid cutting and pasting among them (Hayes & Introna, 2005). In fact, never cut and paste into a document thinking you will paraphrase later. Some students attempt to keep track of these sections by using large font or highlighting them in color, but invariably forget them when they “select all” and change the font. Quoted passages are subsumed into the text and students forget to put quotation marks around the passage and cite it. Keep copies of drafts and be able to show the work. In art and design, be prepared to show sketches to demonstrate how found images were transformed.


What Happens If You Are Charged with Plagiarism?

Being charged with plagiarism is every student’s nightmare and the word alone can cause extreme anxiety. Typically, course instructors initiate the process when they submit evidence of misconduct, usually consisting of the student’s paper and a copy of the original source to the department chair or code administrator. If a formal charge is made, students are often notified by registered mail. The code administrator investigates the charge, and frequently calls the student in for an interview. The code administrator either upholds or dismisses the charge. If the charge is dismissed, all records are destroyed. The consequences of a guilty verdict can range in severity from  a letter of reprimand to expulsion. Students tend to fear the worst, but most first infractions do not result in expulsion. Students may be given a failing grade on the assignment or on the course, and a letter ofreprimand. The letter serves as a warning to the students and as a record. Should they commit a second offense, the consequence is more severe.

Student advocacy groups can support students through this stressful process. Although some students are too ashamed to let others know about the charge, those working in these programs are trained to help students prepare their defense. In some cases, a student advocate will accompany them to the interview. They can also tell students what not to do. Some actions, such as demanding to meet with the professor immediately, can makethings worse. If you are guilty, admit it. The code administrator may suggest ways to prevent another charge.

Plagiarism is often treated as a singular issue when it is, in fact, quite complex. Unintentional plagiarism is a symptom of a problem, but many treat it with retribution rather than rehabilitation. In most cases, theproblems are poor writing and time management skills. While I agree that only the student can know the intention, people do make mistakes. A plagiarism charge does not have to signal the end of one’s academic career.Students can learn from their mistakes and go on to be successful graduates, contributing to their field of study.


Blair, L. (2016). Writing a Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation. Springer.

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