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The University Writing Center (UWrite): Academic Honesty

Academic honesty

AWARE Writing Centre: Academic Honesty

The most common form of academic dishonesty is called plagiarism. Below is a brief introduction to what is considered plagiarism, and what is not.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is a breach of academic integrity (honesty). It is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as:

  • "The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own."[1]

Plagiarism, therefore, is an act of academic dishonesty in which a student uses the ideas or work of others without acknowledgement (proper citation and referencing). The following definition, provided by the University of Cambridge, expands on this idea:

  • "Plagiarism is defined as submitting as one's own work, irrespective of intent to deceive, that which derives in part or in its entirety from the work of others without due acknowledgement. It is both poor scholarship and a breach of academic integrity."[2]

Intentional or unintentional

Plagiarism is often unintentional (not done knowingly): it is the result of a lack of knowledge on the subject of what constitutes plagiarism. However, whether it is intentional (done knowingly) or not, plagiarism is considered ‘intellectual theft’ and thus a disciplinary offence. It is for this reason that students must learn how to avoid plagiarism.

Why should you avoid it?

Plagiarism should be avoided for a number of reasons. First and foremost, repeated instances of plagiarism in your work will almost certainly lead to your expulsion from the program/ university. Secondly, your ability to critically engage with texts and assess theories in order to develop and justify your own views will be undermined. Thirdly, it will damage the trust relationship between you and your instructors/ professors. Finally, your unethical behavior can negatively impact not only you, but also the institution itself, and the quality of the degrees it issues.

What is not plagiarism?

It can be difficult for students, especially when they first enter university, to determine what needs to be cited/ referenced and what does not. If in any doubt, it is usually a good idea to include a citation.

You do not need to cite facts, dates, concepts and events that are considered ‘common knowledge’. For example, the fact that water boils at 100 degrees centigrade is commonly accepted and will not be disputed. Likewise, there is no need to cite the date of President Kennedy’s assassination and/ or the fact that the event itself occurred. However, the various (conspiracy) theories surrounding his death would need to be cited because they are disputed.  Facts that are not ‘common knowledge’ and ideas that are interpretations of facts require citations.

Within each academic discipline, there are terms and concepts that are considered ‘common knowledge’. These could include various mathematical and scientific formulae as well as medical terms and general concepts in law. As you begin to read widely in your subject area, you will become more aware of what is considered common knowledge in your discipline. Until that point, you should either consult your instructor for confirmation or simply cite, just to be safe.

In short, if there is no debate over the point, it generally does not need to be cited. However, if you are uncertain if a citation is required or not, it is best to err on the side of caution and cite.

For more information on  this subject, please go to the 'Academic Integrity and Referencing' tab in the 'AWARE Handouts and Slides' menu.

Still not sure about plagiarism? If so, try our test below: