6 ways you might be accidentally committing academic misconduct

student holding an article

If you’ve listened to your professors talk about academic misconduct, you’ll know it’s a serious offence and that the consequences can be severe. The problem is, many instances of academic misconduct happen completely by accident, simply because students aren’t completely sure exactly what it is — so we’re telling you, right now.

1. Copying your friend’s homework

You might think this is harmless, but if your homework is for marks — even if it’s just participation marks — it’s cheating. This counts for lab results, too. If your bench partner’s titration results are better than yours, you can’t just use theirs instead.

I know I sound like everyone’s eleventh-grade math teacher when I say that cheating on homework hurts you more than anyone else, but it’s true. Doing your homework helps you learn the concepts, and will ultimately help you succeed on quizzes and exams.

2. Taking exam materials with you when you leave

This is another thing that seems like it should be harmless, but if you take the question sheet out of an exam, you could be cheating. Some professors reuse exam questions, so saving your question sheets for a friend who’s taking the course next semester could give you a permanent academic misconduct notation on your student record.

3. Not knowing how to cite sources

If you don’t know how to correctly cite sources, you could be committing plagiarism. It can be as easy as forgetting to put quotation marks around a phrase you pulled from another work. Plagiarism doesn’t just apply to essays either. For example, you can plagiarize through speech as well, so keep that in mind for your oral presentations. If you want more help with citation guides, check out the library’s citation style guides, or ask a subject librarian for help.

4. Getting too close to your secondary sources

Finding good sources to boost your argument is a big part of writing essays. However, there’s a fine line between using others’ works to boost your thesis and letting those works be your thesis. It’s great if you agree with another author’s essay, but the trick to building a great thesis is to take other authors’ arguments and build off them.

When you find a great source, take a look at the thesis and ask yourself “what can I add to this argument? What aspects of the primary text could be related to this topic?”

If you need help building a thesis, talk to your professor, a subject librarian, or a writing and language tutor.

5. Using old assignments

If you wrote an essay on feminism in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre for your critical theory course, you can’t also submit that essay for your gender studies class (even if you tweak it a little).

You can take inspiration from old assignments in order to create new ones, though. If you’re not really sure where to draw that line, talk to your professor before the due date.

6. Ignoring the consequences of previous misconducts

Typically, if you get caught committing academic misconduct, one of the consequences is a suspension from the university. That means you can’t participate in any university activities. If you decide you want to audit a course, or keep going to your classes, you will not get credits for your work … and there’s a very good chance you could get in even more trouble. Probably best not to risk it.

Academic misconduct is a serious offence, so make sure you know the policies. You can find the full policy on academic misconduct on the Academic Calendar, or if you’ve got assignment-specific questions, talk to your professor before any assignment due dates.

The library has some useful citation resources, as well as subject librarians who can help you navigate specific research subjects.

The Student Learning Hub offers free writing and language tutoring, as well as referrals for help with citations and maintaining academic integrity.

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