Academic honesty and integrity has always been at the core of the higher education, and my unfortunate experience with unintended plagiarism proved how seriously the concept of academic integrity is perceived and treated in the Northeastern University. From my meeting with the International Tutoring Center Instructor and a discussion of the academic integrity policy of Northeastern, I understood that only through full commitment to academic writing integrity, I can become a successful student with valuable educational experience and the adequate skills for obtaining new knowledge. I am now aware that the academic dishonesty is one of the gravest offenses that a student can commit during his or her studies in Northeastern, which implies that every person wishing to obtain a higher education diploma should be more focused on the ways in which he or she searches and uses academic materials.
Academic writing and completion of assignments at the university are directed at fostering the acquisition and enforcement of knowledge in the students’ minds; hence, by studying theory and reading books on certain courses, students tap the body of knowledge accumulated through decades and centuries by scholars and researchers. However, they should always keep in mind that even if they agree with the opinions of the latter, these are not their opinions, and using them is possible only with proper reference to their original source. All people should be credited for their work and achievements, and the same rule refers to the academic and research work at the university – in case researchers produce a valuable discovery or find out a valuable relationship, their authorship should be respected, since future generations will use their findings as the base for their research. Academic integrity is the cornerstone of academic studies, which is specifically important in the universities, colleges, and schools where the respect to knowledge is the basis of studies.
As I found out from my discussion with the International Tutoring Center, it is not correct to say that all works of students should be 100% original; since studies are based on some theory, lectures, and study materials, all students are expected to cite widely and intensely from the books they are assigned to, and from the source materials supposed to create the basis for further argumentation. Hence, the proper, high-quality work of a student must include some sources and ideas of other people, which cannot be avoided. However, the way in which the sources are given credit is the thing that distinguishes an A-grade paper from a fail and plagiarism. Students who put the ideas of other people in the same words into their works do not obviously intend to make them look their ideas or words, but they may forget to reference the original source, which makes it plagiarism.
To avoid such troubles, students should document the sources that they use very carefully, and after inserting a certain idea in the text of their assignment, they should always think critically about it – is it what others have already said, or is it an adaptation of some person’s idea? The way in which the student will answer the question usually affects the way in which sources are cited. For instance, if a student uses the idea completely and fully, and does not want to change the formulation to achieve high precision of the author’s ideas, he or she may include the sentence or fragment in full, as a direct quote. In this case, he or she should put the quotation marks, and indicate not only the author’s name and the date of publishing the work, but also the page number for the supervisor to be able to check the credibility of the indicated source. In MLA referencing, there is a need to always include citation pages, but in case the writing is performed in APA, page numbers are needed only for direct quotes, while indirect quotes may be cited only with the indication of the author’s last name and the year of publication.
A completely different thing is with citing the works indirectly – so to say, taking the ideas of authors, combining, synthesizing, analyzing, and reconfiguring them to achieve the effect of a new scientific contribution, or at least an original student paper. Here, citation becomes much more elusive, but the student’s responsibility grows at the same time. In contrast to the direct quotes that are easily detected by Turnitin.com checks, the indirect quotes are much harder to be noted by the automatic checkers, but they still represent the intellectual property of other people, so they have to be referenced similarly to the direct quotes. In case the student has used some indirect quotes with the ideas of several authors, in the framework of the academic integrity policy, he or she should show explicitly in the paper which parts of the ideas belong to whom. Starting the argument with a supportive idea from some published author, the student may further move from that author’s argumentation to his/her own conclusions, which made be shown in the text of the assignment through special markers such as “following the idea of .., one may admit that”, or “as research evidence provided by … suggests, …”. By using such language markers, the student may be able to show the ways in which he or she drops the citation of a published author, and after giving credit to his or her published work, moves to his or her own considerations, inferences, and argumentation.
It is also necessary to note that from the meeting with the International Tutoring Center Instructor, I found out much about the kinds of academic dishonesty, and I was surprised to find out how many direct and indirect ways of being dishonest in academic terms exist. For instance, as the Faculty Guide to Academic Integrity (1) stated, academic dishonesty is classified into: cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, participation in academically dishonest activities, and facilitation of academic dishonesty. From the discussion with the Inspector, I understood that the academic integrity policy treated all kinds of dishonesty, both intentional and unintentional, equally severely, but at the same time, it was still necessary for me, as well as for all other students, to understand that the sanctions for intended and unintended dishonesty may be different. For instance, cheating and fabrication are the gravest academic dishonesty offenses that cannot be conducted unintentionally because they involve the evil intent of students to borrow other people’s work, and to hand it in to supervisors as their own work. As in case of fabrication, no actual work is done, while the results are made up artificially, which undermines the tenets of scholarly work and puts the fidelity of the whole university’s academic community into question.
Cheating is an unfaithful practice of borrowing other people’s results during an assignment or test; according to the Academic Integrity Policy guidelines, it may also include the unauthorized use of other people’s class notes, books and class readings, the Internet sources, and other aids that have not been allowed for use by the supervisor during the test. Moreover, some students copy other students’ works during the exam, which is also strictly forbidden, and can lead to the expulsion of the student from the educational establishment (Academic Integrity Policy 1). Communication during exams is also forbidden, and asking classmates for hints or correct answers is also considered cheating, which is punishable by the University’s policy. Finding assignments from previous years and handing them in to supervisors later is also an example of academic dishonesty – all discussed instances mean the dishonest use of others’ academic labor (Academic Integrity Policy 1). The main idea standing behind punishment for cheating is that all grades should be decently earned by the faithful academic work of students, and in case they work hard, they will receive high grades, while in case they do their work poorly, they will receive low grades. The academic integrity leads to the wider social justice among students regarding the work they do and marks they receive, which will further be reflected in their diplomas, and will affect their ability to find a good job and make a good career – only faithful workers fulfilling their duties decently are evaluated and paid, while cheaters at the university, as well as cheaters at work, will be sooner or later exposed and fired.
Fabrication of results is another form of cheating; though it involves no borrowing from other people, it is still a serious violation of the academic integrity policy because it involves no academic inquiry, no scholarly value, but only the fictional results made up by the student who decided to skip the data collection procedures, and analyzed some data that he or she imagined. According to the Academic Integrity Policy of the Northeastern University, fabrication mainly refers to the instances of data or facts’ invention, changing the results of the experiments and surveys, citing sources in the bibliography without actually using them, or stating an opinion as a scientifically proven fact in case it does not possess serious scholarly credibility at all (1). These cases illustrate the absence of due scholarly rigor in the work of students, which is unacceptable taking into account that the scholarly body of knowledge is usually fully accessible for other researchers, students, and writers, and in case they rely on the fake results and cite them in their research, such works of unfaithful students may bring a certain scholarly field to a collapse. All works in a certain branch of science are interrelated, and all scientists read each other’s works and cite them in case they suit their investigations. Therefore, it is very bad to publish fake results or state that something was clinically or experimentally proven if it really was not. Such results appear misleading and may bring chaos to research in a certain field.
Finally, plagiarism is a very ambiguous and inclusive term that nevertheless encompasses both intentional and unintentional academic infidelity. Students accused of plagiarism may not be aware of the wrongdoings they committed because of citing sources improperly, while some students intentionally use other people’s sources hoping that they will not be caught. However, any instance of plagiarism, both intentional and unintentional, is the focus of the Northeastern University’s Academic Integrity Policy that clarifies that in order to avoid plagiarism accusations, students have to cite word-for-word citations from original sources, paraphrased fragments of the original texts, unusual, not common-knowledge facts stated by some authors, and the information presented on audio, video, and digital media – though it is often considered as improper for citing in the academic works, and not all students know the ways of citing such sources (Academic Integrity Policy 1).
Having come across the problem with plagiarism, I have conducted my own research on plagiarism avoidance strategies, and I would like to share my toolkit for plagiarism avoidance that I have formulated for myself for future pursuance of Academic Integrity Policy guidelines in a more informed manner.
In addition to increasing my awareness about the concept of plagiarism, the way in which students intentionally and unintentionally plagiarize, and the ways of avoiding plagiarism, I also consulted a number of printed sources dedicated to the studies of how to avoid plagiarism, and how to write works decently. For instance, Menager and Paulos provided twelve guidelines that, in their opinion, should help students avoid plagiarism (6). They include doing the work by using one’s own words (even if an idea suits you quite well, an you agree with it fully, you should still think about how you can paraphrase it), allocating enough time for doing the assignment (when you are in a hurry, you often prefer to insert the information with minimal changes, while enough time for thoughts and re-work can give you more opportunities for restructuring, paraphrasing, and using your own ideas to reflect the theories and arguments of others), and keeping careful track of the used sources (it is often easy to plagiarize unintentionally because the student forgets where he or she took this or that idea, which is reflected as plagiarism later) (Menager and Paulos 6). Other guidelines include making it clear who is speaking – after citing some author’s information, the student should make it clear that he/she is citing a new source, or voicing his/her personal opinion. Moreover, the students should credit the sources and cite them properly – wrong formatting of citations, especially handing quotes, usually leads to the detection of plagiarism. Quoting accurately and sparingly, paraphrasing and citing, and summarizing the elicited information are also important plagiarism avoidance strategies. Finally, Menager and Paulos advised not to patchwrite, and to avoid using other students’ paper and paper mills, even if they are not published and cannot be detected by Turnitin (6).
As Neville noted in his The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism,
“the able, experience student has learned the art of selecting material to suit his own viewpoint, but presenting it in a way that gives the veneer of objectivity to the reader – thus satisfying the conventions and traditions of academic writing” (Neville 35).
Hence, it is clear that the focus of higher education is, on the one hand, to develop and independent voice of a student, but on the other hand, to discipline students regarding citing other people’s works and only contributing to the already established theories and ideas. To avoid plagiarism, Bothma et al. also recommended distinguishing between superficial, “cosmetic” changes and serious restructuring of text and materials, since cosmetic changes do not make the text different, and cause plagiarism detections (129).
There is also a distinct strategy of choosing the sources for academic works that may allow students to avoid plagiarism, and to cite sources properly. I have decided that before starting to work on any assignment, I will study my course materials and instructions closely – it is a common rule that instructors provide the original set of instructions and readings for students for them to start their scholarly inquiry. After reading those materials, I surely find a couple of core sources recommended by the instructor that I further study and find clues to continuing my material search – the quotations of certain authors in the core readings, or mentioning some theories, ideas, and writings that refer directly to my topic of research, or that are influential and meaningful for my field. After studying those resources, in case I do not fully form my resource base for the assignment, I visit my university’s online library to conduct topic search and to book some readings in case they are not available in online variants.
After studying the materials on academic integrity and plagiarism, I have made sure once more that the best choice for credible materials for writing should be primarily for the books and peer-reviewed scholarly journals, since they contain credible, scientifically reliable information in which I am sure. However, some assignments require reviewing certain public policies or recent news releases, which involves searching for the primary sources in the Web. In this case, I am trying to support the Web resources by scholarly journals and books, finding support for the data mentioned in the news. Moreover, if I need to find some information in the Internet, I prefer to use the governmental sites – the ones having tags .gov, .org, or .edu. These sources are usually much more credible than commercial sites (.com) are, and the information presented at them is usually much more reliable and valuable for a scholarly paper.
When I need to cite audio or video materials, I consult the referencing guide I need to use for quoting these unusual media sources. It is important to keep in mind that APA and MLA referencing styles differ significantly in terms of the ways in which sources are documented. Hence, when I have to write a paper in one of these styles, and I have some unusual data sources, I consult the OWL Purdue Writing Lab for the information on resource citing – it is one of the most credible writing resource centers across the US educational community.
Reflecting upon my unsuccessful plagiarism experience at the Northeastern, I cannot help thinking about how little time it took me to schedule a meeting with the International Tutoring Center Instructor, and discuss the academic honesty and integrity policies with him. It was indeed very informative for me to talk about the ways of choosing sources, about the steps of writing, about the ways of checking and double-checking the work for mistakes in formatting and referencing, etc. I do believe that in case I did it earlier, I would have never got into such an awkward situation, and I would advise all ESL students, or students not fully confident in their writing and referencing skills to attend the International Tutoring Center to solve their issues with referencing.
I would recommend that not only because I have found myself in an awkward situation threatening my studies – in this situation, I have fully understood how bitter it is to find out that your work has been used by some lazy or ignorant student without any proper credit, and your results and findings may have been distorted or wrongfully presented. This is indeed discouraging for any researcher, and it may undermine the values of honesty and integrity not only in the Northeastern University, but in the whole global research community. Research is a serious undertaking, for both students and huge research organizations; hence, it should be treated with respect, and the labor of people who wrote the course books and other research works for us to study and become wiser should also be respected and given credit.
‘Academic Integrity Policy’. Northeastern University: Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution. 2011. Web. March 28, 2013. <http://www.northeastern.edu/osccr/academicintegrity/>
Bosthma, Theo, Erica Cosijn, Ina Fourie, and Cecilia Penzhorn. Navigating Information Literacy. Cape Town, S. A.: Pearson Education South Africa, 2006. Print.
‘Faculty Guide to Academic Integrity’. Northeastern University: Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution. 2013. Web. March 28, 2013. <http://www.northeastern.edu/osccr/pdfs/Resources/Faculty_Guide_to_Academic_Integrity.pdf >
Menager, Rosemarie, and Lyn Paulos. Quick Coach Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.
Neville, Colin. The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism. 2nd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill International, 2010. Print.