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Introduction to Academic Integrity

This site provides a quick introduction to ideas of academic integrity at the University of Toronto. The University has created a web space which provides a guide to academic integrity and outlines the University's expectations, and provides explanations of all the kinds of offenses the University prohibits, along with strategies for avoiding them.

If you are a new student, we hope to introduce you to the concept now so you can follow up in more detail when you need to know specifics for assignments or other coursework.

Understanding the Principles & Values
Giving credit where credit is due - Avoiding plagiarism
Helping yourself - using another person's work
Helping another - letting another student use your work
Making good choices and avoiding bad choices
Getting information and help

Students usually run into trouble with academic integrity for one of three reasons:

  • Ignorance – They don’t know a rule that they should know.
  • Pressure – They cut corners because they are in a pressured situation.
  • Cheating – They try to gain advantage by doing something they know they should not do.

Understanding the Principles & Values

Universities have their own culture, values and rules.  You need to understand how these connect to academic integrity.  Universities value knowledge – the discovery of knowledge and expression of ideas.  And universities think that people who do something valuable deserve credit for it from those who come after them.  This means that those who discover something first must be given credit as the discoverers, and those who express something well or persuasively should be given credit for the way they put the words together to do that.  

If a student in an assignment – or a researcher in an article – claims that they themselves discovered an idea or scientific fact, or uses the expression of another without giving that person credit, then that is seen as a dishonourable thing to do in a university.  And that kind of dishonour in a university brings with it some pretty severe consequences.  

The University of Toronto has created a web space which provides a guide to academic integrity and outlines the University's expectations, and provides explanations of all the kinds of offenses the University prohibits, along with strategies for avoiding them.

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due – Avoiding Plagiarism

Many cultures don’t even have a word for ‘taking credit for something that isn’t yours’, but  university cultures do and the word is ‘plagiarism.’ The way to avoid the punishments that come with plagiarism is to know what it is and how to give proper credit for ideas or expressions – usually using “citations.”   Different areas of study sometimes do this somewhat differently, and you’ll have to learn when to use which method.  This link will give you a number of resources when you need them for assignments.

The simple guideline is this:   If you found or learned the idea or fact somewhere, you must say where you learned it.  If you use someone’s precise words, you must use quotation marks to show this and say whose words they are and where you found them.  

Proper note-taking during research can help you avoid problems by keeping track of where you found things.  The best advice is:  If in doubt, err on the side of full disclosure.   You can find the full details about plagiarism here.

Helping Yourself – Using Another Person’s Work

Sometimes students – out of ignorance or because they are pressed for time with an approaching deadline – help themselves to something written by someone else and put it in their own assignment.  They copy something from the internet, or use an article or they use another student’s work.   Your course mark is meant to be a reflection of what you individually have learned or can do.  Presenting someone else’s work as your own trespasses on that principle, and breaks a University rule. 

You should know not to do this.  At this link, you can find the rules in the University’s Code, but you can also find definitions and other helpful items.

Helping Another – Letting Another Student Use Your Work

Sharing homework is sometimes common among high school students.  Or working on individual assignments as a group.  You should not share your work with others unless explicitly permitted to do so by the instructor for a teamwork project– neither give nor receive.   Both you and the other student are supposed to be marked on what you each know individually.  Because sharing is prohibited, both the giver and the receiver get punished under the University rules.  And so sharing is not a generous thing to do.  It doesn’t really help the person who uses your work, and it certainly doesn’t help you.

Making Good Choices & Avoiding Bad Choices

Often pressure is the reason students find themselves in trouble.  They may know what they should and shouldn’t be doing, but they are under pressure and they take a short cut.  Those students end up losing more than they would have gained by the short cut.  

The best advice is to be organized enough that you do not find yourself in the pressured situation.  However, also good advice is to make the right decision when you are pressured:  sometimes it’s better to ask your instructor if an extension is possible, or loose a few marks on a late penalty, than it is to lose it all by being caught taking short cuts.  If you want a clear picture of what happens to some of these students, you can get examples here.

Getting Information & Help