Academic Conduct Code & Plagiarism

Review Boston University’s Academic Conduct Code here.

Frequently Asked Questions About Academic Misconduct & Plagiarism

A. At first glance, it might seem like this question concerns a grey area of plagiarism. However, the Boston University Academic Conduct Code is specific when it comes to undocumented collusion. Section III: Part B of the Academic Conduct Code, under the heading of “Plagiarism,” specifically states, “Plagiarism can consist of acts of commission—appropriating the words or ideas of another—or omission [—] failing to acknowledge/document/credit the source or creator of words or ideas (see below for a detailed definition of plagiarism). It also includes colluding with someone else in an academic endeavor without acknowledging his or her contribution.”[i]

After reading this passage, you might try to rationalize collusion: How is having my parent or tutor revise my paper any different from peer review or help at our university writing center? The difference should be obvious: the latter is acceptable because it is acknowledged (your professor knows if he/she has assigned peer review and all professors encourage students to go to the writing center), while the former is unacceptable because it is unacknowledged. Members of the scholarly community, a community you have entered as a Boston University student, will acknowledge and/or cite scholars with whom they collude or collaborate. Some professors will even ask students to cite peer reviewers on their Works Cited page.  Ask yourself: How would it look if I cited my parent, roommate or tutor in my Bibliography or Works Cited? If you wouldn’t be comfortable acknowledging this contribution in your Bibliography, you probably realize that you are in violation of the collusion clause of the Academic Conduct Code.

If you are considering asking someone else to help you with a paper, it is always wise to ask your professor whether it’s acceptable to have a parent, tutor or classmate help you with your essay, but before you ask your professor, it might be wise to ask yourself whether this help is too much help. 

The point of college is to develop your own skills, thinking, and inner resources so that you can trust yourself to understand the material and apply your skills to projects in the future. Do your own work. Collusion is dishonest, and it doesn’t do anyone any favors, least of all yourself. It’s like wanting to have rock-hard abs by this weekend, but getting someone else to work out at the gym for you.

A: CGS professors, academic specialists, and peer academic mentors are available for consultation at the Writing Center. They will work with you on formulating and improving your papers and written assignments, and answering questions about aspects of your writing such as grammar, references and clarity. (The tutors in the Center will not, however, proof-read your papers or correct all the errors.) The Center also offers help with general study skills and strategies, workshops on note-taking, time management, test-taking skills, and close reading of texts. Just come to room 330B, next to the Katzenberg Center, during open hours (10-4 Mon.-Thurs. and 10-1 on Fri.), and make an appointment, preferably a few days ahead of time since the Center can get very busy. 

A: When you are taking notes for a paper, you are not only looking for information, ideas and quotations but recording the publication details needed for proper citation. If you are careful in the note-taking phase, then you will be less likely to make mistakes when you write the paper.  That means you need full bibliographic details on every source you consult, including page numbers if there are any.  It also means that you should assume you won’t remember later the full details about this source that are obvious to you now; your notes will have to fill that gap.

One common mistake is to take notes in such a way that later you can’t be sure which parts of what you wrote down are exact quotations, and which parts are paraphrases.  The best way to avoid this is to quote in your notes—with conspicuous quotation marks around the quotations—and paraphrase later, while you are writing.  That way you know for sure whether or not this is an exact quotation, and you can judge whether your attempt at paraphrase is too close.

(For an example of note-taking for later paraphrase, please see Example A.)

Another common mistake is to lose track of whose opinion is whose; you need to make sure that your notes prevent this.

(For an example of note-taking to preserve the identity of the person whose opinion is being offered, please see Example B.

Another common problem that can be prevented by careful note-taking is misrepresenting what the person you are quoting said because you have lost the context in which he said it.  So make sure that you have included the context in your notes.

(For examples of how to preserve the context in your notes, please see Example C.)

Example A

Let’s say you are consulting a book by George Q. Blinko called Britain in the Nineteenth Century.  In it you find this paragraph:

For much of the reign of Victoria, either Disraeli or Gladstone was Prime Minister at any given time.  Gladstone, a Liberal, never got along well with the Queen, whereas Disraeli, a Tory, cultivated a very close relationship with her.  It was Disraeli whose views on social issues most resemble those of liberals today; Gladstone would be surprised to hear a legislator who favors reform of working conditions describe himself as a liberal.  And Disraeli wouldn’t agree that a legislator opposed to factory reform is a true conservative.

This isn’t deathless prose worth quoting, so you might want to paraphrase the part about their relationships with the Queen if you need it for your argument.  In your notes, you should copy that entire second sentence, with prominent quotation marks around it so that when you use it,  you can see it’s a quote.  (And of course you need a page number.)  When you write your paper, you could write something like this:

Gladstone never got along as well with Queen Victoria as Disraeli did.  (Blinko, p. 47)

Example B

So with respect to the last part of the Blinko passage, you might want to quote those two sentences, with prominent  quotation marks, in your notes so you won’t end up claiming in your paper that Blinko says a person opposed to factory reform isn’t a true conservative.  It’s Disraeli who thought that; Blinko is just telling you about Disraeli’s view, not endorsing it.  So here’s what you would be justified in saying in your paper:

According to Blinko, Disraeli felt that true conservatives would support factory reform.  (p. 47)

Example C 

Here are some examples of notes that will be helpful later:

Speaking of the upcoming election, President Obama said “I am quite sure that{the rest of the quote}….”

Asked about the role of religion, Johnson replied, “Well, that’s a complicated issue because{the rest of the quote}…”

That will put you in a good position to use this material appropriately in your paper, rather than claiming that what the President said about this election was his view of democracy in general.  And that context has to be in your notes, or you may not remember it by the time you write your paper.  In fact, you probably won’t.

A: A paraphrase is a rewording of someone else’s words, whether written or spoken.

An acceptable paraphrase is one that uses new language and sentence structures but keeps the meaning of the original text. The author of the ideas being paraphrased is clear, and it is properly cited.

An unacceptable paraphrase is one that is too close to the original text.  It borrows significant words or phrases from the original without acknowledging them as quotations. Or it keeps the sentence structures of the original.  Mere “synonym swapping”—replacing the original text’s words but keeping the same word order—is unacceptable.

A paraphrase may be shorter than the original (a summary), longer than the original (an exegesis) or about the same length.

College-level writers are expected to understand the difference between an acceptable and an unacceptable paraphrase.  Failure to paraphrase appropriately is considered academic misconduct, even if no dishonesty was intended.

The original source of a paraphrase should always be clear.  Normally, name the author of the original source in your text, and provide complete bibliographical information in a footnote, bibliography or “works cited” page, as required by the formatting style you are using (for example, MLA, APA or Chicago).

Do not use quotation marks around a paraphrase.

A paraphrase may include brief quotations.  Put quotations marks around quoted phrases or distinctive words. It may be necessary to incorporate quotations if a writer uses language that simply cannot be paraphrased, such as a technical term or a uniquely apt phrase.

Always cite a paraphrase, no matter how short. Place your own comments on the writer’s ideas after the citation.

A paraphrase can be any length.  Be sure to make it clear where the paraphrase begins (usually with a signal phrase such as , “Milgram explains …”) as well as where it ends (with a citation, and if necessary with a phrase indicating the turn).

Most paraphrases are written for a purpose—that is, they emphasize some aspects of the original text and de-emphasize others in order to use it as support for an argument. Such paraphrases must be carefully written in order to remain faithful to the thought of the original text.

Perhaps as you’ve been surfing the Internet you’ve come across web sites promising to rescue you from the chore of essay writing. These web sites offer original, plagiarism-free essays for a “modest” (actually, quite expensive) fee. While these sites make many promises, they ignore one central fact—if you are caught submitting an essay written by someone else, you can be suspended or expelled from your university. Submitting work written by someone else as your own is a blatant act of cheating and fraud, and colleges and universities impose severe sanctions including suspension or expulsion on those who engage in such deceit.

A: Wikipedia is a wonder.  It is a repository of human knowledge on a scale never before seen.  Denis Diderot, the Enlightenment thinker who wrote the first modern encyclopedia (Encyclopédie) two hundred and fifty years ago, would be stunned by Wikipedia’s breadth and scope. Thus Wikipedia is an excellent starting point for your research, especially when using those entries marked with a star or plus in the upper right-hand corner of the page, symbols that denote the best articles as chosen by Wikipedia’s own editors. All of the better articles in Wikipedia list many sources and have extensive bibliographies that you can use to identify books and articles that may form the core of your research. Wikipedia, however, is only a starting point. It cannot function as a source of interpretation or analysis.  In sum, use Wikipedia only to introduce you to a topic and as a place to help identify the sources you will ultimately need to create a good paper.

A: In some countries, you drive your car on the left side of the road, but try that in the United States and you’re headed for trouble! Likewise, if you are studying at a university in the United States but are from another country, you must adhere to your American university’s rules for citation and documentation when you are writing an essay.  An important rule for all American universities is that if you use a source, you must cite it in your text. Listing the source in your bibliography is not enough—you must list the source in your bibliography and use footnotes or parenthetical citations in your text to indicate exactly where you are using the source. Regardless of where you are from, you are required to cite your sources properly, and if you do not, the consequences can be very serious. Moreover, students who come from other countries to study at American universities sometimes wonder whether they should use outside sources for all of their assignments. You should only use outside sources if your professor specifically asks you to use them. If your professor asks you to write an essay using assigned classroom readings and tells you that you should not use any other “outside” sources, do as you are instructed. In short, always follow your professors’ instructions regarding the use of source material and if you have any questions, be sure to ask—your professors are always happy to answer these types of questions!

A: American colleges and universities respect—and take seriously—the concept of intellectual property—that is, the idea that writers own their original ideas and original language. This means that if one writer presents another’s ideas or language as his or her own, that writer would be guilty of a kind of theft.  The concept of intellectual property has a long history in Europe and America (going back to the mid-nineteenth century at least), and is now enshrined in law and reflected in academic codes of conduct. But some cultures take different attitudes towards intellectual property, and may even regard copying another’s work as a sign of respect.  However, in this country and Western culture generally, the notion of intellectual property is basic to the way scholarly work functions, allowing researchers and thinkers to get credit and recognition for their contributions to scholarship. The rule against plagiarism reflect the notion of intellectual property.  If this concept is unfamiliar to you, ask your instructor to help you understand them.

A: This is the sort of circumstance that often causes students to make poor choices and, out of carelessness or panic, to cut corners in the integrity of their work.  Don’t be one of those students.  Do the best you can.  It may be that this won’t be your best work ever; but it will be your best work under the circumstances.

You may want to send your professor an email explaining that you understand that this assignment may not be your best work.  It may be the case that your professor is open to granting extensions.  But, more to the point, many professors, even ones who don’t grant extensions, appreciate the honesty and self-awareness of students who appreciate the importance of high standards in academic work.  Some students are particularly anxious about maintaining a certain GPA for reasons that have nothing to do with the class (e.g., keeping a scholarship or maintaining eligibility for athletics).  If that is the case for you, you should be paying attention to your performance in class from the very beginning; you’re not likely to solve an ongoing problem with a last-minute quick fix, and, more importantly, committing academic dishonesty will call into question your very integrity as a student and member of a community.  Whatever the short-term consequences of turning in an assignment that’s low-quality but honest, you can be secure in your own integrity and ability to grow.

After the dust has settled, reflect on how you can deal with this better in the future.  Why hadn’t you started it earlier, or identified possible problems earlier?  Start your project early–gather resources, figure out the approach you need to take, etc., so you can identify problems in enough time to solve them (which may include talking to your professor).  Ask your professor for advice.  Take advantage of study skills resources on campus.  Accept that you may sometimes have to take a lower grade than you might like.  In the grand scheme of things, your grade won’t matter as much as what you’ve learned at a deep level from this assignment and course and how you can apply it to the rest of your life.

[i] “Academic Conduct Code,” Boston University.