Academic integrity

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Academic integrity


As a student at USC, you belong to an academic community that values academic integrity.

Academic integrity underpins all academic activities, so it’s vital to understand what academic integrity means and why it’s important. This information sheet is designed to help you clarify and deepen your understanding of academic integrity. It shows what academic integrity looks like, and it offers advice about how to study successfully within a culture of academic integrity.

Referencing and academic integrity guide

Referencing every time you use evidence, ideas, data or images from sources gives credibility to your work because you demonstrate how your interpretations fit into the field of knowledge about which you are writing. Referencing also enables you to give credit to your sources and avoid plagiarism. Review USC's Referencing and academic integrity guide for more information.

What is academic integrity?

The term academic integrity means taking an ethical, honest and responsible approach to study and research. As a student, you are expected to act ethically, with integrity, when you complete and submit your assessment tasks. In practice, this means that you act:

  • ethically when you acknowledge the people (or organisations) whose work you use in assignments. By citing their ideas, their words, their work, you not only show where information comes from – you show that you’ve read widely and engaged with the literature relevant to your topic.
  • honestly when you submit assignments that are authentic, original and the result of your own research and writing. By doing this, you approach each assignment as an opportunity to demonstrate your understanding and develop your academic skills.
  • responsibly when you take ownership of your own work – when you don’t copy the work of other people or share your assignments with other students. By doing this, you contribute to a culture of academic integrity.

Watch the video below for an overview of the terms academic integrity, plagiarism and referencing.


(USC C-SALT 2017)

To clarify your understanding of academic integrity, you might find it helpful to hear how other students describe it.

Here is what some students say:

'Academic integrity means always doing the best you can. No shortcuts.'

'It means giving people credit for their work.'

'It means following the rules – even if you know you won’t get caught.'

'It means being honest and fair to the other people who are trying their best – how would you feel if someone who cheated got the same mark as you when you worked hard?'

'It means respecting others and their hard work.'

'It means the importance of authenticity in your assignments'

(‘What does academic integrity mean to you?’ 2013)

Another way to approach academic integrity is to ensure you don’t engage in any activity considered to be academic misconduct.

What is academic misconduct?

Academic misconduct can manifest in various forms. The USC Student Academic Integrity – Governing Policy observes that 'Academic/research misconduct includes, but is not limited to:

Plagiarism - including using another’s expression or ideas without appropriate acknowledgement;

Collusion - including giving, swapping or providing for sale, one’s own work;

Cheating - including in examinations or by accessing restricted assessment materials;

Fraud - including falsification or fabrication of data or work; or in any other way participating in activities which are intended to give the student an unfair or dishonest advantage in their learning activities, assessment or research' (University of the Sunshine Coast 2017).

USC has safeguards in place to identify when students commit academic misconduct. For written assignments submitted via Blackboard, the safeguard is called Safe Assign. Safe Assign is a text matching tool that checks your work and identifies any possible cases of plagiarism or collusion. If any part of your assignment matches part of another student's work, or even one of your past assignments, it will be found by Safe Assign.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism occurs when a student uses – without acknowledging – the work of other people. In a sense, plagiarism is a form of intellectual theft in which ideas, words, information or images are taken without attribution. Plagiarism can be deliberate or accidental:

  • Deliberate – for instance, if a student intentionally copies the work of others and pretends it is their own work.
  • Accidental – for instance, if a student has poor notetaking skills or doesn’t know how to reference correctly, and they inadvertently present someone else’s ideas and words as their own.

In an assignment, plagiarism may manifest in a number of ways, and one of the best ways to avoid plagiarism is to know what it looks like. An illustrative demonstration of the common types of plagiarism is outlined in the Turnitin website.

What is collusion?

Collusion involves two or more people producing work for which one person will claim ownership. At university, collusion happens if you give or receive help in completing any form of individual assessment such as assignments and exams.

Examples of collusion include:

  • working with other students to complete an individual assessment
  • using another student's material in your assessment
  • allowing other students to use your material in their assessment
  • friends, family or other students writing part or all of your assignment
  • sharing assignments and exam answers with other students
What about group work?

Collaborating with other students is encouraged at university as a good strategy to enhance student learning. However for individual assessment tasks, if you work too closely with other students, such as sharing your written work, you may be guilty of collusion. In group assessments, you are expected to work together, but check the assessment instructions for what is expected of each group member. Generally, an equal contribution of each group member is required.

How do I avoid collusion?

Awareness is the first step. Some strategies to avoid collusion are:

  • take your own notes when working in a study group
  • do not ask to look at another student's assignment
  • set some ground rules when working with others
  • check with your course coordinator about how much collaboration is allowed
What is cheating?

Cheating is acting dishonestly to gain an unfair advantage. At university, cheating may occur in exams, lab tests and other forms of assessment.

Examples of cheating include:

  • concealing notes in a closed-book exam
  • paying someone to write your assignment or sit your exam
  • gaining prior access to exam questions before you sit the exam
  • changing a piece of assessment after receiving your marks and then lodging a complaint
  • lying and other forms of misrepresentation
  • bribery, malicious coercion and manipulation of others for personal gain
  • plagiarism and collusion
How do I avoid cheating?

The best way to avoid cheating is to be honest and open in all your academic activities. Sometimes cheating occurs unintentionally by:

  • helping someone write their assignment (collusion)
  • failing to acknowledge sources you have used in an assessment (plagiarism)

Learn more about plagiarism and collusion to avoid cheating in assessments.

What is fraud?
Fraud can occur by:
  • taking an exam for another student or letting someone take an exam for you
  • falsifying research data and findings
  • altering or fabricating information
  • forging a document
  • falsifying past academic records or employment details in order to gain entrance into the university
How do I avoid fraud?

By acting ethically, honestly and responsibly in all your academic activities.

Consequences of academic misconduct

The consequences of academic misconduct are serious and range from loss of marks to expulsion from the university. Possible consequences include:

  • formal written warning (which becomes part of a student’s academic record)
  • re-submission of assessment item (not exceeding 50% score of the worth of the assessment item)
  • loss of marks for the assessment item in the course
  • ‘fail’ for the assessment item
  • ‘fail’ for the course
  • exclusion from enrolment for a specified period of time
  • expulsion from university

More information about academic misconduct can be found in the Student Academic Integrity - Governing Policy.

Check your understanding
Academic misconduct quiz

Which of the following examples represent academic misconduct?

  1. Asking someone to write your assignment or even part of it
  2. Using the same paragraph in more than one piece of assessment
  3. Allowing another student to use material from your assignment
  4. Using your own words to paraphrase a source but not providing a reference
  5. Using someone else’s words, with a reference, but without quotation marks around the exact words being quoted

Answer: All of them

  1. Asking someone to write your assignment or even part of it
    This is collusion. It is never okay to let someone do your assignments for you.
  2. Using the same paragraph in more than one piece of assessment
    This is called self-plagiarism. Each assignment you write is different and must be original.
  3. Allowing another student to use material from your assignment
    You should never share your work with other students.
  4. Using your own words to paraphrase a source but not providing a reference
    When you paraphrase, you still need to give a citation. Without it, the ideas and information will appear to be your own rather than originating from the source.
  5. Using someone else’s words, with a reference, but without quotation marks around the exact words being quoted 
    It’s important to place quotation marks around the exact words, phrases or sentences being quoted.
Acting with integrity

Acting with academic integrity helps you to get the most out of your studies. As you research and write your assignments, aim to develop, sharpen and refine your academic skills. Here are some tips to help you act with academic integrity:

  • Take accurate notes so you distinguish your own ideas and thoughts from any quotes and paraphrases that you record.
  • Know how to paraphrase, using your own words to express the ideas and information of others. Understand that paraphrasing involves more than substituting one or two words, or shifting phrases around: it involves creating a new sentence that differs from the original sentences in style and structure but conveys the same meaning. Remember that you need to provide a citation even when you use your own words to paraphrase a source.
  • Place quotation marks around the exact words or phrases that you quote. Remember to add a page number for quotations.
  • Plan ahead to ensure you produce your best work on time. Leaving an assignment to the last minute and rushing your writing can contribute to incorrect referencing and instances of plagiarism.
  • Be proactive; ask for advice if you are unclear about referencing and academic integrity.

If you would like to learn more about academic integrity, you can talk to an Academic Skills Adviser.


University of the Sunshine Coast 2017, Student academic integrity governing policy, viewed 24 November 2017

USC C-SALT 2017, Assignments: referencing, plagiarism and draft SafeAssign, online video, viewed 24 November 2017

‘What does academic integrity mean to you?’ 2013, The New Yorker, 13 August, viewed 8 January 2018

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