Academic Integrity vs. Academic Dishonesty

Academic integrity is the value of being honest, ethical, and thorough in your academic work. It allows readers to trust that you aren’t misrepresenting your findings or taking credit for the work of others.

Academic dishonesty (or academic misconduct) refers to actions that undermine academic integrity. It typically refers to some form of plagiarism, ranging from serious offenses like purchasing a pre-written essay to milder ones like accidental citation errors.

These concepts are also essential in the world of professional academic research and publishing. In this context, accusations of misconduct can have serious legal and reputational consequences.

Types of academic dishonesty

While plagiarism is the main offense you’ll hear about, academic dishonesty comes in many forms that vary extensively in severity, from faking an illness to buying an essay.

Common types of academic dishonesty
Type Definition Example
Plagiarism Copying someone else’s work and passing it off as your own, without giving proper credit Copying and pasting parts of a source you found online without citing it
Cheating Using unauthorized sources or devices to help you achieve an outcome you wouldn’t have on your own Copying someone’s answers on an exam
Contract cheating Paying or bribing someone to help you cheat Buying exam answers, pre-written essays, or admittance to a university
Facilitation of academic dishonesty Helping others cheat Giving a friend exam answers or taking an exam in their place
Collusion Working together with others to cheat Texting your friends during an online exam to compare answers
Data fabrication Misrepresenting the results of your research Modifying experimental data to show a nonexistent correlation that would support your hypothesis
Deceit Lying or falsifying information Fabricating an illness to get out of an exam

Why does academic integrity matter?

Most students are clear that academic integrity is important, but dishonesty is still common.

There are various reasons you might be tempted to resort to academic dishonesty: pressure to achieve, time management struggles, or difficulty with a course. But academic dishonesty hurts you, your peers, and the learning process. It’s:

  • Unfair to the plagiarized author
  • Unfair to other students who did not cheat
  • Damaging to your own learning
  • Harmful if published research contains misleading information
  • Dangerous if you don’t properly learn the fundamentals in some contexts (e.g., lab work)

The consequences depend on the severity of the offense and your institution’s policies. They can range from a warning for a first offense to a failing grade in a course to expulsion from your university.

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Examples of academic dishonesty

Mild academic dishonesty:

  • Faking illness to skip a class
  • Asking for a classmate’s notes from a special review session held by your professor that you did not attend
  • Crowdsourcing or collaborating with others on a homework assignment
  • Citing a source you didn’t actually read in a paper
Moderate academic dishonesty:

  • Cheating on a pop quiz
  • Peeking at your notes on a take-home exam that was supposed to be closed-book
  • Resubmitting a paper that you had already submitted for a different course (self-plagiarism)
  • Forging a doctor’s note to get an extension on an assignment
Severe academic dishonesty:

  • Fabricating experimental results or data to prove your hypothesis in a lab environment
  • Buying a pre-written essay online or answers to a test
  • Falsifying a family emergency to get out of taking a final exam
  • Taking a test for a friend

Frequently asked questions about plagiarism

What is academic integrity?

Academic integrity means being honest, ethical, and thorough in your academic work. To maintain academic integrity, you should avoid misleading your readers about any part of your research and refrain from offenses like plagiarism and contract cheating, which are examples of academic misconduct.

What is academic dishonesty?

Academic dishonesty refers to deceitful or misleading behavior in an academic setting. Academic dishonesty can occur intentionally or unintentionally, and varies in severity.

It can encompass paying for a pre-written essay, cheating on an exam, or committing plagiarism. It can also include helping others cheat, copying a friend’s homework answers, or even pretending to be sick to miss an exam.

Academic dishonesty doesn’t just occur in a classroom setting, but also in research and other academic-adjacent fields.

What are the consequences of academic dishonesty?

Consequences of academic dishonesty depend on the severity of the offense and your institution’s policy. They can range from a warning for a first offense to a failing grade in a course to expulsion from your university.

For those in certain fields, such as nursing, engineering, or lab sciences, not learning fundamentals properly can directly impact the health and safety of others. For those working in academia or research, academic dishonesty impacts your professional reputation, leading others to doubt your future work.

What are examples of academic dishonesty?

Academic dishonesty can be intentional or unintentional, ranging from something as simple as claiming to have read something you didn’t to copying your neighbor’s answers on an exam.

You can commit academic dishonesty with the best of intentions, such as helping a friend cheat on a paper. Severe academic dishonesty can include buying a pre-written essay or the answers to a multiple-choice test, or falsifying a medical emergency to avoid taking a final exam.

What happens if you plagiarize?

The consequences of plagiarism vary depending on the type of plagiarism and the context in which it occurs. For example, submitting a whole paper by someone else will have the most severe consequences, while accidental citation errors are considered less serious.

If you’re a student, then you might fail the course, be suspended or expelled, or be obligated to attend a workshop on plagiarism. It depends on whether it’s your first offense or you’ve done it before.

As an academic or professional, plagiarizing seriously damages your reputation. You might also lose your research funding or your job, and you could even face legal consequences for copyright infringement.

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Tegan George

Tegan is an American based in Amsterdam, with master's degrees in political science and education administration. While she is definitely a political scientist at heart, her experience working at universities led to a passion for making social science topics more approachable and exciting to students. A well-designed natural experiment is her favorite type of research, but she also loves qualitative methods of all varieties.