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.

Why does academic dishonesty matter?

Most students are clear that academic dishonesty is wrong, but it’s still very common: studies show that upwards of 60 percent of American college students surveyed “freely admit” to cheating at some point.

There are various reasons that you might be tempted to resort to academic dishonesty: pressure to achieve, time management struggles, or difficulty with a particular course or concept.

But academic dishonesty hurts you, your peers, and your learning process. Submitting someone else’s work as your own is unfair to the original author, and getting credit for work you didn’t do is unfair to other students.

Ultimately, you are doing yourself the biggest disservice by not properly learning what your courses aim to teach you.

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.

Types of academic dishonesty

Academic dishonesty varies extensively in severity, from faking an illness to buying an essay that you didn’t write.

Here are some 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 answers to exams, pre-written essays, or admittance to a university
Facilitation of academic dishonesty for others Helping others cheat Giving a friend exam answers, taking an exam in their place
Collusion Working together with others to cheat Texting your friends during an online exam to compare answers
Deceit Lying or falsifying information Fabricating an illness to get out of an exam

Here's why students love Scribbr's proofreading services

Discover proofreading & editing

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 that 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)
  • Fabricating 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

Avoiding academic dishonesty

It can be easier than you may think to be dishonest by accident or by omission, so trust your gut! If something feels wrong, take a step back and reevaluate.

Keep in mind that something as simple as claiming to have read something you didn’t counts as academic dishonesty. You can commit academic dishonesty with the best of intentions, such as giving a friend clues about an exam that you took earlier in the day, or letting them copy your homework when they’ve had a stressful week.

Tip
Pay particular attention to citing sources properly in writing assignments. Plagiarism is one of the most common forms of academic dishonesty, and it’s really easy to do by accident. Be sure to either paraphrase or quote anything you yourself didn’t write, and always include an in-text citation. Double-check that any sources you cited are included in your reference list.

When in doubt, consult your academic institution’s honor code, or talk to your professor about specific scenarios if you’re unsure.

Ultimately, organized cheating, such as buying the answers to an exam or a pre-written essay, can often take more time than actually doing the work. Memorizing an ill-begotten Scantron before a multiple choice exam is just as time-consuming as memorizing the material the test will cover, as is going to great lengths to conceal a plagiarized or resubmitted paper.

If you find yourself struggling to keep up in a course, consider implementing some time management best practices, attending your professor or TA’s office hours, or finding a study group.

Frequently asked questions

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 whether you’ve done it before.

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

Is plagiarism illegal?

Plagiarism has serious consequences, and can indeed be illegal in certain scenarios.

While most of the time plagiarism in an undergraduate setting is not illegal, plagiarism or self-plagiarism in a professional academic setting can lead to legal action, including copyright infringement and fraud. Many scholarly journals do not allow you to submit the same work to more than one journal, and if you do not credit a co-author, you could be legally defrauding them.

Even if you aren’t breaking the law, plagiarism can seriously impact your academic career. While the exact consequences of plagiarism vary by institution and severity, common consequences include: a lower grade, automatically failing a course, academic suspension or probation, or even expulsion.

Is this article helpful?
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.