Defining Integrity | Webster University

Defining Integrity

 The first step in maintaining honesty in academic coursework requires both students and faculty having an effective understanding of what academic integrity is--and what it isn't. Webster University's Academic Honesty Policies denote four main types of dishonesty: cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and facilitation. Knowing the definitions of each will help you communicate your expectations, how you will assess student work, and the highest standards to which the University holds all students. 




Facilitating Academic Dishonesty



Cheating is using unethical methods to turn in work for a grade that hasn't been fairly earned. This can be done in a number of ways:

  • using notes or similar unauthorized aids, electronic or otherwise, on an assignment or exam,
  • looking at or using another student's work on an assignment or exam,
  • using an instructor's manual to acquire answers to exams or assignments, or
  • acquiring a copy of an exam or assignment.

These are just a few examples of cheating; any unethical choices that would result in a grade the student hasn't earned would fall under this form of dishonesty. The key issue here is that the student is earning a grade (and therefore course credit) for knowledge or abilities he/she hasn't actually acquired. Not only is this unfair to students who have done the work, it's also problematic for the student cheating: future coursework or professional work may require the person to know and build upon that knowledge. 

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To fabricate means to create, invent, or manufacture. In terms of academic dishonesty, this means making up information:

  • falsifying or deliberately misinterpreting data,
  • making up information,
  • creating false citations, or
  • falsifying field or job experience or academic achievements.

Like cheating, fabricating information is typically done to gain something unfairly. Where cheating provides valid information to earn the desired reward (a grade, course credit, etc.), fabrication provides nothing in exchange for something. 

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Plagiarism is the most complex form of academic dishonesty, in part because there are so many forms but also because this violation can happen accidentally. Where cheating and fabrication are always done deliberately, plagiarism can be either deliberate or accidental. What it comes down to, though, is using someone else's work (in any form) as though it were the student's own. It is often compared to stealing. Below is the Turnitin Plagiarism Spectrum, a more detailed list of forms of plagiarism, but two general categories of plagiarism that faculty may need to be aware of are "substantial" and "complete" plagiarism. 

Substantial plagiarism is categorized as a significant portion of the assignment that has any manner of source misuse, either deliberate or unintentional. This could be a small number of isolated paragraphs or a series of smaller passages or sentences spread throughout the assignment.  

Complete plagiarism is categorized as deliberate misrepresentation of source material making up a majority of the assignment. This is typically through word-for-word copy but could also be extensive paraphrasing without attribution. With complete plagiarism, there has been little attempt at original thought or personal contribution to the plagiarized portion(s) of the project.

Most students understand that citation is an important and vital step when using source material. Crediting source material is only one aspect of source use, though. Where source use and plagiarism get complicated is that plagiarism can also be about how the source material is presented or used in the project, such as directly quoting information or paraphrasing. Misrepresenting the source material can lead to plagiarism just as lacking citations can. Knowing how or why source use is problematic is the first step in ensuring that use of source material avoids those practices, so it's essential to promote this understanding in your students. To understand how source material is used incorrectly, consult Turnitin’s Plagiarism Spectrum.

The Turnitin Plagiarism Spectrum

The Plagiarism Spectrum is a guide to help educators, students, academics, and writers recognize the various forms of plagiarism. However, knowing a basic definition of a problem is only the start of solving it. First, writers need to understand the specifics of those forms of plagiarism and consider why each is problematic in different ways. Further, assessing some of the possible behaviors or habits that lead to these forms of plagiarism will aid writers in understanding how to avoid them.

1.  CLONE: "submitting another's work, word-for-word, as one's own." This form of plagiarism, also sometimes called complete or direct plagiarism, is one that most students universally recognize and are aware is dishonest. When an entire project is taken from a source (either another student or elsewhere) and presented as the student's own, this falsely represents knowledge and efforts on the subject matter. This method of plagiarism is often a result of poor time management or other academic pressures.

2.  CTRL-C: "contains significant portions of text from a single source without alterations." This form of plagiarism uses sections of a source, presented exactly as the source wrote them without the use of quotation marks or citation. Using a source’s words, even in small sections or pieces, is falsely representing the words as the student's if no quotation marks indicate that the material is exact wording. Further, if quotation marks are used but citation is missing, then this doesn’t properly give credit to the author of the words, even though the reader was notified that they are someone else’s words. This is another form of plagiarism that most students are generally aware of, but it still happens frequently, typically from carelessness in taking notes or the writing/typing process.

3.  FIND–REPLACE: "changing key words and phrases but retaining the essential content of the source." When students understand that CTRL-C isn’t appropriate source use, they might attempt to put an idea in their own words (paraphrasing). This often results in FIND-REPLACE, a form of plagiarism that substitutes synonyms or alternate word choice to only slightly change the wording of a source. Even if citation is provided for the passage, adjusting only a word or a few words does not truly put the idea in the student's words. This generally occurs when students don’t fully understand what proper paraphrasing entails.

4.  REMIX: "paraphrases from multiple sources, made to fit together." This form of plagiarism takes a range of material from diverse sources that touch on the same content and presents the ideas together as the student's own analysis, without citation. The wording will be slightly changed or perhaps even paraphrased accurately, but lack of citation presents the material falsely. This often comes about when students attempt to make the work seem original; where using one source may be a direct flag, piecing together and rewording material from diverse sources seems like it may not register (though it does). If unintentional, this can occur due to lack of effective citation habits and sometimes poor note-taking.

5.  RECYCLE: "borrows generously from the writer's previous work without citation." This form of plagiarism is often misunderstood by students. RECYCLE occurs when a student submits his/her own work for an assignment in one course, work that the student has already (or soon will) receive credit in another course. The student might say, “It’s my own work and ideas, so why is that a problem?”  Where this can get students into trouble is that it presents the material as a recent creation when it isn’t or as a creation for that instructor and assignment when it truly isn't. The root of why that’s problematic is that the instructor expects the material to reflect what the student has learned in the course. If a paper written a year ago is recycled for a course now, the material doesn't illustrate what the student gained from that year of learning, in particular the course he/she is currently in.  This is why most instructors don’t allow students to re-use their own work. However, if a student obtains permission from the instructor and makes adequate changes to the material to reflect new ideas and understanding, then this may be considered an appropriate re-use of ideas. When the student doesn't receive permission or doesn't make effective changes to the material, though, this is problematic. Students may sometimes tempted to re-use their own projects to save time or to avoid additional work.

6.  HYBRID: "combines perfectly cited sources with copied passages without citation." This form of plagiarism mixes together effective source use with inappropriate source use. In certain passages of the paper, citation conventions and quotations/paraphrases are done correctly; in the midst of that, other passages are used without citation and are often word-for-word (without quotation marks) or ineffectively paraphrased. This is often done to attempt to mask uncited work, where another’s work can be used to cut corners in order to save time or effort. If this is done unintentionally, then it seems to occur due to lack of consistent citation methods and note-taking.   

7.  MASHUP: "mixes copied material from multiple sources." Similar to CTRL-C plagiarism, this will take not one source of exact wording but a range of source’s words, all without citation. Lack of quotation marks presents the material falsely, as does the lack of citation. As with REMIX, this often comes about when students attempt to make their work seem original; where copying one source may be a direct flag, piecing together copied material from diverse sources seems like it may not register (though it does). If this form of plagiarism isn’t done intentionally, then it will often occur through poor citation habits and lack of effective note-taking or source organization.

8.  404 ERROR: "includes citations to non-existent or inaccurate information about sources." This type of issue comes when students use sources or links that aren’t real or provide source information that is incorrect in some way. This often happens (typically accidentally) when students attribute the wrong signal phrases or authors to the material. For example, I may include in-text citation that implies Quote 1 is from Author A when it’s in fact from Author D. Another example of a situation that happens often is when students use an idea and attribute it to Author/Source B, but the citation list at the paper’s end doesn’t contain Author/Source B. Similarly, the citation page may include Author/Source C, but this source is never clearly or accurately used in the paper. These issues can lead to material not being correctly credited. This form of plagiarism can occur when students are required to conduct research and provide citations but deliberately don’t go through the actual research and citation process and instead make up the information, generally to save time or work. When this is done unintentionally, it occurs when students don’t take proper notes in the research and source integration process, resulting in writing down incorrect information. This can also occur if students don’t fully understand citation methods or rules.

9.  AGGREGATOR: "includes proper citation to sources but the paper contains almost no original work." This form of plagiarism is another that students might struggle with. This use of source material entails proper citation and using quotation marks or paraphrasing source material correctly. If the citations and quoting/paraphrasing is correct, what more is there? Instructors will often assign a research project or otherwise ask their students to perform research and write about a topic. Students might translate that into the idea that the paper needs to be (or can be) entirely research with little addition or contribution from the student; this is a misconception. Essays are expected to be an analysis of a topic, where the student writer will use research to learn about the subject but then apply critical thinking and other skills to learn something new or to provide an opinion or arguable claim about the topic. This requires that the student to balance source use with personal ideas, opinions, and observations. The AGGREGATOR will present the source material with little to no personal addition to the material. This often occurs when students misunderstand assignment expectations or when they are pressed for time; this can also stem from struggling to find something personal to contribute to the topic.

10.  RE-TWEET: "includes proper citation, but relies too closely on the text's original wording and/or structure." The last major form of problematic source use entails giving proper credit to the material but not correctly adjusting the wording and structure. Similar to FIND-REPLACE, this technique is where students attempt to put an idea in their own words—and do a better job at it than simple synonym replacement—but still aren’t quite meeting the mark of appropriate paraphrasing. This will occur when students don’t have a thorough understanding of paraphrasing or when they are rushed. Lack of proper note-taking can also lead to this issue.

Terms and definitions from "The Plagiarism Spectrum: Tagging 10 Types of Unoriginal Work.", iParadigms, 2012,

With an understanding of major forms of plagiarism and how they arise, writers should be well on the way to avoid these issues.

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Facilitating Academic Dishonesty

The final form of an academic integrity violation is to help another student engage in dishonesty. This commonly occurs when giving another student an assignment or exam or allowing others to view an exam during exam time. It is natural for students to form study groups or to help one another learn course material, but that assistance should stop when it comes to completing assignments or exams. Such groups are formed with the intention for all participants to learn the information and to demonstrate that fairly in their own work. Dishonesty occurs when the information is used to cheat, and the student providing the help will be held accountable along with the student(s) who committed the infraction. 

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