Writing with Integrity

Section 1: Understanding Plagiarism

The honest creation of new knowledge, discovery of new facts, new ways of looking at the known world and original analysis of old ideas are basic academic values. However, the simple repetition of the words and thoughts of someone else does not lead to the level of understanding an educated person is expected to have (Standler, 2000). Those who accurately acknowledge the work of others earn both the satisfaction of generating new knowledge through honest effort and the respect and esteem of their professors, colleagues, and professional peers.

As students and scholars, we constantly engage with other people’s ideas: We read them in texts, hear them in lecture, discuss them in class and encounter them on the Web. More often than not, we’re influenced by the ideas of others and incorporate them into our own thinking and writing. To facilitate the free exchange of ideas among scholars, however, we give credit to those from whom we borrow words, images or ideas.

What is Plagiarism?

Although most obvious in cases where text is copied word for word, plagiarism also includes using others’ work or copying any ideas, arguments, or images from another source—including the Internet—and presenting them as your own. Plagiarism can involve as little as copying a key phrase or sentence without acknowledging the source.

The University of Nebraska’s Student Code of Conduct (section 4.2.a.3) defines plagiarism specifically as:

“Presenting the work of another as one’s own (i.e., without proper acknowledgment of the source) and submitting examinations, theses, reports, speeches, drawings, laboratory notes or other academic work in whole or part as one’s own when such work has been prepared by another person or copied from another person.”

In simplest terms, writers must distinguish their own words from the words of others by placing the text within quotation marks, with appropriate citations to the sources of quoted text. Neglecting to do so is plagiarism: stealing the words, images or ideas of others— without clearly acknowledging the source of that information.

When To Give Credit

To avoid plagiarizing, give credit every time you:

  • Use or refer to another person's idea, opinion or theory from a “magazine, book, journal, newspaper, song, TV program, movie, Web page, computer program, letter, advertisement, or any other medium” (OWL, 2003).
  • Cite or state any facts or statistics from others that are not common knowledge.
  • Quote another person's exact spoken or written words, either taken from the media listed above or heard first hand through conversation, interview or email (and these words must be placed within quotation marks).
  • Reprint (or use as a basis for graphics you create) any graphics, illustrations or pictures from any of the media listed earlier.
  • Paraphrase another person's spoken or written words.

Terms to know

Common knowledge

Facts that can be found in many places and are likely to be known by many people.

Example: John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States in 1960.

This is generally known information; you don’t need to document this fact. However, you must document facts that are not generally known, as well as ideas that interpret facts.

Example: According to the American Family Leave Coalition's new book, Family Issues and Congress, President Bush's relationship with Congress has hindered family leave legislation (6).

The idea that Bush's “relationship with Congress has hindered family leave legislation” is not a fact, but an interpretation; therefore, you need to cite your source.


A verbatim repetition of someone’s words. When you quote, place the passage in quotation marks and document the source according to a standard documentation style.

Example: According to Peter S. Pritchard in USA Today, “Public schools need reform but they're irreplaceable in teaching all the nation's young” (p. 14, 2010).


Using someone else's ideas but putting them in your own words. This is the skill you’ll use most often when incorporating source material into your own writing. Although you use your own words to paraphrase, you still must acknowledge the source of the information.

Example: One central issue in the conceptualization of social identity is that people generally identify with multiple groups (Appiah, 2005; Maalouf, 2001; Sen, 2006).

Sources cited

Love, Patrick G. (1998). “Factors Influencing cheating and plagiarism among graduate students in a college of education.” College Student Journal December: 539-50. Academic Search Elite. EBSCO. 3 Mar. 2000. http://www.ebscohost.com/. As cited in Plagiarism Prevention (2005), http://www.uwplatt.edu/library/reference/plagiarism.html. Elton Karrmann Library: University of Wisconsin, Platteville.

Manninen, Tuomas (2005). Plagiarism resources and links. Center for Teaching: University of Iowa.

OWL (Online Writing Lab). (2003). Avoiding plagiarism. Purdue University.

Standler, Ronald B. (2000). Plagiarism in colleges in USA.

Turnitin Research Resources (2005). How to paraphrase properly.

Adapted with permission from Indiana University Writing Tutorial Services, 206 Ballentine Hall, Bloomington, IN 47405

Additional Resources

Graduate Studies - Understanding Plagiarism

Visual Communication Guy - Did I Plagiarize flow chart

Elaborate plagiarism flowchart

Section 2: Understanding falsification of data*

Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting/suppressing data or results without scientific or statistical justification, such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record. This would also include the “misrepresentation of uncertainty” during statistical analysis of the data.

Falsification is manipulating or distorting any of the following:
  • Research materials
  • Dates and experimental procedures
  • Misrepresenting the results from statistical analysis
  • Misrepresenting the methods of an experiment (e.g., the model used to conduct the experiment)
  • The addition of false or misleading statements in the manuscript or published paper
  • Falsification of research accomplishments by publishing the same research in multiple papers (i.e., self-plagiarism)
  • Misrepresentation of the materials or methods of a research study in a published paper.
  • Providing false statements about the extent of a research study
  • Falsification of telephone attempts to collect data for a survey study

*From the Office of Research Education and Training, University of Miami (accessed July 25, 2009)

Section 3: The Ethics of Authorship1

Authorship can be a difficult issue because research is often a collaborative effort and authorship credit carries with it certain benefits.

A general rule of thumb for granting authorship is: Anyone who made important and significant intellectual decisions that had a direct effect on the planning, execution, and publication of the research should be considered for authorship of the work. Tasks that meet the standard of “important and significant intellectual decisions” may include the following: conceptualizing or designing the project; determining the scope, direction, or depth of study; defining protocols for data collection, interpretation, and analysis; and planning, drafting, and editing of the publication itself.

In the likely case that multiple individuals have made significant contributions to the publication, you'll need to determine whose name should appear first. When the order of authors implies significance of contribution (it often does) author order matters a great deal.

Determining author order varies by discipline and is often a complex decision. Discuss with your collaborators your plans and expectations of authorship. Addressing these topics early on–even before any data is collected–will help avoid potentially awkward or difficult conversations later.

1 Adapted from Graduate Studies Ethics and Authorship

Responsibility Metric: Which types of responsibility (e.g. full accountability for all aspects of research, only accountable for personal contribution, etc.), if any, add to the significance of an individual’s contribution? Order them in terms of the amount of significance added to an individual’s contribution.

In some disciplines (English and Philosophy are two) first authors don't benefit more or less than their co-authors, so a footnote stating something like, “The order of authorship does not indicate level of contribution” is sufficient. In many disciplines (science fields, for example) the order in which authors are listed matters a great deal. Understanding the fundamentals of authorship is crucial to navigating your responsibilities as a researcher.

We'll consider four authorial distinctions–namely, first author, co-author, senior author, and submitting (or corresponding) author. In many disciplines the first author is often understood to have been the main contributor to the work. His or her name appears first in the byline of the paper, and the names of co-authors follow. A co-author listed second may or may not have contributed more or less than the third author. The senior author is the principal investigator of the study and is typically the research group leader or laboratory director. In some fields, it's conventional to list the senior author last, while in others the senior author is also the first author. The submitting author is in most cases either senior author or first author.2

The description of the senior author and the name of the submitting author indicate a great deal about their responsibilities. However, depending on which discipline you’re in or publishing within their responsibilities may extend beyond that which is indicated by their description or title. Likewise, the responsibilities of the first author and other co-authors vary across disciplines. It's important to understand the conventions of your discipline when it comes to deciding who’s who and who’s responsible for what in your area of research. Taking the time to complete Table 1 with your research mentor, a fellow senior researcher, or other reliable source will help you navigate the responsibilities of authorship.

Authorship decisions can take place at any stage of the writing process. Collaborators can join or leave your team, your work may expand or contract in scope, or colleagues may contribute more or less than originally planned. The best time to discuss authorship with your collaborators is before you begin a project and, if necessary, immediately after protocol or personnel changes.

Even if you wrote every word of a published work, you probably aren’t the only person who contributed to it. Take time to consider significant intellectual contributions from your mentors and colleagues and approach them about co-authorship as appropriate.. When it comes to authorship, good decisions are beneficial not only in your degree program, but also in building collaborative partnerships and your reputation of academic integrity.

2 The technical content is from Macrina, F. L. 2005. Scientific Integrity, 3rd ed. ASM Press: Chpt. 4. 5 / 7