Academic Integrity and Giving Proper Credit

By Peter Connor

The beginning of the semester is a great time to address the issue of academic integrity with your students. The murky part, of course, is communicating the message effectively.

Bill Taylor, a professor of Political Science at Oakton Community College in Illinois, did it by writing an open letter to his students, based upon ideas contained in the first draft of "The Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity," a project developed at Clemson University's Center for Academic Integrity.

The letter covers a lot of ground, out of which I have created a number of Teaching Tips that you will find indexed under TILT’s Related Tips in the right-hand column.

In the tip below—Section IV of the letter—Taylor elaborates on the importance and reasons for giving proper authorship-credit in academic writing.

From Bill Taylor’s "A Letter to My Students"

By its very nature, education and the accumulation of knowledge is a shared enterprise. None of us has the time, let alone the background knowledge required, to learn everything on our own. Virtually everything we know has come to us because someone else has taken the time to think about something, research it, and then share what s/he’s learned with us in a class lecture or, more likely, in an article or book. This is every bit as true for me as a teacher as it is for you as students. I’d have very little to teach if all I could talk about is what I’ve learned solely on my own.

In a class lecture it would be too disruptive if I stopped to cite all of my sources, but I know, and you need to know, that I am sharing with you the things I’ve learned from hundreds of different authors. What I contribute is the way I bring their ideas together into a coherent whole so that it makes sense to you.

If this is true for me, how much more so [is it] for you? I have many more years of education and reading behind me than you do. I don’t expect you to do original research. Instead, I expect you to read about the research of others, and to bring together their ideas in such a way that makes sense to you and will make sense to me.

Therefore, it’s essential for you to cite your sources in any research paper you write. The academic reasons for doing so are to give credit to those who have done the original research and written the article or book, and to allow me to look at them if I needed to find out if you have properly understood what the author was trying to say.

But at a practical level, citing your sources is a way to show that you’ve done the assignment. If your paper contains no citations, the implication is that you have done a piece of original research, but that wasn’t the assignment. Citations (along with the bibliography) show that you have consulted a variety of resources as the assignment required. They’re also an acknowledgement of your indebtedness to those authors.

So don’t feel you need to hide the fact that you’re drawing from one of your sources. That’s what it’s all about.

Note: In other sections of his letter (see TILT's Related Tips) Taylor describes the similarity of the responsibilities both he and his students have relative to class preparation and participation, as well as to exams, written assignments and grades.

Sources:

Taylor, B. (n.d.). Integrity: Academic and Political - A Letter to My Students. In Academic Integrity Articles. Retrieved January 9, 2009, from the Clemson University Center for Academic Integrity Web site: http://www.academicintegrity.org/educational_resources/pdf/Letter_To_My_Students.pdf.

Copyright and Permissions:

This Teaching Tip was adapted from "A Letter to My Students," written by William M. Taylor: Political Science Professor—Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, IL.

NOTE: Taylor has granted permission for his letter to be used in any way that is consistent with promoting academic integrity (n.d., p.1).

Contributors:

Peter Connor - TILT Web Content Writer and Editor