Academic Honesty: An Unending Conversation

Written by Jess Mazaheri, Director of Disability Services and Educational Resource Centers

One of the most highly-valued standards in higher education—whether you are a brand new student or a seasoned professor—is academic honesty. Academic honesty is a commitment to eliminating plagiarism across the university. Most of us know the common definition of plagiarism: submitting someone else’s work, word for word, as your own. But it is often more complicated than that. That’s why at Point, we want to help you develop skills so that all of your writing is academically honest.

Writing is a conversation that necessitates acknowledgement of all the contributors to that conversation. To get a better sense of how it works, imagine yourself heading to a family reunion. You’re running late. When you finally arrive, you enter the room and realize that the topic of the current conversation has your family members very excited—so excited that no one will pause to fill you in. In fact, many have not been in the room long enough to say how it began in the first place. So you find an open chair and listen. As you’re listening, you begin to get a sense of the conversation, so you contribute your ideas. You begin to get very excited yourself—you’re invested now. Someone responds to your input, you offer your retort, and soon you are in the very center of the discussion. Hours pass, and you realize it’s time to leave. As you depart, the conversation continues well into the evening.[1]

The scenario above is a paraphrase of a famous rhetoric metaphor called the “unending conversation,” or Burke’s parlor metaphor. It is often used to illustrate how academic writing works—first, we have to know what the conversation is before we can join it. This is research. Then we write; we offer our own ideas, analysis, argument, etc. to that pre-existing conversation. In the process, we acknowledge all of the sources we consulted while we were initiating ourselves into the conversation on our topic.

Notice the footnote at the end of my paraphrase. I’ve cited my source for the Burkean parlor metaphor, even though I did not quote it directly. This is how academic honesty works—every idea that is not my own needs to be cited according to a particular citation style, whether it’s MLA, APA, or Chicago Style/Turabian. Without that citation, my paragraph, even though I wrote it, would be considered plagiarism. That’s why it’s important to remember that accidental or unintended plagiarism is still plagiarism.

Citing sources is often a daunting task, and one that many of us do not immediately see the value of. To help, CGPS has recently begun using Turnitin for written submissions. Similar to Vericite, Turnitin scans your written work and detects any amount of plagiarism within it. Use it to your advantage—if you want to avoid plagiarism, you can run your paper through the database and Turnitin will give you an exact percentage of what material originated from other sources. This helps you, as a student, and Point, as a university, maintain academic honesty.

To recap:

  1. Ideas that are not your own need to be acknowledged and cited as someone else’s work.
  2. Paraphrases, summaries, and direct quotes need citations.
  3. Accidental plagiarism is still plagiarism.
  4. detects plagiarism down to the letter. Use it as a tool to revise your writing so that all of your sources are cited.
  5. Submit drafts of your papers to the Writing Center for assistance with formatting your citations in the correct style guide of your discipline. We can also help with paraphrases, summaries, and direct quotations.

[1] Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form (Berkeley: U of California P, 1941), 110-11.