Academic integrity
September 7, 2017
3 mins read

What is academic integrity?

When I was in university, people talked a lot about academic integrity but no one really explained to me what it was. It took me a while, but eventually I came to understand that it is more than just citing my sources in a paper.

In a nutshell, academic integrity is about honest and responsible scholarship. As a university student, and a scholar, you are expected to submit original work and give credit to other people’s ideas. Put another way, just like your professor can’t do a research project where they take credit for someone else’s ideas, you can’t either.

The whole purpose of university is to contribute to and create knowledge—you are a member of an academic community. As a student of the university you are expected to create your own work and original ideas, as well as acknowledge when you are using someone else’s ideas. The skills you learn at university—creating sound arguments, researching, thinking critically, and asking good questions—are all things that will make you an excellent student, and in the future, also make you a more competitive job applicant.

Yes, breaking the rules of academic integrity carries stiff penalties (often a failing grade or expulsion), but it also goes against the point of being at university: to learn. All of the learning and rigour of your university experience will be lost if you don’t submit your own work. University is about creating new knowledge, not cramming your head full of information that already exists. To create new knowledge, you need to give credit to ideas that you’ve gotten from your textbook or from someone else.

I now work with professors on a regular basis, and so I can tell you: they know when you’re not submitting original work. So how do you stay honest and within the parameters of academic integrity?

Here are some common reasons for plagiarism (intentional or unintentional) and some tools to help you avoid it:

Understanding the assignment

You may have experienced assignments that asked you to summarize others’ thoughts when writing a paper, sometimes without saying where those sources came from. UBC asks you to use and cite what others have said to build an argument of your own. This can be an unusual shift for some. To learn more about this, check out the UBC Writing Centre.

Creating original ideas

If you feel like you couldn’t possibly have your own ideas to contribute, talk to your professor or TA about how to ask questions and get more out of your sources.

Leaving enough time

If you find yourself falling behind, talk to your professor or TA as soon as possible. Tell them you’re struggling. Often they will be able to help you find techniques and resources to get back on track. Rather than looking like a failure, seeking help will make you look like an engaged student trying to do your best.

Using proper citation

Acknowledge all sources of information. Use citation guides if you are unsure. Even paraphrasing someone else’s idea requires acknowledgment. It’s not always clear when you might need to cite something, so don’t be afraid to ask early and often. Ask for clarification from your professor or TA, or talk to a reference librarian.


Have a plan. Students feel pressured to cheat when they run out of time and feel overwhelmed by commitments. Learning good time management techniques will help you avoid a time crunch.

Learn more

Hear how profs define academic integrity, read FAQs by other students, get tips to avoid plagiarism, and more from the UBC Learning Commons website.