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Academic Integrity in College: How (and why) to Avoid Cheating, Plagiarism, and Abusing AI

Academic Integrity in College: How (and why) to Avoid Cheating, Plagiarism, and Abusing AI

Plagiarism and cheating in college are serious offenses — it’s important to be aware of what they are and how to avoid them. And with the use of AI becoming mainstream, it may be tempting to use programs such as ChatGPT to complete your coursework. This guide shows you how to avoid plagiarism and cheating in all forms, and how to use technology responsibly to enhance your work and not appropriate others’.

When it’s 2am and you’re staring down a looming list of deadlines, shortcuts can be appealing, even to the most dedicated of students. But there is a difference between shortcuts and cheating. Unfortunately, you can still end up cheating if you do not know the rules.

Especially with access to powerful artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT, there is a new, massive gray area to contend with. And the stakes are high. Charges of plagiarism and cheating can lead to failing classes or even expulsion. Therefore, you must always stay vigilant and stay on the right side of the academic honor code. 

But rest assured, a determined and engaged student like yourself is totally capable of maintaining your academic integrity. It’s just a matter of knowing the rules, and we can help with that. Although policies may vary from school to school and classroom to classroom, there are some universal pillars of academic integrity. In this article, we’ll be clarifying what it means to cheat or plagiarize, and how you can avoid it. On top of that, we’ll also dive into AI and the challenges it can present to working ethically. Let’s dive in.

What Do Plagiarism & Cheating Look Like?

Plagiarism and cheating can be intentional or unintentional and can take various forms. Even if you aren’t trying to pull a fast one, it is possible to get caught unawares. So, always know the code of conduct and stay up to date on what unethical practices you need to avoid.

While plenty of syllabi are explicit about the consequences for plagiarism and cheating, the terms are rarely properly defined. So, we are going to bust out our dictionaries and take over. Below, we’ve broken down each type of plagiarism and cheating in detail so that we can all get on the same page. 

Plagiarism looks like…


In simple terms, plagiarism can be summarized as pretending someone else’s work is your own without giving them credit.

So, let’s focus on the word “intentional,” meaning that someone who intentionally plagiarized knows what they are doing is wrong but does it anyway. A big red flag for intentional plagiarism is if you are trying to hide where your information came from by not citing it properly or at all. 

Common examples of intentional plagiarism include copying and pasting parts of or entire documents without citing, paraphrasing sources without citing, paying someone to write a paper, or making up citations that aren’t used in the assignment. 


We all make mistakes in our writing. Unfortunately, sometimes those mistakes result in unintended plagiarism. Unlike intentional plagiarism, which is often evident throughout an assignment, unintentional plagiarism is usually small errors within an otherwise honest piece. 

Some common traps for unintentional plagiarism include not knowing when and how to cite your sources, and ineffective paraphrasing. Students may assume that you only need to cite direct quotations as sources, but that is not the case. You need to cite when you reference a source and where you’ve paraphrased or summarized another person’s ideas or research. 

Paraphrasing does not mean that you cannot just replace a few words with their synonyms. To paraphrase correctly, you need to restate the content in an entirely new sentence structure with different language (and then cite it correctly). 

Cheating looks like…


Plagiarism is a form of cheating, but there are plenty of other ways to cheat as well. At its heart, intentional cheating is trying to gain an advantage by breaking the rules. There are serious consequences for cheating, but cheaters also rob themselves of the knowledge they could have earned by playing fairly. 

Common ways that students intentionally cheat include copying work from others, surreptitiously using notes or other sources during exams, sharing answers for homework or tests with other students, and working together when they are supposed to be working independently. In some extreme cases, cheaters will even pay other people to take their tests for them. 


It’s hard to accidentally copy someone’s answers during a test or pay someone to do your work for you. But unintentional cheating can definitely happen. Usually, unintentional cheating results from misunderstanding instructions or making simple oversights. 

For example, your instructor might allow students to work in groups on some assignments, but not others. So, if you do not pay attention to instructions, you could accidentally collaborate on individual work. Another common source of unintentional cheating is through electronics. Many schools have policies against using electronics during tests, so pulling out your phone to check the time during an exam can result in cheating charges. 

What Does it Mean to Have Academic Integrity?

And who even cares, right? Eh, not so much. If you’re bothering to attend college, you should probably care about your integrity. Not following your school’s academic honor code is a sure way to shortchange yourself when it comes to your education. So, to get the most from your studies, and avoid the consequences of cheating, let’s chat about what it means to study with integrity.

Defining Academic Integrity

Typically, schools have an explicit academic integrity policy, which can be found in the last few pages of any course syllabus. The specifics may vary based on your institution, but usually involve a few core principles. First and foremost is academic honesty (read: no cheating). Other common ones include treating students and faculty with respect, acting in a spirit of fairness, and taking responsibility for your work and actions. 

Why Academic Integrity is Important

For starters, if you’re not following your school’s academic integrity policy, you could find yourself being kicked to the curb. But there’s more to it than that, by acting with integrity, you ensure that you get the most out of your studies. Even if shortcuts are easy solutions that worked for you previously, it rarely works in real-life and work settings. If you get used to taking shortcuts, you’ll take that mindset into your post-college career and could suffer for it. Finally, schools take academic integrity very seriously. Without demonstrating a commitment to the values of academic honesty, your school can lose their certifications and credibility, which can also devalue your diploma. 

Academic Integrity on College Campuses

Schools typically take a multi-pronged approach to ensuring academic honesty on campus. At the highest levels, schools establish honor codes and policies that all students must comply with. Your instructors may receive regular training and reviews to ensure they are upholding integrity standards. They may also have to review academic integrity policies with students at the start of each semester. Students will typically have access to resources including written content, librarians, and writing centers to help ensure their work meets ethical standards. Finally, across the board, students are encouraged to ask questions when they are unsure, and report academic misconduct they may see.

Master Citations with These Simple Guidelines

We feel you, incorporating citations into your work can feel tedious and maybe even pointless. However, they are super important when it comes to academic integrity and providing supporting evidence for your ideas. The bottom line is that anyone who reads your work needs to be able to find exactly where you got your information from. Citations are what makes that possible. Let’s make sure we’re dialed in on the basics of citations by looking at a few common scenarios you might encounter. 


Properly citing your quotations is the difference between plagiarizing someone else’s work and effectively providing evidence to support your thesis. To begin, make sure the quotes are in quotation marks. You can use ellipses or brackets to show where words have been added or removed for clarity (if that sounds like nonsense, don’t stress, we’ll have more resources to help you later on). Now that you’ve got your quote written down, let’s cite it with an in-text citation! In-text citations appear right after the quote either in parenthesis or footnotes depending on the style. Here are a few examples:

MLA Style

The authors describe Hawkeye as “[adopting] the love of land and therefore [thinking] he belongs to the land” (Tuck and Yang, 15)

Notice that the writer used brackets around [adopting] and [thinking] to show that the tense of the quote was altered to fit the rest of the sentence. The parenthesis after the quotation is an MLA in-text citation that includes the authors and the page number where the quotation can be found. If the reader wants more information about the source, they can easily use the information in the in-text citation match it with the article information in the mandatory “Works Cited” page at the end of the essay:

Tuck, Eve, and K Wayne Yang. 2012. “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor.”
Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1 (1): 1–41.

Chicago Style

Unlike MLA style, Chicago style relies on footnotes for in-text citations, like so:

Writing on the conditions of English agricultural workers in the 1850s, Karl Marx observed that, “All progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the laborer, but of robbing the soil”1.

And here is the corresponding footnote:

In Chicago style, the first time you use a source, you’ll include the full citation from your works cited page. After that, you just use the author’s last name, publication year, and the page number for your citation. 


Even in a great article or book, the verbatim quotation might not support the point you are trying to make, this is where paraphrasing comes in. Writers paraphrase in order to summarize large amounts of text into a concise explanation, or to make the source’s information easier to interpret for the readers. With Chicago style, you use the same style of footnotes we described above. With MLA there are two ways you can structure in-text citations:

If you use the source’s name while introducing their idea, you only need to include the page number in your in-text citation like so:

Hernández et. al. rightly point out that stable food supplies are a central component to the success of the EZLNs long term fight for self-governance (247).

If you do not use the sources name while introducing their idea (which is totally fine), make sure that it is included in your in-line citation:

Without the outside financial support that the farm continued to rely on, the Freedom Farm Collective was not able to recover from a series of natural disasters that inhibited agricultural productivity (White 85–86).

As always, make sure that in-text citations have a corresponding entry in your works cited page.

Citation Resources

Simple right? Buckle up, because there is more to learn. Depending on the style you are writing in – more on that in a second — you’ll find there are other writing conventions around how your works cited page or bibliography should be formatted. Your citation style also decides how you should lay out the title, page numbers and margins on your paper. It’s a real barrel of fun. Fortunately, there is absolutely no reason to memorize all the rules. There are plenty of resources to help you out. If you have any questions, the Purdue Online Writing Lab is a go-to for all the info you need. They cover the ins and outs of all the style guides and how to cite and format properly within them. Or, maybe your school like the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, provides a good quick explanation on where and when to include citations.

If, at this point you’re thinking “Ugh, why can’t someone just do this for me?” get stoked. Because someone, or rather some things, can do all your citations automatically. Services like Citation Machine or Easy Bib let you type in all your source information and will write your bibliographies for you. Even better, if you also want to keep your sources organized, free programs like Mendeley and Zotero help you keep all your readings in one place. They’ll both write bibliographies for you. And, the best part is they both have plug-ins for Microsoft Word that let you generate in-text citations seamlessly. No copy and pasting required. Databases like JSTOR and WORLDCAT even have their sources already cited in common citation styles.

Now, one last thing. Before we talk all about AI, we need to talk about style books. Different academic fields use different conventions when it comes to formatting and citation. So, let’s take a look at the three most common forms of citations. All the resources we gave you above can help you cite in any of these styles, and you can usually access a digital copy of the style books through your school library. These guides are updated pretty regularly, so make sure you are referencing the latest version.

  • MLA (Modern Language Association) Style: MLA style considered, by some, to be the easiest format to comply with. So much of your academic writing will probably involve MLA. This is especially true for classes in the humanities such as English or cultural studies.
  • Chicago Manual of Style: This and MLA are the most common styles you’ll be asked to write with during your studies. Some professors may even let you choose to write in whichever you prefer. While you’ll certainly encounter some humanities professors who prefer Chicago style, the format is more common in the sciences, legal studies, and public policy programs. 
  • AP Style Manual: The AP manual is the style guide developed by The Associated Press for their journalists. If you are a journalism student, you will become intimately familiar with the conventions of the AP manual. You may also encounter it in some business and communication classes. However, this style is not widely used in other areas of academia.

Responsible AI Use in College

Hopefully it goes without saying that, as a college student, you should not be using AI platforms to do your assignments for you. You’ll need to use the power of AI judiciously to stay within the bounds of your school’s academic conduct code. However, there are times when AI can help speed up and improve your work without wading into murky ethical waters. Below, we’ve called out eight ways that AI can be used appropriately to support your studies:

Use AI to Find Data Points to Support Your Work

ChatGPT can be helpful when you need a quick statistic or a starting point for scholarly research. Try asking the program questions like “please look up the population growth in Asia over the last five years, including citations” or “make me a list of scholarly articles about bay scallops.” The program will jumpstart your work with helpful stats and resources. But remember, you still have to vet your sources, paraphrase, and include citations to the source material. 

Example Prompts: (Call out box)

  • What countries are in the European Union?
  • How big is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Please include a citation.
  • What is the current gender pay gap in the US according to The Census Bureau?

Use for Spell Check and Grammatical Errors

If other spell check services aren’t available, or you find them inconvenient, ChatGPT can do the work for you, including editing for clarity and conciseness. Simply ask the bot to check for spelling, grammar, etc. Then, paste a block of text for it to review. Always keep in mind that the bot does not highlight the changes it makes to your text, and not all the changes will be correct. In addition, there’s a chance that it might also not catch all the mistakes. So, always double check and proofread the completed review. 

Second, while checking for spelling and grammar is probably allowed, some professors may have issues with using ChatGPT to revise for clarity, conciseness, tone, formality, or other characteristics that demonstrate your skill as a writer. Be sure to check your syllabus and discuss with your instructor before you submit an assignment that has been heavily edited with ChatGPT.

Example Prompts:

  • Read the following paragraph and correct spelling and grammar errors.
  • Please read this email draft and edit for clarity.

Use to Check for MLA, AP, or Chicago style

Citations are hard. And missing or incorrect citations are an extremely common source of inadvertent plagiarism. This is where ChatGPT can be a second set of eyes for your work. It can help in a few different ways. First, you can paste a block of text into the chat box and ask it to check for proper citations in the style you are using. It will go through and offer suggestions of where you may need to correct your work. It will also identify places where citations seem needed but aren’t provided. Second, you can take an already completed text, and ask it to change the citation style. Finally, you can send over your bibliography to make sure that each citation is formatted accurately and has enough information. 

Example Prompts:

  • Please read this paper and check for proper in-text MLA citations.
  • Reformat this paper into AP style.
  • Review this bibliography and make sure that it is in Chicago Style.

Use it for Feedback and Editing Support

On ChatGPT, this can get ethically tricky. Our experiences suggest that ChatGPT cannot supply standalone feedback on your writing. But it will provide revisions and explain why it made changes. This can be a useful way to get feedback, but it can also be a slippery slope if you start submitting ChatGPT revisions as your own work. For feedback, Google Bard is a better way to go, it can read your work and give you a bulleted list of suggestions of how to improve your writing without doing all the work for you. 

Example Prompts:

  • How would you rewrite this text to make it easier to understand?
  • Read this section of text and give me some advice on how to improve its quality.

Use it to Research Topic Ideas

This is another spot where you are walking an ethical fine line. Let’s say you’re writing a paper where your assignment is to discuss one of the central themes in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. While you’re brainstorming, it might be helpful and appropriate to ask AI to give you a list of major themes within the play. You can then use this information to form your own original thesis. However, asking ChatGPT to write a thesis statement, or even an entire essay for you, would likely be considered academic dishonesty, if they aren’t your own original ideas.

Example Prompts:

  • What are the major contributors to global warming?
  • What are the creation myths of different cultures around the world?
  • What were the most important social issues of the early 1970s?

Researching and Finding Sources for a Topic

In our opinion, this is one of the most helpful academic uses for AI. Simply ask your bot of choice to generate a list of scholarly sources based on a chosen topic, the more specific the better. It will respond with a list of ten or more articles and their publication information. From there, you can follow up with your library database or open-source options to look up the sources and evaluate their usefulness. 

Example Prompts:

  • Please give me sources that provide a general overview of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity
  • What are 10 scholarly sources about Sumerian agricultural practices?
  • List recent studies about US Bison populations.

Schedule Creation to Help You Stay Organized

Chat bots like Chat GPT and Google Bard can offer helpful tips when it comes to managing your calendar but aren’t ready to handle the task on their own. Fortunately, there are plenty of AI calendar programs out there. Since everyone’s scheduling needs and preferences are different, it may take a few tries to find the service that best fits your needs. But when you do, prepare to revel in the fact that you now have your very own robot personal assistant. What a world!

Example Prompts:

  • What are some tips to keep my calendar up to date?
  • How can I format my schedule to support my work-life balance?
  • What AI services are there to help me plan my time?

Language Translation

Maybe you’ve seen some of the memes of online translators failing. Fortunately, things have come a long way since the days when Google might mix up the Spanish words for “spouse” and “handcuffs.” Now, you can just copy text straight into ChatGPT and ask it to translate for you. This works even if you don’t know the source language. As in all things, there may still be errors in translations. So, this can be a great tool for casual communication, and getting the gist of foreign language sources. But if you’re preparing to publish and the stakes are high, you should confirm your translation with a fluent speaker. 

Example Prompts:

  • Translate this paragraph of text from Norwegian to English:
  • Translate this text from English to Greek:
  • What is the Portuguese word for “student”?

Helpful Resources for Students

Are you hungry for more academic integrity content? Don’t worry, there are plenty of wonderful resources out there to help you out. To make it easy for you, we’ve pulled together 20 top-tier articles, websites, and practical tools to help you on your journey to become an ethics champion.

  • Academic Integrity Disciplinary Action – School policy varies, but if you’re looking to get an idea of the academic consequences of cheating, The University of California, San Diego’s academic integrity page is a good place to start. This page clearly lays out what to expect if you get caught.
  • AI for Everyone: Master the Basics – This free web course from IBM’s edX program introduces students to the key concepts of AI, its limitations, and how it can be used in various settings.
  • As AI-Enabled Cheating Roils Colleges, Professors Turn to an Ancient Testing Method – If an oral final exam sounds like your worst nightmare, you aren’t alone. But, according to Douglas Belkin at The Wall Street Journal, that might be our future if AI cheating gets out of control.
  • Block Center for Technology and Society – This project from Carnegie Mellon University develops research on the impact of AI across various sectors of society. They also offer free webinars for students and educators to learn more about AI tools and how they affect the educational system.
  • Consequences for Academic Dishonesty – When we think about the consequences of cheating, expulsion and failed classes usually come to mind. But, as this tutorial from Northern Illinois University points out, there is more at stake. This article talks about the social and cultural consequences of cheating and gives you a chance to test your knowledge.
  • Four ways to help you avoid cheating, plagiarism, and other forms of academic dishonesty – Oftentimes, plagiarism and cheating result from misunderstandings or poor planning. The University of Colorado, Boulder has some tips to help you avoid these common pitfalls.
  • Grammarly Proofreading and Plagiarism Checker – This service proofreads your work for spelling and grammar errors and offers feedback on clarity, tone, and style. Once you are done editing, it can also scan your document for potential instances of plagiarism.
  • Harness the Power of AI While Avoiding Its Pitfalls – if you’re going to use AI as a study buddy, it is important to have some idea of how it works. This article from Virginia Tech gives a great overview of the strengths and weaknesses of emerging AI programs.
  • How to Avoid Plagiarism – This helpful guide from The University of Hong Kong provides an easy to follow, in depth explanation of plagiarism with plenty of helpful examples.
  • How to Stop Cheating in College – Certainly new technologies have made it easier than ever to cheat. But it’s a double-edged sword. New technologies also make it easier for instructors to detect dishonesty. This fascinating article from The Atlantic explores the classroom tensions caused by technological advancement.
  • How Students Can Us AI and ML Responsibly – If you’re still feeling unclear on how to use AI to support your studies ethically, this article from Business World may be able to help with some of your lingering questions.
  • Just How Dishonest Are Most Students? – If all this talk of academic integrity feels mostly theoretical, you’ll be surprised to know that honor codes appear to actually work. This editorial by Dr. Christian B. Miller lays out some startling statistics on the efficacy of academic integrity policies.
  • Penn State Academic Integrity Policy – Academic honesty policies vary from school to school. But, Penn State’s in-depth explanation of what academic integrity means and the consequences of cheating can help give you an idea of what to expect.
  • Plagiarism.org – This non-profit organization is dedicated to working with educators and students to provide the knowledge, resources, and skills necessary to “write with integrity”
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab – This is the MVP of all-things citations. If you only click one link, make it this one. The Purdue “OWL” has an extensive set of resources about different citations styles, advice on how to improve your writing, and its very own citation generator.
  • Ref-N-Write – A writing companion that offers help with paraphrasing, an academic phrase bank, document templates, citation help, and a plagiarism checker.
  • Scribbr Plagiarism Checker – This site allows you to upload your paper to their free plagiarism checker. It will compare your work against their massive database to ensure that you have not inadvertently plagiarized someone else’s work.
  • Some Guidance for Using AI in the Classroom – This piece from Iowa State University is actually written for faculty. But, for students like yourself it is an interesting look into how universities are managing the rapidly expanding capabilities in classrooms.
  • Student-Designed Policy on Use of Generative AI Adopted by Data Sciences Faculty – Boston University took a novel approach to addressing students’ use of AI: They asked the students to write their own academic conduct policy. This article outlines how a digital ethics class’s final project transformed into university policy.
  • Who Wrote This? – If you want to look at scholarly sources on academic integrity, this article by Simon Sweeney is a good place to start. The paper discusses the growing issue of students paying for essays and how it can be addressed.

Interview with a College Instructor

A woman smiling, with a marina and sunset in the background. She is wearing a dark blazer and standing on a balcony.

Lauren Frick

Lauren Frick (she/her), is a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno. She has taught first-year writing courses as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, and she will be serving as a Graduate Student Assistant Director for the Writing and Speaking Initiative for the 2023-24 academic year. She shares her experience from both working in academia as well as her student perspective with us here.
  • How prevalent is plagiarism and cheating among college students, and have you noticed any changes in recent years, particularly with the rise of AI technology?

    I’ve only been teaching for a year, so I can’t necessarily say whether or not there’s been a significant rise in plagiarism and cheating in recent years based on my personal experience teaching. My practice in the classroom is to give students the benefit of the doubt, but it’s also quite easy to gain a sense of students’ voices as writers in the composition classroom. Significant shifts in tone and structure are giveaways that a students’ work might not be their own. Most often, the point of plagiarism and cheating is tied to incorrect citations or the general lack of in-text citations and/or a bibliography.

  • What specific measures does the college have in place to detect and prevent plagiarism and cheating, considering the potential use of AI-powered tools?

    Because AI is a rapidly developing technology, policies surrounding student use of AI are in flux.

    There are, however, tools at instructors’ disposal to help deter plagiarism and the use of AI technology. The Office of Digital Learning (ODL) at UNR lists Respondus Lockdown Browser and TurnItIn as tools that are supported by ODL. They also share GPTZero and GPT-2 Output Detector Demo by Hugging Face as potential external AI detection tools. Whether or not these tools are utilized is up to department and/or instructor discretion. Additionally, instructors can work to try and make their assignments more challenging for AI generators to meet the requirements. Some of those revisions might include asking about current events, focusing on local content, requiring the integration of sources, or having assignments built on previous work.

  • What are some strategies or techniques that you recommend to students to avoid plagiarism and maintain academic integrity?

    Citing sources and ensuring that the proper citation style is used and consistent across the entirety of a body of work is the best strategy I can offer. There are tons of resources that detail how to format in-text citations and bibliographies, whether it be APA, MLA, Chicago Style, or another style type.

  • Are there any specific policies or guidelines in place regarding the use of AI tools for academic purposes? How are students informed about these policies?

    At UNR currently, there are no specific policies or guidelines in place specific to AI in relation to cheating and plagiarism. However, many instructors have begun to include language in the syllabi forbidding the use of AI for assignments.

  • What measures does the college take to stay updated with emerging AI technologies and their potential implications for plagiarism detection?

    There have been a handful of talks and workshops for faculty and staff addressing the rise in student use of AI, and I assume there will be more to come.

  • What steps does the college take to support students in understanding and adhering to academic integrity principles while using AI tools?

    There are none that I am currently aware of. However, I think finding ways to incorporate AI in the classroom and to present it as a potential resource for brainstorming, narrowing down a topic, etc. could be beneficial.

  • Are there any resources or guidelines available to assist students in navigating potential pitfalls and gray areas associated with AI use?

    There aren’t any that I am well-acquainted with currently. But hopefully as colleges become more familiar with how students are utilizing these tools, they will be proactive in creating guidelines to clear up any confusion with AI use.

  • Are there any specific resources or tools available at the college to help students understand and prevent plagiarism?

    UNR, like most universities, has a writing center that can be a very helpful resource to help students understand and prevent plagiarism. Aside from tutoring services where students might practice paraphrasing, quoting, and citing, the Writing and Speaking Center at UNR has all sorts of online guides to help students ensure that they are citing their sources correctly.