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How to Teach Intellectual Honesty and Discourage Plagiarism

Intellectual honesty is an important value that goes beyond paraphrasing, citing sources and condemning plagiarism. In the classroom, you can teach intellectual honesty and discourage plagiarism by fostering good values and necessary academic skills.

Intellectual honesty is an important value that goes beyond paraphrasing, citing sources and condemning plagiarism. It's a value that also requires skill to be realized. In the classroom, you can teach intellectual honesty and discourage plagiarism by fostering good values and necessary academic skills.

What is intellectual honesty? Why is it set apart from plain old honesty? What is plagiarism and why should we discourage plagiarism?

I found two definitions and discussions that encapsulate the intellectual or academic aspect and the value-laden aspect of intellectual honesty.

For the more practical aspect, which addresses the value in school context, Dalhouse University defines intellectual honesty this way:

"Academic integrity means that we are honest and accurate in creating and communicating all academic products. Acknowledgement of other people’s work must be done in a way that does not leave the reader in any doubt as to whose work it is. Academic integrity means trustworthy conduct such as not cheating on examinations and not misrepresenting information." (Dalhouse Univerity, 2010)

That pretty much explains why plagiarism is dishonest, why citations should be checked and what misbehavior involves intellectual dishonesty.

Of course, the value of intellectual honesty is a VALUE and not just an academic requirement or exercise. Oakton Community College's Center for Academic Integrity provides this definition of academic integrity:

"…a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to five fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility. From these values flow principles of behavior that enable academic communities to translate ideals into action." (Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity, Center for Academic Integrity, Oakton Community College, 1999)

Teaching values to our dear young students is a challenge, especially with all the input they get from various media, via TV or the Internet. Even the most basic values such as honesty, which every child should be taught by their parents early on, seem to have become obsolete. How then can teachers develop intellectual honesty among students if the root values mentioned above have not yet been fully imbibed? The following tips will help you create a classroom environment conducive to—and appreciative of—the value of intellectual honesty.

Set clear and specific definitions. You may be telling your students day after day not to commit plagiarism and to practice intellectual honesty. You may instruct them to use paraphrasing instead of copying verbatim. But do they understand what you mean exactly? A lot of students end up being charged with plagiarism simply because they have no idea that they are committing plagiarism. Clearly define what your standards are in terms of intellectual honesty and plagiarism. Be as specific as you can and give examples of plagiarism so students know what to do and not to do.

Explain what the big fuss is about. Kids couldn't care any less about punctuation like quotation marks and parentheses with names and years. For some students, finding a paragraph that perfectly states what they can't put into words is a miracle, and including it in the report is but natural. So why is teacher making a big issue out of missing quotations? Intellectual honesty makes people bestow credit where it is due, and cast shadow where there is fault. Whether it is an excellent analysis or a false report, make your students understand that quotations and citations are needed so that an honest judgment can also be made of their work—and other people's works.

Start with examples that are not academic. For students, the terms intellectual and academic translate to grades. The lofty ideals of intellectual exercise are still beyond them. Talk about intellectual honesty and plagiarism in the most basic setups or situations first. For example: "You came up with a witty joke and told it to a classmate. That classmate used it in class as if it were his own and made everyone laugh. The next day, he said it again to his club. How would you feel if you tried saying the line to others and they accuse you of imitating your classmate?"

Foster creativity and originality. Others have made their contribution to the reservoir of knowledge. Challenge your students and encourage them to make their own mark. This will boost their belief in themselves that they can come up with ideas and analyses of their own. It will also foster positive feelings about being original and generating ideas and interpretations on their own. When they believe they can think independently and critically, with confidence, and they start feeling good about it, they won't mind the hard work.

Develop the value of hard work. Academic work is still work, and a hard one at that. At least, for those who choose the path of intellectual honesty. What appear to be the simple tasks of paraphrasing and citing sources are hard work for students. That's because it is "out of the way," like checkpoints while on a road trip. The easy way is to find a viable answer to a question, period. Stating the answer in their own words and even formatting the citation are extra work for them. So even in the simplest matters, make sure your students appreciate working hard for and on something.

Set an example. Cliché indeed. Practice what you preach. And this is most true for teaching values. If you want your students to be intellectually honest, you yourself should exemplify the value. Include citations where you can. Even in speech, always report quotes from books or authors. Not only are students constantly reminded of what they should do, they are also made to realize that intellectual honesty applies to everyone. It's not a simple added burden to students. Even teachers need to quote and cite accordingly.

Bestow fair feedback. To set an example of fairness and giving credit where it is due, make sure you provide ample and just feedback in class. It could be during recitation, by mentioning the name of a student who shared his or her idea earlier in class. Take time to write comments on each of the student's works. Don't hesitate to showcase a diversity of works and projects that have good points. You can even use a Merit Board where the best papers or submissions are posted regularly. Be fair to include even the non-honor roll students who actually did perform well in the activity or homework.

Mention consequences. Even with their book reports and analysis papers, students still view research as a mere requirement. The terms "academic" and "intellectual" for them translate into grades, passing or failing, and graduating or not. Students view any wrongdoing in a research paper or homework as punishable only in school, by means of a deduction in score or even a zero score. Emphasize the importance of paraphrasing, quoting correctly and citing sources by enumerating consequences if they do not. Include punishment for plagiarism in college and beyond, on to professional life. Just the mere mention of expulsion is enough, but don't forget to mention loss of degrees earned, law suits and ridicule.


Center for Academic Integrity, Oakton Community College. (1999). Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity.

Dalhouse University. (2010). Sample Syllabus Statement.

*Image by mordoc at stock.xchng

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Comments (4)

Truly, plagiarism should be taken seriously. It's really unprofessional.

A well laid-out plan--whether it works or not remains to be seen!

Plagiarism is a big issue in schools. With the Internet, it's become both easier and harder to teach kids to be academically honest.

Plagerism, if caught, is much more than a failing grade, getting kicked out of college, or having an article rejected, which will probably be published elsewhere even if it is on one's personal site or blog when all else fails. It is against the law, and the legal reprucussions can be phenomenal.