Writing Integrity Policy: Avoiding Plagiarism and AI Abuse
I’ve noticed a great deal of confusion the past few years regarding the appropriate use of outside sources and AI support. Unfortunately, there are some commonalities between good research and technology usage versus failures in academic integrity, so let’s clarify these differences.
I Care About Your Writing — Good or Bad
As researchers and writers, you are taking part in the production of knowledge — as students, you are learning the skills to do it better. I don’t expect perfect knowledge or perfect writing — perfection simply doesn’t exist. If I had a dollar for every word I’ve had to delete while writing this syllabus, I could buy my son that brand new kayak he keeps asking for.
I want you to bring your own words and your own ideas to the page, and that’s it. Show me what you know. Show me what you care about. Except for direct quotes with citations, every word should come from you. Every fact you use should be cited back to the original source. But after that, I want your opinions. I want your views. Tell me your take on the subject, even if you disagree with the experts. A poorly written paper with good citations is far, far better than something copied from elsewhere or hallucinated by an AI without sources. I can’t teach you to become a better writer unless it’s your writing you submit.
Writing Your Own Original Work is Essential
When submit your work for class, this is my expectation:
All work you submit must be your own. Except for those words you place in quotation marks and cite from other sources, every word in your papers must come from your own thoughts. Whether you’re writing by hand, typing, or speaking into Google’s voice-to-text, make sure it’s your work I’m reading.
Your sources of information must be cited. Much of the material you write from your thoughts will include information from outside sources. Except for those facts that are common knowledge, every piece of information you provide must be cited to a source. Give me a book or website or a YouTube interview so I can verify that your information is real. If nothing else, it’s good CYA in case your source is total c***.
Personal experience must be identified. If you have information you’ve learned through personal experience, you must describe that experience to show how you came by this information. You can’t count yourself as an outside source, but you can definitely use what you know. I encourage it.
Your work must be original to this course. You may not resubmit assignments from past classes, and you may not use this class’s assignments for other classes. I’m here to gauge how much you’ve learned from my class, not someone else’s class.
Don’t worry too much about grammar and spelling and structure and all that. We’re all students of writing — myself included. There are no perfect writers, and everything can be revised.
You’ve no doubt heard about ChatGPT. You should know that writing teachers have been debating the pros and cons of artificial intelligence since the early Fourth Century BC. (Feels like it, anyway.)
In the debates about artificial intelligence, many forget that we are already using AI in our everyday writing — I sometimes forget myself. The following are acceptable uses of technology that you can directly use in your writing:
Word Processor Programs like Word, Google Docs, and Pages are essential tools. You can also use paper, pencil, Post-its, or even a typewriter for some assignments, but most of our work requires a computer.
Voice-to-Text is a great way to get your ideas on the page. If you can’t reach a keyboard or you simply don’t feel comfortable writing, you can talk your paper into Google. The words are your own, so this is perfectly acceptable. If you make a multimodal video, Google can provide this service for your captions, and this is a great support for anyone with difficulty hearing.
AI Text-to-Speech for multimodal projects where you’ve written a text and you use the computer to create a voiceover. As long as the original words are yours, you’re good! (This is true for my writing course — it likely wouldn’t work for a speech course.)
Graphics Tools that create video animations, such as slide transitions or cartoons. As long as you’re the one doing the editing and making the design choices, you’re good. (This is true for my writing course — it might not be true for a film course.)
Spell Check is perfectly appropriate — I encourage you to review every caution the squiggly lines provide. Their recommendations aren’t always better, but they are always helpful. I use spell check all the time. (I ducking hate that I need it, but some suggestions keep me out of trouble . . .)
Google and other search engines are essential tools for finding information — you will use these a great deal in this course.
Library Websites offer search algorithms, just like Google. Of course I want you using them! What kind of English teacher tells you to not use the library?
Social Media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram provide information directly from people, and you often get great firsthand thoughts from people directly tied to your topics — you are definitely welcome to use these as primary sources in your work, including the search engine functions they provide.
Grammarly takes the writing you’ve already done and recommends revisions. Although I prefer hearing your own words as they are, Grammarly requires you to put your own ideas on paper first, so I have no objections to it.
EasyBib and other citation generators are similar to Grammarly in that it takes information you’ve found and reformats it into a bibliography. Remember that EasyBib is only as good as the information you give it — I’m fine with you using it, but you’re responsible for whether those citations are correctly written. And I don’t recommend simply giving EasyBib a URL and then trusting it to give you an accurate citation — it doesn’t work for Heartland Library resources, and it makes mistakes on most other websites.
Some Technologies Include Landmines
These technologies are useful, but they can be easily misused. Here are some resources that can help with ideas, but there are some real limits how how you use them in your writing:
Online Images must be cited to a source. For educational purposes, you can use almost any image for this class under Fair Use as long as you have that citation. If, however, you share your work online or for publication, then you might not be able to use those outside images covered by copyright.
Wikipedia is another useful tool for learning information and finding more sources, but it should not be used as a main research source for your papers. If you want to use information from Wikipedia, you must go to the original sources that the Wikipedia authors have cited. Those sources are far more detailed and much more appropriate for college research papers.
ChatGPT and other AI tools can offer useful information, but they offer less reliable information than Wikipedia and typically don’t cite real sources. You can use ChatGPT to get ideas, but it should not be used as a main source in your research, and you should not include material copied from ChatGPT in any of your work for class.
Wikipedia and ChatGPT are like Google — they don’t create information, but rather collect and sort the information from the vast libraries of the internet. You can use them for ideas, but I want you going directly to the source for every fact you use in your papers.
Submitting Outside Work As Your Own Is Unacceptable
Here are examples of academic misconduct that can get you into heaps of trouble:
Copying material from outside websites without citation. One misplaced quote, I understand, but a paragraph from Wikipedia? Two paragraphs? That’s plagiarism.
Synonym generators are never appropriate. If you can’t put it in your own words, then put it in quotation marks.
Having ChatGPT write portions of your paper isn’t writing. It’s plagiarism.
Asking a friend to write your drafts isn’t writing. It’s cheating.
Paying a stranger to write your drafts is a great way to get blackmailed. No, I’m not kidding.
Taking a paper from another class and submitting it again is a poor use of recycling. Yes, the words might be your own, but they aren’t your words for this class.
Don’t Fall Into the World of No Right Answer
My job is not to “catch” you plagiarizing — my job is to teach you what plagiarism is and to help you avoid it. My goal is for no one in the class to attempt plagiarism, and for any accidental concerns to be so minor that you can easily fix them in your rough draft with some revision. No one is perfect — I’m not about to fail someone for making an honest mistake. But be warned:
If you use technology inappropriately, I will be faced with a dilemma.
I’ll examine your paper, I’ll talk with you, and then I’ll ask myself whether you meant to cheat, or if you weren’t aware you were cheating. I won’t ask you this question because I might not trust the answer. This is not a question you want any of your teachers asking — there is no right answer. Depending on the severity of the situation, you might find yourself rewriting an entire final paper in the hopes of passing the course with a C. Or you might simply have to retake the course. Or if you’re caught plagiarizing in more than one class, you could face expulsion. Regardless of the situation, I’ll do my best to help you pass the course with the grade you’ve earned, but I will also report any serious cases of plagiarism to the Dean of Students office.