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Course & Subject Guides

Academic Integrity: How to Avoid Plagiarism and Maintain Academic Integrity

This guide includes information to help students navigate academic integrity and avoid plagiarism.

Classroom Culture & Academic Expectations

Interior of a University of Pittsburgh classroom

If you are new to the United States or US classrooms, you may find that behavior and expectations in classrooms to be different from what you may have experienced. 

  • Classes are interactive and participation is expected.
  • Assignments and exams may be based on problem solving or essay writing rather than memorization of information.
  • The instructor-student relationship is more relaxed.
  • Plagiarism and academic integrity are taken very seriously.

Classroom Participation

Embrace a Learner-Centered Culture.  Although the learner-centered approach is dominant in the U.S., classroom style depends on the professor’s style, as well as the field of study. The learner-centered model is often used in the social sciences, education, and the humanities. The teacher-centered model is more often integrated with the learner-centered model in the physical and biological sciences and engineering.

Independent thinking and analysis is highly valued and is more important than memorization.  As you pursue your studies, you should critique theories, evaluate options, formulate models, and challenge yourself. Bring your conclusions and questions to class and share your insights with your classmates and professors. Unlike some other cultures, U.S. culture encourages people to stand out from their peers (rather than blending in with them) through their achievements and independent and creative thinking.

Be prepared to participate during the class.  Speak up in class, answer questions and join in class discussions.  Ask questions when you are unsure. Post your thoughts in a class discussion board.

Respectful disagreement during class discussion is accepted. Always be prepared to present and defend your ideas. Always do so with respect for the ideas presented by your professor and your classmates.

Informality is normal.  Students may dress casually. They may eat or drink during class if permission has been given by the instructor. Some may be allowed to address certain professors by their first names. None of that behavior reflects a lack of respect for the professor or the classroom experience.

Class participation is more than just asking questions in class.  Think of it as your OWN participation in EVERY aspect of the class and your education.  Whatever the assignment, test or project, instructors will be looking at

  • What YOU specifically did,
  • What YOU think, and
  • What YOUR talents are.


Honesty is a critical requirement of American academic culture. Universities across the country operate on an honor system based on a simple principle of academic honesty: each student’s answers or written submissions must reflect his or her personal understanding and work.  Instructors expect a student to honestly complete his own assignments or examinations.  If an assignment is meant for only one person, it is wrong to work with a group to complete that assignment.

There are appropriate and inappropriate times to share information and ideas. As a general rule, students can share class notes, ideas, and materials when expressly instructed by the professor to do so as part of an exercise. In special circumstances, for example, when you become ill, the professor may permit you to borrow notes from a lecture or discussion you may have missed. However, there are certain situations and contexts where this sharing is not appropriate. These can be on a test (of course) but also when the professor explicitly states, for example, that all work on a project must be done individually. 

Group Work.  In assigned group work, each student is expected to contribute and work equally on the group project.  When working in a group project, make sure that your efforts are clearly identified.

Cite Your Sources in Writing or Presentations.  When giving a presentation or writing a research paper, you should cite the images you use and the sources of your information in order to avoid plagiarism.  You must give credit to the authors of sources you use by citing the source in a citation. What is already written must be cited, including written sources in books, journal articles, unpublished manuscripts, and the Web or other Internet sources. There are also cases when spoken words, such as a formal speech, must be cited.

Ask for Help – Always as the instructor if something is unclear.

Be Aware of Cheating

What's Cheating??

Cheating (having someone else write your papers, take your exams or give you answers during an exam) and plagiarism (submitting someone else's work as your own) are unacceptable

For International Students  - Using English language translation services to complete your work may also be considered dishonest since your language proficiency is a requirement of your studies. Check with your advisor and academic program.

Consequences of Cheating (Seriously!!!) 

Infractions of the standards of academic honesty, no matter how minor, are unacceptable and carry serious consequences ranging from a failing grade on a paper or exam to suspension or removal from the University.