Ethical Scholarship

The First-Year Writing courses necessitate a great deal of contact with others’ words and others’ ideas. Indeed, the courses might be said to be centered around this back-and-forth with other writers. Consequently, it is very important that instructors clearly and thoroughly explain the difference between acceptable, productive engagement with texts and plagiarism. The boundaries between ethical scholarship and misuse of sources—or, even worse, outright plagiarism (stealing another’s ideas or claiming another’s words as one’s own, particularly for credit)—can be difficult for students to understand until they have spent a good deal of time writing and rewriting with other writers.

The best way to address plagiarism before it happens, of course, is to dedicate some class time to the concept of ethical scholarship and of academic writing as conversation, as well as to the conventions of citation and attribution, before students have written their essays. We urge instructors to share the program’s statement on ethical scholarship and plagiarism with students sometime before the first essay final draft is due, and to spend time in class working with the terms provided in that statement. However, we also encourage a broader conversation about ethical scholarship that goes beyond plagiarism, and that fits within an overall framework developed throughout the semester of academic writing as an act of joining an on-going conversation (and observing certain standards within that conversation).

Overall, we follow the WPA Guidelines on misuse of sources and plagiarism. We don’t want to run a writing class as a penitentiary in which we assume all the “inmates” will “cheat”; we’re not interested in an ethics based on fear. We want students to see themselves as valuable, contributing members of a group of like-minded individuals in pursuit of new ideas and new ways to communicate those ideas. To foster an environment like this, we believe the best approach to misuse of source material and academic misconduct is prevention that focuses on how students might situate themselves in a conversation (rather than report on others), how they might make use of others’ work, and why their ideas are valuable to readers (and why, by extension, others’ ideas are valuable, too).

The following resources are available to instructors: