Plagiarism and Academic Integrity

Basic Concepts

We assume that all students are already familiar with the basic concepts of academic integrity, and understand the definition of plagiarism. As you begin to conduct research and to write about your research, it is especially important to be conscious of the need to provide proper attribution and credit for the work of others, including for previous results, interpretations, and data.

Figuring out how to provide proper attribution, and hence avoid plagiarism, requires considering how the reader will perceive what you have written. What will the reader understand you to have done? What will she or he perceive someone else to have done, written, or said?

There are several ways in which we, as writers, can indicate that we are relying on the work or words of others. These include providing citation information in the text when we rely on information or interpretations provided by others, and which we paraphrase (in some contexts, but not in the senior thesis, citations are provided in footnotes); and enclosing text written or spoken by others in quotation marks or block quotes, together with the appropriate citation. Some conventions vary from field to field, but the underlying principle is always that the reader must be able to identify the source of the work presented, and of the words used.


In this course, we use the online plagiarism checker Turnitin – an application embedded in CourseWorks/Canvas. You will have access to your Turnitin Similarity Reports and you can learn from the reports to improve your paraphrasing and citations. 

While this software allows you to identify areas of your paper that are similar to other sources, it does not mean that each area of highlighted text is an instance of plagiarism. It often will pick up on a series of words that isn’t plagiarism at all, for example, “Columbia University, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology” might be highlighted because of the number of words that are in the same order as they appear on other sources. This is an instance where you would ignore this instance of similarity. Therefore, your Turnitin reports need to be interpreted on a case by case basis. 

This software has its benefits, but it won’t catch everything, like if you’ve adequately paraphrased the original work, but have omitted a citation or if you’ve too closely mimicked a paragraph structure of another author. So, do be sure you know the rules of when to cite a source (see additional resources below).

We encourage you to view your Turnitin Similarity report for your drafts of your proposal/thesis each semester. Your instructor will have access to the report, but it will not be considered/investigated until the final version is due at the end of the semester, so you will have ample time to view your draft reports, make edits to your proposal/thesis, and ask your advisor for advice or clarification prior to your final submission.

Check out the short tutorial video posted under Videos on our course website to learn more about how to access and read your Turnitin Similarity Report. You also check out Turnitin’s Student Resource Hub for more resources on how to avoid plagiarism and interpret your Similarity Report.

We also encourage you to work through the (short) online course on plagiarism provided by Indiana University. It provides a number of very instructive and useful examples, including source text and acceptable and unacceptable uses of that source text. That is, it provides examples of writing about others’ work that would constitute plagiarism and examples that would not. This course is required for graduate students at Columbia.

You can test your ability to determine if sample text has been plagiarized by completing this 12-question quiz made by Cornell University.

Honor Code

Finally, we remind you of the honor codes of Barnard College and Columbia College:


Honor Code:

We, the students of Barnard College, resolve to uphold the honor of the College by engaging with integrity in all of our academic pursuits. We affirm that academic integrity is the honorable creation and presentation of our own work. We acknowledge that it is our responsibility to seek clarification of proper forms of collaboration and use of academic resources in all assignments or exams. We consider academic integrity to include the proper use and care for all print, electronic, or other academic resources. We will respect the rights of others to engage in pursuit of learning in order to uphold our commitment to honor. We pledge to do all that is in our power to create a spirit of honesty and honor for its own sake.



We, the undergraduate students of Columbia University, hereby pledge to value the integrity of our ideas and the ideas of others by honestly presenting our work, respecting authorship, and striving not simply for answers but for understanding in the pursuit of our common scholastic goals. In this way, we seek to build an academic community governed by our collective efforts, diligence, and Code of Honor.

Honor Code:

I affirm that I will not plagiarize, use unauthorized materials, or give or receive illegitimate help on assignments, papers, or examinations. I will also uphold equity and honesty in the evaluation of my work and the work of others. I do so to sustain a community built around this Code of Honor.

This page was updated on 11/16/2020.