Three students working in an engineering lab

Tips for Honest Work

Please be reminded that these are general tips. They are not intended to replace specific instructions given to you by your professor.

  • Don't use answer keys, published translations, or work by others as substitutes for doing your own work. You can use them occasionally, if your teacher approves, as guides to help you learn - to check your work, for example, or to overcome specific obstacles.

Tip on In-Class Exams

  • You can't use notes, books, articles, or electronic data when you write in-class exams unless you are specifically told otherwise.

Tips on Take-Home Exams

  • You are usually permitted to use books, articles, notes, and the Web for take-home exams, although it always pays to check [with your professor]. What you can never do is copy answers or ask anyone for help. The exam is still yours alone to complete.
  • Whatever sources you use, phrase the answers in your own words and cite the source. If you copy anything directly from these sources, place it in quotation marks and cite it. 

Tips on Writing Honest Papers

  • Cite others work whenever you rely on it.
  • When you use someone's words, quote them accurately, mark them as a quotation, and include a citation.
  • When you paraphrase, use your own distinctive voice, not a facsimile of the author's. Be sure to include a citation.
  • Never represent anyone else's work as your own.
  • Never hand in the same paper for two classes unless you have permission from both instructors. [Under University of Windsor policy, this is plagiarism.]
  • Never buy, sell, or "borrow" papers, this is considered Contract Cheating. Do your own work.

Tips on Web Research

  • Screen the quality of the information you get off the Internet.
  • Move beyond your targeted search and look for background materials to provide essential context. That means reading books and articles as well as Web content.
  • Don't drag and drop too much into your notes. Summarize the information in your own words.
  • Have a clear system . . . to mark any material you drag and drop.
  • Be sure to write down the URL of Web pages you use and the date you accessed them so you can cite them later. It's also a time-saver if you need to go back to the site. That's true for database identification numbers, too. Be sure to write them down. 

Tip on Group Assignments

  • Know what the professor expects. What is to be done by the group, and what is to be done individually? If you are unsure, ask before doing the work. If one member of the group doesn't do his share, speak privately with the student first and then with the professor. 

Tip on Authorship

  • If your name is alone on a paper, it means you did the work entirely yourself. If you are listed as a co-author, [it means] you contributed to the group's work.

Tip on Problem Sets as Group Activities

  • When you do problem sets as a joint activity, each person should do the entire assignment individually and then go over it with the group. That's not a rule about honesty; it's a tip about how to learn.

Tips on How to Set Up an Effective Study Group

  • You can learn a lot if you study with the right people in the right setting. With the wrong people in a noisy place, though, you'll simply waste time. Here are some tips, based on conversations with experienced undergraduates:
  • Study with one to three other students. Larger groups spend too much time chatting. That's fun, but it's not studying.
  • Work together in a quiet place, where you can talk without bothering others. The library may have some rooms for study groups. Or there may be a coffee shop near campus that's not too crowded. Do not study together in a dorm room; there are too many distractions. (Speaking of distractions, shut off your cell phone.)
  • Set a specific time to begin and end the session. Make sure everybody knows you will begin on time. Most sessions last about sixty to ninety minutes, perhaps a little longer when you are studying for finals. Setting a time to end the session will push you to work efficiently.
  • Pick specific topics in advance to discuss and make sure everybody studies the same things beforehand. Do not parcel out the work you'll discuss, with some people studying one thing and some another. Hypothetically, that seems efficient. In practice, it doesn't work. If there is a study guide, decide in advance which part you'll discuss. If there are ten assigned problems and you only want to discuss half, make sure everybody does the same odd (or even) ones.
  • Select people you'll enjoy working with. (1) They should be at about your academic level, so you can keep up with them, and they can keep up with you. That way, you can teach each other, and it won't be a one-way street. (2) Choose people who want to work and will contribute to the group. Avoid those who don't study for class and just want a free ride. Again, you want a two-way street for mutual teaching and learning.
  • How do you select the right study partners? One student told me his approach. "I try to pick other students who always come to class and show up on time instead of fifteen minutes late. I like those who say something valuable in class instead of just trying to impress the teacher. They'll have something to say in the study group, too." Excellent advice.

Tips on How to Use Study Groups

  • Be active, not passive, in study groups.
  • Learn how to answer questions and how to think about problems, rather than what the specific answers are. Once you truly understand the process, you'll be able to answer the question yourself -- on homework, papers, and exams -- and you'll be able to defend the answers you've got.

Tips on Honesty in Group Assignments

  • In some classes, you work with study groups but are expected to complete assignments individually (rather than hand in joint projects). It's vital to know what you can and cannot do together. A few pointers:
  • Know your professor's expectations for group work before you hand in your work. What should the group do together and what should be done individually?
  • It's fine for the group to discuss problem sets, class topics, and so forth. It's fine to ask others to explain methods and solutions you don't understand. Together, you can go over the problems several times until you understand.
  • But it's cheating for others to provide answers to you -- on paper, on the blackboard, or in a printed answer manual -- and for you to copy them and turn them in as your own individual work. It's also a terrible way to learn and will come back to bite you on exams and more advanced work.
  • Once you understand the material you should write your own answers, in your own words.

General Tip

  • Before beginning any experiment, read the instructions carefully and assemble all the equipment and materials you need. Also, be prepared to record your data.

Tip on Working With Lab Partners

  • It's fine to do lab work together with your partners but should keep your own lab notes and write up the results individually.

Tips on Lab Records

  • Check with your instructor (or head of your lab) about record keeping. You may be asked to use lab notebooks, computers, or packets designed for specific experiments.
  • Enter data as soon as possible after an experiment. Don't rely on your memory.
  • Record even your experimental mistakes. Later, after performing the experiment correctly, neatly cross out the errors in your lab notebook. Don't rip out pages or use correction fluid. The original data should still be readable. If you record data on computers instead of notebooks, label the old data "incorrect" (or use a strike-through font) but don't wipe it out. With some help from your instructors, you may be able to learn from these mistakes.

Tips on Honest Lab Work

  • Lab partners may work together on experiments and discuss their work, but they are always required to keep their own notebooks and write up the results individually, without assistance.
  • Never copy or makeup data on experiments.
  • Don't omit or hide unfavorable results. Record them in your lab notes.
  • Present your experimental results honestly, even if you know they are "wrong" and even if they contradict your hypothesis. 

The tips come directly from Doing Honest Work in College by Professor Charles Lipson (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004, pp. 7-25), and are printed with Professor Lipson's permission. This book is available at the University of Windsor in both the University Bookstore and in the Leddy Library, and online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Doing Honest Work in College is highly recommended by the University of Windsor.