Academic Dishonesty Definition and Types

"Good academic work must be based on honesty" (NIU, 2023a). Promoting honesty in academic work requires understanding the definition of academic dishonesty, its different types, and its causes and consequences.

According to NIU's undergraduate and graduate catalogs (NIU, 2023b),

The attempt of any student to present as his or her own work that which he or she has not produced is regarded by the faculty and administration as a serious offense. Students are considered to have cheated if they copy the work of another during an examination or turn in a paper or an assignment written, in whole or in part, by someone else. Students are responsible for plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and acknowledging those sources or if they paraphrase ideas from such sources without acknowledging them.

Good academic work is expected not only in classroom activities, but also in research and related activities. As NIU's Graduate Catalog (NIU, 2023b) emphasizes, research misconduct includes "falsification of data, improper assignment of authorship, claiming another person's work as one's own, unprofessional manipulation of experiments or of research procedures, [and] misappropriation of research funds".

Academic Dishonesty Defined

Academic dishonesty refers to committing or contributing to dishonest acts by those engaged in teaching, learning, research, and related academic activities, and it applies not just to students, but to everyone in the academic environment (Cizek, 2003; Whitley, Jr. & Keith-Spiegel, 2002). NIU considers academic dishonesty a serious offense, regardless of whether it was committed intentionally or not (NIU, 2023a; NIU, 2023b).

Academic dishonesty can take many forms, which can be broadly classified as follows (Whitley & Keith-Spigel, 2002; Pavela, 1978; Stern & Havelick, 1986):

  • Cheating
  • Plagiarism
  • Fabrication or falsification
  • Sabotage


Cheating involves unauthorized use of information, materials, devices, sources or practices in completing academic activities. For example, copying during an exam that should be completed individually is an unauthorized practice, and, therefore, is considered cheating. A student who allows another student to copy from his or her work is considered to be facilitating or contributing to cheating.

The NIU Student Code of Conduct (NIU, 2023c) states that the term "cheating" includes, but is not limited to:

  1. Use of sources beyond those authorized by the instructor in writing papers, preparing reports, solving problems, or carrying out other assignments;
  2. Acquisition, without permission, of tests or other academic material belonging to a member of the university faculty or staff;
  3. Engagement in any behavior specifically prohibited by a faculty member in the course syllabus or class discussion.

Check Your Understanding

What if the cheating or plagiarism committed was unintentional?

It is still considered as academic dishonesty even if it was committed unintentionally.


Plagiarism is a type of cheating in which someone adopts another person's ideas, words, design, art, music, etc., as his or her own without acknowledging the source, or, when necessary, obtaining permission from the author. For example, copying and pasting material from a web site into your own document without proper citation is considered plagiarism.

Per the NIU Student code of Conduct (NIU, 2023c):

The term “plagiarism” includes but is not limited to the use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment. Plagiarism also includes the unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or agency engaged in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.

Fabrication or falsification

Fabrication or falsification involves the unauthorized creation or alteration of information in an academic document or activity. For example, artificially creating data when it should be collected from an actual experiment or making up a source of information that does not exist is considered fabrication or falsification.


Sabotage involves disrupting or destroying another person's work so that the other person cannot complete an academic activity successfully. For example, destroying another person's artwork, experiment, or design is considered sabotage. Failure to contribute as required to a team project can also be considered academic sabotage.

Keep in Mind

The two key ideas to remember in understanding the four types of academic dishonesty are:

  1. Unauthorized practices
  2. Improper use of another person's work in the course of completing an academic activity

Even if a student unintentionally uses another person's work improperly or does something that was unauthorized while completing an academic activity, he or she is still guilty of academic dishonesty. Instructors have the responsibility to educate students on these issues in order to promote academic integrity.


Two key issues to keep in mind regarding academic dishonesty are:

  1. Unauthorized practices
  2. Improper use of other person's work