Academic integrity

When you start university, the importance of not plagiarising or colluding will be emphasised, as these are considered bad academic practices, meriting investigation for academic misconduct. If that sounds scary, don’t worry. Reading this guide, and others in the preparing for university series, will help to ensure you understand, and are able to apply, good academic practices. In doing so, unintentional plagiarism or collusion is unlikely to occur.

Taking time to evolve good academic practices as soon as you start your studies means your confidence in this area will increase.

Plagiarism and collusion

Adopting good academic practices will mean you can meet the wider expectations of academic integrity, which will be discussed later. For now, it is helpful to briefly explore what plagiarism and collusion mean, particularly if these are unfamiliar terms.

Plagiarism is the most common form of bad academic practice at university. It occurs when someone uses another person’s words or ideas (including graphics, images, etc.) and does not acknowledge where they found them.

Most academic work at university will require you to research a topic by selecting and utilising evidence to substantiate your points. When using other people’s words and phrases from any source of information, the author(s) must always be referenced. In addition, if you need to use specific phrases or words of others, these need to be placed in quotation marks to highlight that the words are not your own.

It is also important to be aware of self-plagiarism. This occurs when you submit work, or a section of work, that you have already produced for a previously submitted assignment (at any institution, including school).

Collusion means working with others with the intention to deceive or gain unfair advantage. Examples of collusion at university would be if two or more students worked together, collaboratively producing an assignment that is supposed to be individually assessed, or, if students taking an online exam or test shared their answers while the exam or test was taking place.

Not all collaboration is bad: Discussing ideas with peers (for example, forming study groups) is a great way to develop understanding of a topic for mutual benefit. Therefore it’s important to be aware of the boundaries, working too closely with others on individually assessed work (such as sharing writing) risks collusion.

Avoiding ‘the unintentional’

Few students deliberately set out to cheat, but sometimes bad academic practices can occur accidentally by:

  • Not being realistic about the time needed to work on assignments: Rushing to meet a deadline can result in shortcuts, such as failing to check that all references are in place. This is one of the reasons for thinking carefully how you plan and organise your time (see our guide on planning and organising your time)
  • Taking poor approaches to note-making: For example, forgetting to note references to sources can lead to plagiarism, so developing effective note-making strategies is critical (see our guide on active note-making strategies)
  • Not being fully aware of the expectations of university study: Therefore, the remaining part of this guide explores good academic practices and why academic integrity is important.

Good academic practices and understanding academic integrity

As suggested above, awareness of good academic practices – the expectations and standards required of any work you produce – should help to eliminate any occurrence of plagiarism or collusion.

The avoiding ‘the unintentional’ section above already hints at some good practices, such as allowing enough time to work on your assignments and recognising the value of good note-making.

To understand good academic practices, it is helpful to explore the concept and values of academic integrity.

Academic integrity is central to all aspects of academic study and research at university; it applies to academic staff and students alike.

Understanding the core principles of academic integrity and why they matter can help to ensure that the work you produce always adheres to good academic practices.

The International Center for Academic Integrity usefully defines academic integrity as being made up of five core values - honestyresponsibilitytrustrespect and fairness – as well as the courage to act on, and play one’s part in, upholding these five values.

Academic integrity is important when working on assessments, as you are required to take responsibility for producing assessed work respectfullyfairly and honestly.

This allows assessors to trust that you are not passing off someone else’s work as your own.

If you keep in mind these values when undertaking assignments, you will be taking a key step in ensuring that your work is produced to the best of your ability and naturally meets these standards.

The main point, for now, is to understand the importance of academic integrity: By doing so you will meet the scholarly standards by which universities adhere. This means that the value of a degree is maintained and, by embracing these values, you can be assured that the degree you are working for will be earned and a true reflection of your capabilities. Moreover, these attributes are highly valued by employers (Morris, 2011) and good standards to apply in life in general!

There will be plenty of guidance and advice that you will be able to access once you’ve started your course, for example, course and module guidelines, your module tutors, or the Library’s Academic Skills and Development team.

We have provided some examples of good practices that you can seek to introduce once you start working on assignments:

  • Start planning your assignments early so that you can clarify what's required and have time to check your references
  • Find out which referencing style you should be using for your course and familiarise yourself with the available guidance
  • You can integrate evidence into your assessed work by paraphrasing, summarising, or quoting. The Academic Skills and Development team can offer advice on how to do this
  • All Surrey students have access to the Turnitin 'similarity checker'. This is an online programme that allows you to check that all of your references have been included in your work.

Depending on your prior education experiences, you may have already developed some good academic practices which you will be able to build upon at university. You’ll need to be mindful that university study may bring different levels of expectation, for example, being thorough in applying your subject’s referencing style.

Reflect on what you can already do and remember that you will develop expertise over time, provided you review your progress regularly (see our guide on starting your Surrey ‘learning journey’).

Key takeaways

  • Developing good academic practices by embracing the values of academic integrity when working on assessments will help you to thrive at university
  • Furthermore, the same values of respect, honesty, responsibility, trust and fairness are highly valued by employers and in life beyond university
  • Wherever you have previously studied (such as in the UK or abroad), familiarise yourself with the referencing expectations of your course once you start
  • To develop your confidence with academic integrity, follow up the suggestions made in the columns above.


  • International Center for Academic Integrity (2017) The Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity. Available at: (Accessed: 21 May 2021)
  • Morris, E. (2011) ‘Graduate Impact, student employability and academic integrity: exploring the links’, in Atfield, R. and Kemp, P. (eds), Enhancing Graduate Impact in Business, Management, Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism. Newbury: Threshold Press, pp.1-8.

What next?

Understanding the importance of academic integrity will start you off on the right track at University, but applying good academic practices will evolve as you develop as a confident, active learner; see guide 6. Making the most of your University learning experience.