"CS 374": Academic Integrity

This policy statement is unfortunately necessary, thanks to the actions of a tiny minority of students. If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to ask in lecture, during office hours, on the course newsgroup, or by email.

tl;dr: Be honest. Cite your sources. We mean it. If you need help, please ask.

Our expectations

Each student (or homework group) must write their own homework solutions, in their own words, and must properly credit all sources. These days, everything is on the internet. If you search, you can probably find assigned homework problems or variants, and lab problems. But, we cannot stress enough that you will get from this course what you put in. The best way to learn in this course is to think about problems, and ideally solve them on your own or in small groups in which everybody participates. Your first attempt at solving a problem should not involve a computer, and certainly not Google.

And, when you get stuck, rather than googling for the answer, instead you should talk to course staff, or come to office hours, etc. We can dispense hints that gently push you towards the right ideas, which will ultimately benefit you more than simply finding and copying a solution off the web, which you are indeed allowed to do. In fact, are allowed to use any printed, online, or living resource at your disposal to help solve the homework problems, but you must cite your sources.

This is the same ethical standard that researchers are expected to follow in their formal publications. For comparison, see the guidelines published by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the American Mathematical Society (AMS), the American Physical Society (APS), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). Citing your sources will not lower your homework grade.

Avoiding plagiarism is really very simple: Never present someone else's words or ideas as your own.

Classes in other departments do allow and even encourage verbatim copying in small doses. For example, if you want to claim that an expert holds an important or controversial opinion, it is usually better (more honest, more accurate) to quote them verbatim, instead of rewriting their opinion in your words.

Immortality. I notice that as soon as writers broach this question they begin to quote.
I hate quotation. Tell me what you know.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals (May 1849)
Students frequently overuse direct quotation in taking notes, and as a result they overuse quotations in the final paper. Probably only about 10% of your final manuscript should appear as directly quoted matter. Therefore, you should strive to limit the amount of exact transcribing of source materials while taking notes.
— James D. Lester, Writing Research Papers (1976)

But computer science classes are different. In CS 374, we never ask you to defend a hypothesis or opinion by mere evidence or rhetoric. We are asking for formal, logical, mathematical arguments. Expert opinion is irrelevant here; the math must speak for itself. In particular, we are asking you to demonstrate your expertise in formal, logical, mathematical reasoning. You can only demonstrate expertise in something by actually doing it.

For more information and examples, see the CS department's policies and recommendations, the College of Engineering's Guide to Academic Integrity, and Article 1, Part 4 of the UIUC student code. If you have any doubts about whether something constitutes plagiarism, talk to one of the instructors, and err on the side of caution.

There are many more serious ways to violate the university's academic integrity policies, such as collaborating with or copying from another student during an exam, hiring an impostor to write homework solutions or take exams for you, changing the answers on a graded homework or exam before asking for a regrade, falsely claiming to have submitted a homework or taken an exam, and modifying or destroying other students' graded work. But you already know not to do anything that stupid!


These penalties are consistent with the CS department's recommendations.

In accordance with department, college, and university policy, we report all academic integrity cases to the Computer Science department, to the student's college, and to the Senate Committee on Student Discipline. We also report offenses by computer science graduate students to their advisors. Multiple offenses, even in different classes, can result in suspension or expulsion.

Groups of up to three people are allowed to submit a single solution for each homework. Every member of the group receives the same grade and the same credit for the entire assignment. That means every member of the group is responsible for the entire assignment. If a submitted homework contains plagiarized material, every member of the group will be given the same penalty. (Again, this is the same standard that is applied to coauthors of research papers.) If you cheat, you are not only endangering your grade, and possibly your academic career, but your colleagues' as well.

Regardless of whether it constitutes plagiarism, or whether you get caught, getting too much help on your homework will hurt your final grade. If you don't learn how to solve algorithmic problems on your own, you will perform poorly on the (closed-book, closed-notes) exams, which make up 70% of your final course grade. Several students with ≥90% homework averages have failed this course.

Warning signs

Almost every instance of plagiarism I have seen was motivated by a combination of two factors.