CS 473: 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 Piazza, 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 solutions, in their own words, and must properly credit all sources.

These are the same ethical standards 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).

For more information and examples, see any of the following:

If you have any doubts about whether something constitutes plagiarism, talk to Jeff or the TAs, and err on the side of caution.

Cite Your Sources

We strongly encourage you to use any printed, online, or living resource at your disposal to help you solve homework problems, but you must cite your sources. There are only two exceptions to this rule. You are not required to cite the following: Submitting someone else's work without giving them proper credit is plagiarism, even if you have the other person's explicit permission. Citing your sources will not lower your homework grade. Allowing someone else to use your ideas without giving you credit is also an academic integrity violation.

Use Your Own Words

Verbatim duplication of any source, even with proper citation, is plagiarism. In particular:

Classes in some other departments 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. We won't ask you to defend a hypothesis or opinion using evidence or rhetoric. What we will ask for are 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. (The same argument goes for programming classes. Your MPs are not just asking you for working code; they are asking you for evidence of your ability to independently produce working code.)

That said, if you want to use an algorithm from Jeff's notes in your solution, just use it (and cite it) and carefully describe any necessary changes.

Don't Be Stupid

There are several 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.

Our high expectations for graduate students extend to issues of academic integrity. A notice of any cheating offense by a graduate student will be entered into their file, where it will be seen by the student's advisor, as well as their qual, prelim, and thesis committees. Many professors refuse to advise MS or PhD students who have committed even a single cheating offense; the risk to our professional careers if a student acts unethically in research is simply too high. If you cheat, you may be signing your own academic death warrant.

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.

Group work

Except for Homework 0, 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.

Group solutions must represent an honest collaborative effort by all members of the group. In particular, groups must not delegate one problem to each group member; only the students who actively worked on a problem may add their names to the solution. At a minimum, you must read, understand, and approve anything submitted with your name on it. Allowing someone else to add your name to a solution to which you made no contribution is plagiarism. This does not mean that every student in a group must contribute good ideas or must help in the actual writing of every group solution. Asking "stupid" questions, proposing bad ideas, shooting down bad ideas, working out examples (even if they don't appear in the solution), uncovering bugs, and even just acting as a sounding board for other group members are all legitimate contributions.

If a submitted homework contains plagiarized material, we will separately determine each student's culpability (if any) and penalty (if any), in accordance with Student Code. By default, every member of the homework 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.

As illustrations, consider the following scenarios. All scenarios involve a group of three students (A, B, and C) collaborating on a three-problem homework set, who argee in advance that each student will write up and submit the solution for one problem — A will handle problem 1, B will handle problem 2, and C will handle problem 3 — with all three names at the top. Variants of all these scenarios have actually happened. Yes, even the last two.

Warning signs

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