Designing Assignments to Encourage Integrity

Designing Assignments to Encourage Integrity

Using Assignment Sheets

Most important for any written assignment is the assignment sheet itself. Provide students with an assignment sheet for all written work; doing so clarifies the required task, the parameters for acceptable collaboration, and criteria for evaluation.

Changing Assignments Frequently

  • Change your assignments slightly from semester to semester to discourage students from recycling previous students’ work.

  • For large classes, change assignments slightly from section to section to discourage the exchange of papers among friends in different sections (where students are likely to have different graders as well).

Using In-class Writing Assignments

Short in-class writing assignments provide instructors with opportunities to: 

  • become familiar with and assess students’ abilities and styles early on so that sudden changes in their writing are more noticeable

  • give students a chance to write extemporaneously, when they cannot become tempted by or mired in others’ words

  • practice using sources: consider asking students to summarize, paraphrase, and/or respond to a source.

Making Your Assignments Specific

Students are far less likely to be able to plagiarize a unique assignment, since sources available to them will not meet the specific requirements of the assignment.

Consider a less well known piece:

Rather than: Discuss the importance of literacy to freedom in Frederick Douglass’s Narrative.

Try: Discuss the connection between literacy and freedom in Poynter’s abolitionist tract.

Pose a more focused question:

Rather than: What artistic movements influenced the Impressionists?

Try: In what ways does this particular Impressionist painting reveal the influences of earlier movements?

Ask a question that requires application, rather than explanation of knowledge:

Rather than: Explain the basic functions of the vascular, skeletal, muscular and nervous systems.

Try: A cat jumps off the end of a table onto the floor. Describe how its vascular, muscular, skeletal and nervous systems contribute to this action.

Rather than: Write a review of The Matrix (reviews are especially common on the Web).

Try: How well does The Matrix exemplify Smith’s “nostalgic futurism” in contemporary film?

Consider a tight comparison:

Rather than: Analyze Douglass’s attitude toward white abolitionists.

Try: How does Douglass’s notion of audience change between the Narrative and his Life and Times, and how do these two texts differ as a result?

Use a “touchstone” assignment:

Ask students to connect their ideas to another aspect of the class—use a point from lecture, a quotation selected from one of your readings (try to choose a less-obvious quotation), an image, or a graph.

Rather than: Discuss how the accused/condemned were treated in Salem.

Try: Using Mary Easty’s petition, explain the condemned’s perspective of the Salem trials.

If you would like feedback or consultation about the design of specific assignments, contact the staff at the CITL Writing Program via email ( or phone (855-4928).

Assigning Research Paper Assignments

Some suggestions other faculty have found useful in discouraging plagiarism are to:

  • Assign short writing assignment(s) early in the class; this activity will give you the opportunity to see students’ writing capabilities (which makes noticing anomalies easier) and give students a chance to practice

  • Avoid open topic research paper assignments: either select a question (or a series from which students choose) that limits their range OR require a research question in advance of students’ starting their research

  • Consider using shorter, focused assignments alongside long longer papers, or in place of one longer paper, if several are assigned in the course

  • Require that students use local sources—pamphlets, local newspapers and journals, flyers, interviews, etc.

  • Require a bibliography in advance

  • Avoid general annotated bibliographies that only require a summary of the sources themselves; many of these are readily available on the Web

  • Require a bibliography with short summaries of how students see each entry fitting into their topic

  • Require that students turn in part or all of print sources with the final draft

  • Require long papers to build from shorter, earlier papers

  • Offer submitting their papers to in lieu of one of these assignments.

Using An Honor Agreement

You might consider asking your students to sign a statement of agreement concerning academic misconduct. Although not legal documents, these agreements do signal to the students your seriousness about the subject and deflate students’ counter charge that your policy concerning “what you wanted” was not made clear to them. See this example of an IU faculty member’s honor agreement.