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Ethical Communication Policy

One of the themes that runs through every class offered in the department of communication studies is how to communicate not only effectively, but also ethically. Whether we’re writing a press release, disclosing a closely-held piece of personal history to a friend or reporting research results in a term paper, the goal is to craft a message that will be understood as intended and to deliver that message in an ethical manner. In most circumstances, we communicate in an ethical manner with little or no conscious thought. However, there are times when life gets complicated: too much work and too little time, family or relationship pressures that make it difficult to concentrate or illness to name just a few examples. These are often the circumstances during which we need to think more consciously about our communication behaviors.

The purpose of this policy statement is to make sure faculty and students are working with the same understanding of “ethical communication” and to provide some straightforward advice for avoiding unethical behavior. No policy can cover every possible circumstance, so if you find yourself having questions about a particular circumstance, please talk to your professor. We would much rather work through a problem with you ahead of time than react to an ethical violation after-the-fact.

EXAMPLES OF UNETHICAL COMMUNICATION

Unethical communication behaviors in this policy are broken down into three categories: plagiarism, cheating, and lying. While we have attempted to account for every situation likely to occur, this list is not meant to be exhaustive.

PLAGIARISM

The most basic definition of plagiarism is taking someone else's work and presenting it as your own without crediting the original creator. In other words, plagiarism goes beyond merely presenting another work word-for-word.

Examples of plagiarism include:

  • Copying another's work verbatim and presenting it as our own. Problematic example: While conducting research about the way we exercise social power on ourselves, you find the following in Michel Foucault’s influential book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison: "Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power." You then include this sentence in your paper without quotation marks and/or a parenthetical citation to Foucault.

CORRECT WAY: "Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power" (Foucault, 1977, p. 197).

(Note: all quoted material used to illustrate plagiarism in this section is taken from Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vantage.

  • Changing the wording in another's work and presenting it as our own. Problematic example: While conducting research about the way we exercise social power on ourselves, you find the following: "Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power." You write in your paper: The most significant effect of the panoptic system is to induce in the inmate a state of permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. You do not enclose this sentence in quotation marks or provide a parenthetical citation to Foucault.

CORRECT WAY: According to Foucault, the most significant effect of the panoptic system is to "induce in the inmate a state of permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power" (1977, p. 197).

  • Copying another's idea and presenting it as our own. Problematic example: While conducting research about the way we exercise social power on ourselves, you find the following: "Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power." You write in your paper: The most significant impact of the panoptic system is to cause the inmate to feel like they are constantly being watched. You include this sentence in your paper without a parenthetical citation to Foucault.

CORRECT WAY: The most significant impact of the panoptic system is to cause the inmate to feel like they are constantly being watched. (Foucault, 1977, p. 197)

It's your obligation to understand what constitutes plagiarism and to develop good work habits that will prevent you from plagiarizing unintentionally. For more information, see the BC plagiarism policy at Writing Center - BC Plagiarism. For suggestions about developing good work habits, see the “Avoiding Unethical Communication & Plagiarism” section at the end of this page.

CHEATING

Some forms of cheating are more obvious than others. For instance, we all know we’re not supposed to look over someone’s shoulder for a test answer or buy a paper on-line to hand in as our own work. But when you keep in mind some of the primary reasons you came to college – to learn how to think critically and communicate effectively, for example – other behaviors that might seem tempting are clearly cheating.

Examples of cheating include:

  • Copying all or part of another person's work. (Note that depending upon the circumstances, this could also be considered plagiarism.) Cheating is not determined by the amount of work that you take. Even if you only take one answer or portion of another person's work, that is cheating.
  • Having someone else do your work for you. When you put your name on an assignment, test, or anything else, you are saying that this is your work. It is okay to ask others for help, but the final product should be your own work.
  • Working with someone else (when it’s not explicitly permitted in the assignment). Unless you are working in a group situation or have been told that working with others is acceptable, it is assumed that all of the work you do will be your own. Sharing or taking research from others is not doing your own work, even if each of you writes your own paper, test, etc.
  • Fabricating research. This includes things like pretending you conducted an interview, making up quotes, creating statistics, making up a fake citation for your reference page, or citing research which you did not actually consult. Whenever you present research of any form in an assignment, this research must exist somewhere.

LYING

Sometimes it seems easier to “stretch the truth” a little rather than deal with the repercussions of missing a deadline. But this is one of the quickest ways to lose credibility with your professor. All communication studies faculty include clear consequences for missing a class or deadline in their syllabi. If you find yourself in a situation where you will miss a class, exam or deadline the best strategy is to be up front with your professor as early as possible. While this won’t guarantee an exception or deadline extension, it really is a better option than making up a false excuse.

Examples of lying include:

  • Any of the behaviors included as plagiarizing and cheating.
  • Making up a reason why you miss or are late to class.
  • Making up a reason that your assignment is late.
  • In class discussion, giving a false example of something that happened to you. For example, in your oral communication class you are discussing communication apprehension and you share a story about a girl in high school who would vomit each time she had to give a speech. This girl and this behavior never existed.

AVOIDING ACADEMIC MISCONDUCT & UNETHICAL COMMUNICATION

We know most students do not approach an assignment, speech or exam intending to plagiarize, cheat or lie. The primary reason students are tempted into unethical behavior is that they did not leave themselves enough time to do the work. So with that in mind, here are some suggestions for avoiding any of the academic misconduct issues listed above:

  • Get in the habit of budgeting specific blocks of time to complete large assignments. Even in entry-level classes, there are likely to be projects you just can’t complete in one sitting. It’s a good idea to think through how much time it will take you to complete each component of an assignment: brainstorming, researching, writing (and rehearsing if the assignment is an oral presentation) – and then budget specific blocks of time to complete these activities on your calendar. The same advice is useful for end-of-semester crunch times when you may have multiple assignments due all at once. Think it through, make a plan, and then stick to it!
  • Make research and writing two separate activities. The research process can be fun – really! But quality research takes time. You may need to look at several library databases, find a book in the stacks, order a book through interlibrary loan, or conduct an interview. And sometimes you don’t realize until you start your research that there’s not really enough out there on the topic that at first seemed so perfect, and you need time to re-think the whole thing. If you have budgeted separate time for your research, this won’t send you into a panic and tempt you into unethical behavior in order to meet an assignment deadline.
  • Print out your on-line sources. If you make research and writing two separate activities, this may be a necessity. Printing tip: save paper (and money) by fitting eight pages of research onto one piece of paper. You can do this by choosing the “print four pages per sheet” and “print on both sides” options on the print set-up page.
  • Resist the urge to cut and paste. If you choose not to print out your research, then you really need to decide on a strategy for effective note-taking. Because even with the best of intentions, cutting and pasting is a dangerous research practice. The reason for plagiarizing or lax paraphrasing doesn’t matter. If you honestly forget to go back and fix the cut and pasted material, even those good intentions will not prevent a poor or failing grade.

PENALTIES FOR UNETHICAL COMMUNICATION

The department of communication studies follows the process established by the Bridgewater honor council. If a faculty member discovers evidence of plagiarism, cheating or lying the case will be reported to the honor council for further investigation and punishment if necessary. Once a case has been submitted to the honor council, communication studies faculty will abide by the council’s decision. Further information on the policy can be found at Student Government Honor Council

As noted above, we know that most students do not approach an assignment intending to plagiarize, cheat or lie. The best way to avoid potentially serious consequences is to communicate honestly with your professors from the start. We can’t help you avoid an ethical quandary if we don’t know there’s a problem. One of the nice things about a small campus like Bridgewater is that it’s easy to get to know your professors. Take advantage of this benefit, get to know your professors and be honest and ethical in your communication even when that seems like the hard thing to do.