Suspecting Academic Misconduct

1. Suspicion

When breaches of Academic Integrity are suspected, staff will employ means to clarify whether the work does contain academic misconduct including, but not limited to, the use of plagiarism detection software, web search engines, checking the sources cited by the student, comparison with other assignments and consultation with colleagues.

Suspicion of academic misconduct often starts with a gut feeling that something about a student’s assessment task is not quite right. Evidence and advice from experts suggest that trusting this gut feeling is a reasonable guide to commence your investigation and gathering of evidence.3 Teachers that actively monitor student Work for signs of cheating (especially contract cheating) are more likely to detect it, whereas without an active focus detection rates are low.4

This section will discuss different types of academic misconduct and provide guidance on how to detect and gather the evidence that decision-makers will need to determine whether a breach of the Academic Integrity Policy has occurred.

2. Gathering the evidence

The task of the staff member making the allegation is to provide the information that the decision-maker will need.

Staff should be reassured that it is possible to gather reliable evidence to support investigations of academic misconduct. In general the more different types of evidence can be provided the stronger the case will be. Where possible objective/verifiable evidence should be used to support other more subjective evidence. However, all suspicions of Academic Misconduct require some level of academic judgement about what has occurred and discipline expertise is an important component of deciding whether academic misconduct may have occurred. 

The Academic Integrity Officer (AIO) or the Academic Integrity Review Committee (AIRC) will weigh the evidence provided alongside information about the context for the alleged breach in determining whether misconduct has occurred and what the appropriate penalty should be.

The person making the allegation should not attempt to predetermine whether the evidence that they have collected is sufficient to substantiate the claim. This will be done by the AIO or Committee as part of their inquiry.

  • Plagiarism

    Plagiarism is where students present work for assessment or publication that is not their own, without attribution or reference to the original source. Plagiarism can include:

    • directly copying any material from electronic or print resources without acknowledging the source
    • closely paraphrasing sentences or whole passages without referencing the original work
    • using the ideas or concepts of others, including the structure of an existing analysis, without due acknowledgement by way of reference to the original Work or source

    Academic staff should provide examples of good practice in academic integrity by acknowledging appropriately the works, designs, ideas and words of others in their teaching and research. Providing appropriate examples of assessment work that display good practice in using citations, references and acknowledgements and providing opportunities for students to practice their use will assist in developing academic skills and in reducing the instances of plagiarism.

    What to look for

    Turnitin reports – how to use and interpret similarity reports

    Similarity reports from Turnitin provide a useful red flag to investigate possible plagiarism, however, the similarity report is not a plagiarism detector – it merely highlights the percentage of the text that matches other sources and helps to identify poor referencing and paraphrasing. The similarity report should be interpreted by the assessor/teacher. The colour codes in the report simply reflect percentage of matching – they should not be used to decide whether plagiarism has occurred or as the sole basis for reporting suspected academic misconduct.

    Green matching (1 word to 24% matching) may indicate an acceptable level of correctly cited similarity, or may indicate that plagiarism or poor referencing has occurred or may indicate that plagiarism or poor referencing has occurred.

    Some types of matched text may be acceptable (or explainable) and not cause for suspicion. This may include quotations, references, matching formats (such as essay titles), tables and charts, appendices, common phrases and paraphrasing. A considered judgement about these matches needs to be made.

    High levels of matching – between 25% and 100% - should be investigated. Each match should be considered to determine whether it is acceptable or indicates plagiarism. Consideration must then be given to whether the plagiarism is intentional or unintentional and the result of inadequate scholarly skills (poor referencing, poor paraphrasing or overuse of direct quotations).

    While 100% matches indicate no original Work, the most likely cause is that the student has submitted more than one version of the assessment task themselves – possibly for formative feedback. However, it may also be evidence of copying or reusing a previously graded assessment task (depending on the circumstances the breach would be copying or collusion)

    Low levels of matching, especially 0% (no matching text) should also raise concern. While it may indicate that appropriate research has not been undertaken, it may also indicate that the text has been manipulated to avoid detection by the text matching software. This could be an indicator of contract cheating or misrepresentation.5

    Other textual clues

    Poor referencing

    • Has the student attempted to correctly reference the source?
    • Has the student attempted to paraphrase, summarise, or quote using quotation marks?
    • Does the reference list match the in-text citations or footnotes?
    • Does the reference list match any sources shown in the Similarity Report?
    • Are there long sections of completely unreferenced text?
    • Is the referencing style used consistent throughout? Is it the style you specified?


    • Are there any unexplained changes in font or layout?

    Language structure

    • Are there any inconsistencies in writing style or 'voice'?
    • Does it seem as though words have been replaced with odd synonyms or strange phrases?

    It should be noted that many of these textual clues may also be signs of contract cheating and/or used to attempt to trick text matching software.

    Evidence to collect

    • Turnitin reports if applicable
    • Data matching software if used for coding assignments
    • Analysis of the similarity report
  • Collusion

    Collusion is where students present work as independent work when it has in fact been produced in whole or in part with others (including persons external to the University) unless prior permission for joint or collaborative work has been given by the Course coordinator, as specified in the Course Outline. Collusion can include:

    • a student inappropriately assisting with, or accepting assistance with, the production of an assessment task

    • submitting work which is the same as, or substantially similar to, another student's work for the same assessment task

    Collusion is one of the most common types of academic misconduct. Studies around the world have found that up to half of students report working with others on an assignment that has been set for individual submission.6

    Determining whether students are colluding rather than collaborating is difficult and often may be a matter of judgement. Similarly, it may be that students also have difficulty understanding when their collaboration crosses the line and becomes potential academic misconduct.7 Discipline differences may also be important depending on how much teamwork is expected in the professional or discipline area of practice.

    Ultimately collusion is problematic because it undermines the ability to determine whether an individual student has demonstrated the learning outcomes of the course.

    What to look for

    Evidence that students have collectively arrived at the submitted assessment through sharing research or data or approaches to completing the assignment, including sharing of drafts. May include:

    • Similar structure or reference lists in individual written assignments (or individual written component of group assignment)
    • Data based assignments with the same or similar mistakes or unusual answers
    • Identical solutions to a problem (for example in mathematics)

    Evidence to collect

    • Turnitin reports if applicable
    • Data matching software if used for coding assignments
    • Extracts showing similarity of structure, references, answers
    • Student allegations or reports of misconduct
  • Copying

    Copying is where a student acts in such a way as to seek to gain unfair advantage or assist another student to do so. Copying can include:

    • submitting an assessment task which the student has copied from another person
    • submitting the same, or a substantially similar, piece of work for assessment in two different courses (except in accordance with approved study and assessment schemes)
    • completing an assessment task outside the conditions specified for that task

    Copying other students’ work or allowing others to copy from their work is also very common – like collusion, around 50% of students report this behaviour.6 Copying occurs without the explicit assent of the student whose work is being copied. This is different from collusion in which students work together to produce very similar work. A student who shares their draft assessment task with another student is likely to be copying if that student then copies the assessment and submits it.

    What to look for

    • Sudden jump in grades
    • Identical answers (including identical errors)
    • Language that doesn’t match previous written assignments

    Evidence to collect

    • Comparative assessment results
    • Turnitin reports if applicable
    • Student allegations or reports of misconduct
  • Cheating in examinations

    Cheating in Examinations means engaging in dishonest practice or breaching the rules during or in relation to examinations, which can include, but is not limited to:

    • communicating in any way during an examination with any person who is not an Exam Invigilator inside or outside the examination venue
    • giving or accepting assistance from any person who is not an Exam Invigilator whilst in the examination venue
    • reading, copying from or otherwise using another student’s work in an examination or knowingly allowing a student to do so
    • possessing, referring to or having access to any material or device containing information directly or indirectly related to the subject matter under examination, other than that explicitly approved by the Course Coordinator
    • acquiring, or attempting to acquire, possess or distribute examination materials or information without approval
    • permitting another person to attend an examination on a student’s behalf or attending an examination on behalf of another student
    • breaches of the Examination and Assessment Guidelines.

    What to look for

    Most suspicions of cheating in exams will be reported by Exam Invigilators who should follow the guidance provided through their induction process. Invigilators will provide Course Coordinators or AIOs a report from the exam session outlining the behaviour observed. Other signs that a student may have cheated in an exam can include:

    • a sudden jump in grades from previous assessments to exam result
    • students with very similar or the same answers or mistakes that were sitting close by or next to each other

    Evidence to collect

    • Invigilators report
    • For in class exams photographs of the class to confirm where students were sitting
    • Student allegations or reports of misconduct
  • Contract cheating

    Contract Cheating is where a student submits completed or partially completed work that a third party has completed for them, regardless of the relationship between the student and the third party or whether the third party is paid or unpaid. Contract cheating can include:

    • purchasing a completed or partially completed assessment task from a commercial service to submit as original work

    • submitting a completed or partially completed assessment task produced by a friend, family member, student or staff member of the University

    • a student arranging for another person to sit their exam

    Contract cheating is an increasing and difficult to detect type of academic misconduct and is frequently under reported by staff even when they have a suspicion.8 Like collusion and copying, outsourcing and sharing of work is common.7

    However, if staff are actively monitoring student work for signs of contract cheating it can be detected.4 The Course Coordinator or assessor can look for signals that should be considered cause for suspicion. If these signals are present the work should be referred to the AIO so that further investigation can be undertaken. Contract cheating investigations can be quite lengthy and may be better undertaken by specialist investigators rather than by individual academic staff.

    What to look for

    There are two types of signal that the Course Coordinator should be looking for:

    • Textual signals
    • Technological signals

    Textual signals may be easier for the staff member to evaluate and may be a reasonable cause for referral to the AIO who can undertake further analysis especially of the technological signals.

    Textual signals

    Very low Turnitin text match (may indicate document has been manipulated to avoid text matching)

    High Turnitin text match (may indicate copying or file sharing)

    Document properties:

    • Author name does not match the student
    • Creation date is unusual or indicates a very short editing time (perhaps even less than 1 minute)
    • Version number (if the submitted document is the first version the student should be able to supply draft and other evidence of previous versions)
    • Document properties are blank or appear to have been wiped
    • Software used to create document is unusual, for example a foreign language version of Word

    Writing and content is not typical for the discipline (references may be irrelevant or from unexpected disciplines)

    Language use is of a different quality than would be expected from student’s previous work

    Writing style is unreadable, jargon filled, with misuse of words (this may be an attempt to avoid text matching)


    • in languages that the student doesn’t speak
    • no in-text citations
    • mismatch within in-text citations
    • sources inappropriate/irrelevant
    • access dates for internet sources predate enrollment
    • references are falsified
    • do not meet the criteria/requirements (min/max number of references, required references or authors, date range, referencing style, excludes key content or includes irrelevant content)

    Technological signals

    Referencing formatting uses software that is not available or known to the student

    Learning analytics including short login times, no logins, no access to assessment resources/information except for submission

    Multiple IP addresses (logins from different IP addresses including overseas or at unusual times or simultaneous logins from different locations) may indicate a paid service submitting the assessment on the student’s behalf

    Lack of login records of library sources cited in the assessment task

    Text readability differences from student’s other work

    Internet search on student’s name (e.g. student’s name appears on contract cheating or file sharing website, student tagged in a photo at an event at the same time assessment was submitted)

    Use of assignment template that is not from the University (e.g. use of running header and footer, text field names that are not updated, excessive white space to extend number of pages).9

    Evidence to collect

    Turnitin reports if applicable

    Correspondence (emails and documents)

    Screenshots and descriptions of what is being shown (e.g. document properties, formatting issues)

    Screen capture of metadata

    Description of signals detected including location in the document

    Linguistic comparison of assessments to demonstrate disparity in English language quality within or between papers from the same student (looking for idiomatic phrasing, noun/verb agreement, comma rules, contractions, sentence leaders such as Furthermore, Interestingly, use of articles)

    Turnitin Authorship Tool

    The University has specialised staff that can investigate suspected contract cheating cases including using the Authorship tool in Turnitin. This tool enables a search of all the student’s previous assessments submitted through Turnitin, analyses metadata and uses Natural Language Processing to evaluate the originality of the submitted work.

  • Misrepresentation

    Misrepresentation is where a student presents untrue information with the intention of deceiving or misleading the assessor. Misrepresentation can include but is not limited to:

    • submitting falsified, copied or improperly obtained data relating to results of laboratory work, clinical placements, practicums, field trips or other work as if they were genuine;
    • altering or falsifying any document or record for the purposes of gaining academic advantage;
    • deliberate attempts to deceive about assessment submission times, word counts, attendance or participation in learning activities;
    • inclusion of citations to non-existent or incorrect sources.

    What to look for

    Evidence that the student has falsified documents or data such as:

    • discrepancies in the data
    • data that is very “clean” without expected statistical “noise”
    • lack of replicability (if applicable to context)
    • images that appear to have been modified

    Technological deception that aims to ‘trick’ text matching software:

    • back translation to convert a text to another language then back to English
    • character insertion of one or more characters that have a different digital identity though they appear the same in print
    • masking and camouflage such as placing white quote marks (i.e. invisible in print) around copied text in a submission to a text matching program that is set to ignore text within quotes

    Evidence to collect

    • Document metadata
    • Reports from whistle blowers
    • Reports from others that can independently verify the document (e.g. doctor’s surgery for a medical report)
    • Screenshots and descriptions of what is being shown
  • Solicitation

    Solicitation is where a student offers or gives money or any item or service to a University staff member or any other person to gain academic advantage for the student or another person.

    What to look for

    Solicitation occurs when a student requests, offers, encourages, induces or advertises for another individual/student to contract, commission, pay, procure, or complete on their behalf, assessment tasks and items (e.g. exam papers, model exam answers, exam questions, exam scripts, on-line quizzes, and other types of assessment that are likely to result in their use for the purpose of cheating, misrepresentation and/or plagiarism).

    Evidence to collect

    • Reports from whistle blowers
    • Documents and descriptions of what is being shown
    • Screenshots and descriptions of what is being shown
    • Student allegations or reports of misconduct