Sometimes I have trouble coming to conclusions on my own sometimes and I really do love learning but...

I sometimes scour the internet looking for answers to homework questions and then paraphrase them. I honestly retain and understand better from this, although I know I'm avoiding penalties by doing it.

Do you think this would violate an academic integrity policy? I am never copying the answers, strictly putting them in my own words, and often shortening them to the main points.


  • 8
    I honestly retain and understand better from this. Hmm, this sounds like a rationalization. One of the skills that doing homework is supposed to help you develop is to have ideas on your own and figure out how to explain them. You’ll never develop that ability by paraphrasing someone else’s answer. All this stuff about academic integrity policies is a distraction. If you love learning and want to become a smart, articulate person, you’re going to want to start weaning yourself off of using search engines for homework help.
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 13, 2020 at 6:16
  • 1
    See also this answer (specific to the context of studying math, but a bit related).
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 13, 2020 at 6:22
  • 9
    I see what you’re saying, but consider the possibility that you’re stuck in a vicious cycle where because you have neglected to develop your independent problem-solving ability, you take longer than you should (and have a very hard time) solving problems on your own, which leads you to feel pressured into looking up answers online, which leads to you not getting better at independent problem-solving, and so on ad infinitum. I’m not saying that’s your problem, obviously I don’t know you and don’t know what subject you’re studying. But it’s definitely a thing that happens to some people.
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 13, 2020 at 6:46
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    @DanRomik, make it an answer. Please. You've caught all the right elements.
    – Buffy
    Apr 13, 2020 at 16:25
  • 1
    @Buffy I appreciate the suggestion, but I haven’t answered OP’s actual question, which is about academic integrity. I’ll leave it as a comment for now.
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 13, 2020 at 16:37

3 Answers 3


Nobody can answer this question except your instructor. Academic integrity policies vary wildly from one course to the next. Some instructors explicitly allow consulting outside sources; others explicitly forbid it, even with proper citation. Which policies are appropriate, and in which contexts, depends on the class.

If you find yourself unwilling to ask your instructor, for example because you think even asking the question might get into trouble or subject your work to additional unwanted scrutiny, that's an excellent sign that you believe it's cheating. But if you think it's cheating, you're not going to do it. (Right?) So you have nothing to fear by asking the instructor.

  • The advice in the last paragraph seems to be people- and location specific. (Are you in the US, by any chance?) I knew a few old school profs who belived their policies on that matter would be universal - asking them would make them mad because in their view, you should know the answer from your high school education.
    – user111388
    Apr 16, 2020 at 5:35
  • Yes, I'm in the US. This might be a yet another example of Ask Culture vs Guess Culture, or in the context of teaching, There-Are-No-Stupid-Questions culture versus That's-A-Stupid-Question culture.
    – JeffE
    Apr 17, 2020 at 19:59

I will be a bit more direct than the other answers.

Do you think this would violate an academic integrity policy?

Most likely, yes, this is considered cheating. JeffE is correct that it depends on course policy. However, for most courses, looking up the answer to a problem and then paraphrasing it in your own words is not allowed. Especially without crediting the source. So check with your instructor, but unfortunately, you are already in the gray area of probably violating the rules.

I honestly retain and understand better from this

Are you sure this is true? It does sound like you are rationalizing. This depends a lot on the subject, and probably on the person, so we cannot judge for sure. However, it is very common to feel like one is learning by reading / paraphrasing the answers, and to not actually be learning; then you only find out a few weeks later when you are presented with an exam problem (or try to solve a problem without internet aid), and find you are stuck on the very basics.

It also depends on how much effort you put in before looking up the solution online. If you are articulating exactly where you are stuck and actively involved in the learning process, this can be effective. But if you are only passively involved (only trying to find the answer, rather than to grasp and discover for yourself the underlying concepts), then this is not effective.


If you are citing your sources, it's not cheating, although you should heed the advice given by Dan Romik in the comments.

If you are using, including paraphrasing, the words or ideas of others without giving appropriate credit, that's plagiarism, which is a form of academic misconduct.

  • 3
    Agreed, but the instructor gets to define "cheating". It can go beyond things like plagiarism.
    – Buffy
    Apr 13, 2020 at 13:35
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    I agree with this, but note for the first point that just because it's not cheating doesn't mean you'll get full points for it. Apr 13, 2020 at 23:40
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    @NateEldredge Yes. If, for example, the assignment says, "Your own work only; no outside resources," and you cite your outside resources, you'll probably get zero points, but you will not have committed plagiarism. "Cheating" is a broad term, and for that reason, I like JeffE's answer better than my own.
    – Bob Brown
    Apr 14, 2020 at 15:35

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