Is It Unethical to Use One College Paper for Two Different Classes?

A research paper shows the professor your understanding of course materials and readings.
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A paper written for one class may meet the requirements for another course, but it's important both instructors understand you want to submit duplicates to meet the dual assignments. Instructors occasionally don't have issues with the duplicate submissions when teachers adapt the assignment to require a more elaborate presentation to meet requirements for more than one class. However, schools, departments and teachers typically treat dual paper submissions as an unethical practice. The University of Texas at Austin calls the dual submission "a form of academic dishonesty."

1 Official Guidelines

College and departments frequently set specific rules regulating the reuse of student reports and papers. Individual teachers also have standards. The easiest way to determine the ethical standards is to ask about the instructor's rules when receiving the formal assignment. Consulting the college catalog or the printed or online rules of ethics also gives you the official institution regulations for submitting a paper for two different classes -- but confirm your instructor also follows the institutional guidelines. Assumption College professor James M. Lang writing in "The Chronicle of Higher Education" in 2010 calls turning in a paper for more than one course "plagiarizing yourself."

2 Overlapping Topics

Professors sometimes agree to allow students to do overlapping research for two courses when the topic fits the assignment made for two different classes. The research overlaps but the paper written from the research takes a new direction for each class. This arrangement saves the student research time but still produces a unique written assignment for each course. It's still advisable to clear the dual research with both professors prior to writing the papers to avoid any possible misunderstandings.

3 Topic Variation

Selecting topic variations using the same research saves the research time, but it also allows the student to create content for two different papers. Topic variations, for example, may include research on the history of rapid transit for a social-science class and also have research content for a paper on the most efficient modern-day transit systems for a course in political science. Research for the first paper also provides the background to explain the historical aspect to write a term paper for the second class. Selecting topics for both classes in this case doesn't come under the unethical category, and typically doesn't require the student to disclose the overlapping research to either instructor.

4 Extended Research

Students completing research for advanced courses or written work for classes required for a department major sometimes arrange with both instructors to turn in the same paper for two different classes with the agreement that the work goes beyond the regular assignment requirements. The two professors may agree to accept the same paper provided the paper has additional pages of text or the written submission has extra references. Instructors sometimes agree to this arrangement when the topic has research done in archives or involves formal research interviews.

Lee Grayson has worked as a freelance writer since 2000. Her articles have appeared in publications for Oxford and Harvard University presses and research publishers, including Facts On File and ABC-CLIO. Grayson holds certificates from the University of California campuses at Irvine and San Diego.