Shining a light on SparkNotes


You don’t have to read the whole book. Just read the SparkNotes.
This phrase is pretty common on college campuses, where students have to juggle their time between many demanding assignments from professors.
The act of using references such as SparkNotes, BookRags and Shmoop is frequently seen.
Students who rely on SparkNotes-like resources may wonder: Can using SparkNotes and other reference websites put students in violation of the academic dishonesty policy?
Officially, the answer is no.
The use of these sites to replace the reading of the real book is not explicitly against the academic dishonesty policy in the Butler Student Handbook.
However, this doesn’t stop some professors from considering it on the same level as cheating. Some think the use of these online helpers is wrong because they do all the work for the student.
“Those sites do the thinking for you,” English professor Carol Reeves said. “You get the confidence of being able to do it on your own when you actually read the text.”
Popular online and text references among students include SparkNotes, a site that contains summaries and quote analyses from many novels; BookRags, a student-geared site that contains quizzes, essays and plot summaries; and Shmoop, a reference site for all subjects, complete with notes and quizzes.
Some professors have not noticed their students are using these sites. They believe students would not still be using these sites at the collegiate level.
“I expect that if I assign a reading of three pages, my students will read those three pages and show up for class ready to discuss,” education professor Nick Abel said. “At an undergrad level, you should expect less and less students using these sites to get by.”
Butler students see a lot of these sites being used on campus. Students who were asked about their usage of the site either denied usage or denied comment.
“No student is going to want to say that they use SparkNotes,” freshman Megan Borries said. “It’s too risky if their professor were to find out.”
Other students genuinely hold the belief that using these sites is not doing the real work.
“I only use SparkNotes if I don’t understand something that I’ve already read,” freshman Danielle Daratony said. “It should only be used for that.”
The Butler policy on cheating and plagiarism is for explicit evidence that something is not your own work. It is, therefore, easy for students to get away with simply rewording a text they find on one of these sites.
But if a student uses a sentence directly from one of the sources, Butler professors can catch it using sites like to scan documents for plagiarism when students submit them to Moodle.
“It may not be academic dishonesty, but it’s laziness,” Reeves said.