Research integrity: the 'slippery slope' from good to bad

You can use slides and information from this research tip, taking into account the conditions as set out in following Creative Commons license:


The continuum from good to bad

Research integrity is part of researchers’ professional responsibility and inherently connected to what researchers do (or not) in a research context. The research behaviour is guided by values and norms, as set out in the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, or the ALLEA code.

Research behaviour can be put on a continuum. On the one side of the spectrum, there are the ‘good research practices’, slipping into a red zone, the 'bad research practices'. 



The good research practices 


It’s conduct that is consistent with the ALLEA Code.

Although (honest) mistakes might compromise the research record and/or the quality of research, they are considered to be part of good research practices, as long as the researcher has taken all necessary measures to avoid them and, as soon as known, communicates honest about the mistakes, corrects them, and ensures making mistakes does not become a habit (out of carelessness or because the mistakes suits the researcher well).


The bad research practices 

Bad research practices always contain breaches of research integrity and are all unacceptable for that reason.



The first category of breaches of research integrity are limited to only three types of misconduct or fraud, and are therefore referred to as ‘the big three’:

  • Fabrication = inventing research data, materials or results
  • Falsification = adjusting, changing research data, materials or results
  • Plagiarism = pretending research data, materials or results are yours.

There is consensus within the research community that this behaviour is unacceptable and fraudulent, cannot be tolerated and is sanctionable.


Breaches of good research practice and other unacceptable practices are categories of breaches that are much more broadly defined than the first category and therefore more difficult to define comprehensively. ALLEA provides a clear description and a non-exhaustive list of examples. While these practices can vary widely in severity and impact, they are  unacceptable, not tolerated and sanctionable. 


In most cases, breaches of research integrity are not the result of a sudden one-off act, although an exception certainly cannot be ruled out. Consider the immense pressure researchers may experience, due to lack of time or performance pressure. More often, it is a gradual process of small steps in which the researcher increasingly ignores the applicable quality requirements to the point where he completely disregards them. In this way, the person slips further and further into the red zone. For this reason, it is very important to take seriously (and report) any form of violation of research integrity and to provide it with a response.


What you can do yourself 

Be honest with yourself. If you prefer to hide and not speak openly about a specific situation or behaviour and how you dealt with it, it is often an indication that your research behaviour is not acceptable. 

To explore the sometimes thin line between good and bad research practices, it is crucial that you speak openly about your experiences, that you share ideas.

Are you a senior? Set a good example yourself and open the conversation or put your shoulders (with us) to building an open research culture!

Are you a junior? Don't sit back and take initiative. Don't hesitate to share your concerns and questions. 


Have doubts about what you are doing and how you can do it better:


And remember that accountability is one of the basic values in the ALLEA Code, and thus part of your professional responsibility. A researcher should at all times be able to explain his or her research behaviour and the rationale behind it.


Examples of breaches of research integrity 


Carefully designing a publication strategy and adapting content and style accordingly (e.g. presenting results across several articles in different ways to best inform the target audience, without of course compromising the thorough representation of the research work) is considered good research practice.

When this strategy is only aimed at producing as many publications as possible easier and faster to inflate a CV, it is an unacceptable practice, especially when it involves "salami slicing".

When a researcher puts together new articles by committing self-plagiarism, he/she slips even further into the red zone of breaches of research integrity.


More tips

Translated tip

Last modified Oct. 23, 2023, 11:33 a.m.