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What is Self-Plagiarism, What is the Impact and How do you Avoid It?

Zebastian D.
What are the consequences of Self-Plagiarism?

What Does Self-Plagiarism Mean?

Self-plagiarism is when you try to pass off all or a significant portion of work that you’ve previously done as something that is completely new.

What are Some Examples of Self-Plagiarism?

Examples of where you may be guilty of self-plagiarism are:

  • Reusing the same set of data from a previous study or publication and not making this clear to the reader of your work.
  • Submitting a piece of coursework, paper or other project work that you have already submitted elsewhere (e.g. for a different module).
  • Writing up and submitting a manuscript for peer-review that has used the same data or drawn the same conclusions as work that you’ve already presented either in a previous publication or as a podium or poster presentation at a conference.
  • Reusing the content of a literature review performed for one dissertation or thesis directly within another dissertation or thesis without referencing back to this.

You can see here that the theme is clear: if you give the impression that the work you’re submitting is completely new or original work, when in fact this is work you’ve previously presented, then this is self-plagiarism.

What can you do to avoid the risk of self-plagiarism?

If you’re an undergraduate or masters student, you may find yourself in a situation where the piece of coursework given to you is very similar or identical to work you’ve already done in the past. Avoid the temptation of resubmitting this previous work as something new.

Instead, seek out the advice of the lecturer or professor that has assigned the paper to you. Are they happy for you to build on the previous work you’ve done? If they are, make sure you appropriately reference your earlier work and be clear on what is genuinely new content in your current submission.

If you’re a PhD student, post-doc or any academic researcher, then be clear on what the journal you’re submitting to counts as self-plagiarism. Then be clear on whether or not they’ll allow this (with appropriate reference or citation to the previous work) or if they’re adamant that no level of self-plagiarism should occur. Note that this is normally different to self-citation of work.

Journals are likely to consider your submission if it has been presented at a conference only as a poster or podium talk. However, virtually all journals will not accept work that has previously been published in a different (or the same) peer-review journal.

Accidental plagiarism is not unusual, particularly if you’re using similar methods in your current research writing as you did previously. Some elements of text recycling can happen but it’s your responsibility as the author of the research paper to ensure that your publication is genuinely new work. If you do end up repeating text in your writing, make sure you give proper citation to this.

What Impact Could Self-Plagiarism Have on You?

Universities take all forms of plagiarism very seriously and the consequences of being caught doing this can be very severe, including being expelled from the university.

Some universities may view self-plagiarism (i.e. copying your own work) as less problematic than the form of plagiarism in which you copy the work of someone else and indeed, in some cases, they may even allow some level of self-plagiarism.

If they do allow it, then ensure you have the ok from the person that will be assessing your work (i.e. your professor). Please do not submit any work that you’ve already submitted before if you know your university does not allow self-plagiarism of any form.

If you’re an academic researcher, the consequences of being caught self-plagiarising your manuscript or paper may be at the very least a delay in your publication being accepted to, at worst, the manuscript being rejected altogether. If attempting to resubmit a duplicate publication already in one journal to another journal, you may also end up infringing on the journal’s copyright.

Beyond that, you may be accused of academic misconduct and even have your academic integrity called into question. Make sure that you as the author are clear on the plagiarism policy of the journal you’re submitting to and also be clear specifically on their rules on self-plagiarism.

Conclusion

Self-plagiarism can sometimes feel like a grey area, but you should be clear that resubmitting previously published work with the intention of passing it off as a completing new publication is not only poor academic practice but also scientific misconduct.

It’s ultimately your responsibility as the author of the research publication that you do not end up copying previously published material in your text. If you’re in any doubt about the rules surrounding self-plagiarism, then avoid the use of any duplicate publication in your material.

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