Self-plagiarism: What it is and why you should avoid it


May 11th, 2022


6 min read.

There is no denying that in the process of academic or scientific publishing, each new research paper builds on past work. However, it is essential to note that rules about citing and quoting previous work – to avoid plagiarism - relate equally to one’s own previous writing. The concept of self-plagiarism can give rise to numerous questions; in this article, we will cover what self-plagiarism is, and the reasons and ways to avoid it in your research papers.

So, gear up, and let us begin!

What is self-plagiarism?

For those that might know what, plagiarism can be broadly defined as “the practice of using other people’s ideas or words without proper citation”.

However, we can also plagiarize our work, which is commonly known as self-plagiarism.
Self-plagiarism is generally defined as reusing or recycling one’s own particular words from previously published texts or class submissions. Although it does not cross the line of true theft of other people’s ideas or texts, it can give birth to problems in the scholarly publishing world.

Self-plagiarism is basically misleading your readers by exhibiting old work as original and completely new. Apart from verbatim sections of text, self-plagiarism also encompasses the publication of two identical papers in two separate places – commonly known as ‘duplicate publication.’

However, if you want to revisit an old idea or add a past published observation in your present work, the best practice is to cite the previous work thoroughly to make sure the readers are informed about this.

To help you better understand what self-plagiarism is, here are a few common examples:

Examples of self-plagiarism

Standard self-plagiarism practices by students:

• Submitting a paper you have already presented in another class.
• Copying paragraphs or sections from your past submissions into a new paper.
• Reusing ideas or data from your bachelor’s dissertation and building on them in your master’s dissertation without properly citing the original work.

Standard self-plagiarism practices by academics:

• Using a dataset or an idea from previous research, whether it is published or not, and not informing the reader about this.
• Publishing several identical papers about the same research in multiple journals.
• Submitting a copy for publication that contains passages, data, or conclusions that have already been published and not citing the previous publication.

3 Reasons to avoid self-plagiarism

Although some self-plagiarism forms might seem harmless, the rationale for avoiding this practice is threefold, ranging from practical to philosophical:

Reason #1: The primary role of research papers
One of the most fundamental reasons to avoid self-plagiarism is related to scientific discovery and the integrity of the research record as a whole. It is widely known that each published manuscript should encompass new results and knowledge that will help us advance our understanding of the world.

On the contrary, when a manuscript includes uncited and recycled information, the author is countering the implicit assumption that they present entirely new and original discoveries.
Reusing previously published material, ‘salami-slicing’ data, and duplicating old publications erode the authors standing in their field. More importantly, it diminishes the trust that the public holds in research and science.

Reason #2: Publisher copyright
It is vital to note that the customary publication process in several journals involves conceding copyright of the final paper to the publisher. Although you’re still the intellectual owner of the results and ideas, the publication itself is the journal’s property. Therefore, reusing or recycling that data without permission and/or citation is not acceptable. For some, this might be counterintuitive, but in the eyes of the law, reusing one’s own words is copyright infringement, and this won’t change regardless of the fact that you wrote them.

On the other hand, in open access journals, Creative Common licenses are used because the reuse of past work is acceptable but with proper attribution and necessary citation to the original publication.

Reason #3: Delayed or blocked publications
Upon submission, most scholarly journals use software such as iThenticate to look for any form of plagiarized work in the manuscript. Therefore, if you’ve copied or paraphrased material from a past published paper, it will be indicated during this process. Some journals might reject your entire study, but even if the paper is not rejected it will certainly cause delays in the publication process. The editor might ask you to rewrite or clearly identify and cite reused data.

If you want to save time and effort while trying to publish paper, reach out to us for a plagiarism-free manuscript!

How to avoid self-plagiarism

The following are a few ways to avoid self-plagiarism:

Do original research

If you’re working on a topic that is identical to what you have done in the past, make sure you undertake original research from scratch. Even if you’re well-versed and thoroughly informed about the topic because of previous exposure, make sure to hit the books and the internet again for a fresh outlook. Doing this will serve three purposes:
• You come across new data that might not have been previously available.
• It ensures that the thoughts and ideas used in past papers are not recycled because of familiarity.
• You’re not only able to avoid self-plagiarism, but it can also help you improve your work’s overall quality by adding more and recent sources.

Carefully plan your writing

Creating multiple papers on identical topics can often lead to self-plagiarism. In such scenarios, you can prevent unoriginality by cautiously planning your research schedules and writing to ensure you do not overlap on similar topics in multiple papers.
• Planning and spacing out your writing schedule appropriately will allow your mind to reset and work on similar topics with a fresh outlook.
• Moreover, maintaining separate notes for different work can also help you to avoid self-plagiarism.

Give attributions and citation

We realize that some references are taken from old publications in all forms of writing, but be sure to give proper attributions and provide a citation. Acknowledging the author of the published work absolves you of plagiarism. If you don’t know how to add a proper citation, ask your professor or an expert for help.

Concluding note

At The Science Editorium, we understand that the ethical reporting and publication of new results are critical to advancing knowledge. We also realize the time and effort that authors put into creating a manuscript to get published. We aim to serve both these purposes. So reach out to us so we can reach our maximum potential.

Zoran Dinev

Chief Editorial Officer

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