The concept of self-plagiarism is controversial, and it essentially involves reusing your own work. Long a gray area of the academic world because it lacks an obvious victim, it can lead to serious legal and copyright issues when published.
Learn all about self-plagiarism and how to properly address and cite your work below.
Plagiarism is the theft of someone else’s work without citation and can range from stolen ideas to clear-cut copy-pasting of text. Self-plagiarism, by contrast, is the copying of your own work.1
This can occur in the following ways:
- Resubmitting an essay or paper for a class.
- Copy-pasting passages from a previously submitted work.
- Reusing data and research findings.
- Publishing the same work in multiple articles.
This is an issue because it is misleading. It presents old work as new and, as such, is unethical. That doesn’t mean you can’t either expand on or simply reference your previous work – just cite it correctly.
Why is self-plagiarism wrong?
Self-plagiarism doesn’t always carry the same ethical weight as plagiarism, which is taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own. However, it’s still a form of misconduct because it’s academically deceitful. Simply handing in a duplicate paper as a new one is harmful because it shows a lack of interest. It can also be a serious misrepresentation of data that will lead to failing grades or worse when caught.
At a professional level, recycling data and papers can lead to copyright infringement. For instance, publishing a paper in one journal oftentimes prevents the same information from being published elsewhere. This is because there are commercial aspects at play. Always check the copyright form when publishing an article. Repeating information from your own published work within a thesis, for instance, is usually fine, as there are no commercial interests involved.
In scientific disciplines, self-plagiarism is considered an offense to the wider community. It has the potential to erode the public’s trust in scientific research, even if it is not considered a serious research misdemeanor.2Scientific credibility depends on standards and principles, which plagiarism erodes.3
Examples of self-plagiarism
There are many kinds of self-plagiarism with different degrees of severity.
Repeating ideas unconsciously usually isn’t a major issue, particularly if you advance new arguments, but purposely recycling or repeating ideas to deceive, is. Whether using the same dataset more than once, copy-pasting your own sections, or publishing like-for-like content in two publications, there are many examples.
It’s perfectly valid to use pieces of older research or writing academically, but you have to cite them correctly. Moreover, you need to ensure that your tutor is fine with you doing so.
Treat your old work like any other source, like so:
How is self-plagiarism detected?
Modern university paper submissions undergo software database checks against published works. Many institutions also log all previously submitted, unpublished assignments by students, as well as thesis records from other universities. Submissions are flagged for plagiarism whenever content similarity is discovered.
University plagiarism checks differ from freely available online tools because they have their own internal databases. This means they can check for self-plagiarism, whereas standard tools can only compare published content. This also flags other serious forms of internal copying and academic dishonesty.
It’s dishonest and damages integrity. When published, it can yield copyright issues.
Yes. Whenever you’re reusing content like data or arguments, cite yourself as a source.
1 University of Glasgow. “Defining Self Plagiarism.” Accessed March 13, 2023. https://www.gla.ac.uk/research/ourresearchenvironment/prs/self-plagiarism/definingselfplagiarism/.
2 Dinis-Oliveira, Ricardo Jorge. “COVID-19 research: pandemic versus “paperdemic”, integrity, values and risks of the “speed science”.” June 10, 2020. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/20961790.2020.1767754.
3 Abad-García, María Francisca. “Plagiarism and predatory journals: A threat to scientific integrity.” January 01, 2019. https://www.analesdepediatria.org/en-plagiarism-predatory-journals-a-threat-articulo-S2341287918302138.