What is self-plagiarism and how to avoid it?

Self-plagiarism is the act of either presenting a previously submitted work or large chunks of a previously submitted work as completely brand new.

In the broadest sense, self-plagiarism goes against the expectation of your professors or readers that the work you are presenting is completely new and original.

Examples of self-plagiarism

  • Handing in a paper you’ve previously submitted in another class.
  • Using the literature review from your bachelor thesis and building upon it in your master’s thesis without citing it.
  • Using a dataset you previously used for another study (published or not) without informing the reader of this
  • Submitting a manuscript for publication knowing that it contains data or conclusions that you have already shared or published in a different paper or conference presentation.

How to avoid self-plagiarism

For students

  • Do not reuse your old assignments. On occasion, you might be assigned a topic that you’ve already written a paper on. What then? Consult your university’s academic code of conduct or plagiarism policy.
  • Talk to your professor. This is particularly important if your university does not explicitly state whether or not self-plagiarism is acceptable. If your professor gives you the okay to use your old paper, make sure you cite yourself properly in whatever citation format you use.

For researchers/academics

  • Check the publication’s guidelines on this topic. Like universities, journals have varying guidelines on how they view self-plagiarism. Some are against it outright, while others will allow a minimal amount with proper citation. This is incredibly important if you are in the biomedical field.
  • Many journals will not publish articles that have been previously published.

Consequences of self-plagiarism

For students

Self-plagiarism is not as serious an offense as traditional plagiarism, but most universities will likely have a policy on how they view self-plagiarism. If your university does not allow self-plagiarism, never submit a previously submitted work.

At most universities, violation of the plagiarism policy results in an automatic zero and possible suspension or expulsion.

If your university allows you to reuse your old work, be sure to check in with your professors and make sure you get permission before doing so. Most university departments will allow minimal reuse of work, but to ensure you don’t lose points toward your grade, always check with your professors.

For researchers/academics

The two biggest consequences for an academic or researcher who self-plagiarizes are delayed/blocked publication or, in the worst case scenario, copyright infringement.

If your article is too close to one of your previously published works, the publication may delay your article or block it altogether. Most journals will list their plagiarism guidelines along with their submission requirements, so make sure to read them over.

According to the folks at the Office of Research Integrity, reusing large chunks of previously published material or publishing an article twice can result in copyright infringement.

Maybe you’ve tweaked the article a bit, but the ideas, overall structure, and data are all the same. You’ll need to double check and see who owns the publication copyright. Once you know whether or not you won’t be infringing on any copyright, make sure the publisher you’re submitting to allows previously published work.

Conclusion

Self-plagiarism exists in a confusing grey area, but once you’re familiar with the concept, it’s easy to navigate. As long as you double-check what the policies surrounding plagiarism are, you’ll be able to avoid any possibility of committing self-plagiarism.

If you’re still unsure about plagiarism, read more about the types of plagiarism, use our plagiarism checker or take a look at our in-depth comparison of the best plagiarism checkers for students.

Frequently asked questions

 

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Lorenza Shabe

Lorenza is an academic writing expert. She has a Master's in English Literature and Creative Writing and a background in Political Science. She works tirelessly on improving Scribbr's Knowledge Base content.

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