A guide to self-plagiarism for students and academics
Self-plagiarism means reusing work that you have already published or submitted for a class. It can involve re-submitting an entire paper, copying or paraphrasing passages or excerpts, or recycling previously-collected data.
Self-plagiarism misleads your readers by presenting previous work as completely new and original. If you want to include any text, ideas, or data that you already submitted in a previous assignment, be sure to inform your reader by citing yourself.
For students: Self-plagiarism in college
While self-plagiarism may not be considered as serious as plagiarizing someone else’s work, it is still a form of academic dishonesty. Your academic institution may not accept your work if you recycle your own previous assignments.
Examples of self-plagiarism by students
You may be committing self-plagiarism if you:
- Submit an assignment from a previous academic year to a current class.
- Tweak a paper you wrote in high school and resubmit it in a university course.
- Recycle parts of an old assignment without citing it, such as copying-and-pasting sections or paragraphs from previously-submitted work.
For academics: Self-plagiarism in published works
Self-plagiarism in academia has ethical and legal implications. Published research is expected to make a new and original contribution to knowledge, so recycling your old work undermines academic integrity. Your journal submissions will likely be rejected if you self-plagiarize.
Examples of self-plagiarism by academics
You may be committing self-plagiarism if you:
- Use a dataset from a previous study (published or not) without letting your reader know.
- Submit a manuscript for publication containing data, conclusions, or passages that have already been published without citing your previous publication.
- Publish multiple similar papers about the same study in different journals.
Consequences of self-plagiarism
At most universities, plagiarism results in an automatic zero on the assignment, and sometimes an automatic failing grade in the course. More serious consequences involve academic probation or even expulsion.
If you reuse a previously-submitted assignment, you are also hurting your learning process. Each course has something different to teach you, and resubmitting an old assignment means you aren’t learning anything new.
Some university departments do allow you to reuse previous work under certain circumstances. Make sure you fully understand the policy to avoid facing unintended consequences. If your university allows you to reuse elements of your old work, be sure to check with your professors and get permission before doing so.
The consequences for an academic or researcher who self-plagiarizes can be quite severe, ranging from delayed or rejected publication to copyright infringement.
If your article is too similar to one of your previously published works, the journal is likely to reject it outright, or require extensive edits to your submission. This impacts your reputation as a researcher and may lead to future rejections.
Even if the journal allows resubmissions of previously published work, be sure to check whether the original publisher owns the copyright of your paper. If you publish large portions of the same material elsewhere (even with a citation), you may be infringing copyright, which could have legal consequences. If you had a co-author, be sure to get their permission prior to resubmitting, and give them appropriate credit in the citation. Not doing so could constitute fraud.
How do educational institutions detect self-plagiarism?
In addition to plagiarism software databases, many educational institutions keep databases of submitted assignments. Sometimes, they even have access to databases at other institutions. If you hand in even a portion of an old assignment a second time, the plagiarism software will flag it as self-plagiarism.
Online plagiarism checkers not affiliated with a university do not have access to the internal databases of educational institutions, and therefore their software cannot check your document for self-plagiarism.
In addition to our Plagiarism Checker, Scribbr also offers an Own Sources Checker. This unique tool allows you to upload your own original sources and compare them with your new assignment. It will flag any unintentional self-plagiarism, in addition to other forms of plagiarism, and helps ensure that you add the correct citations prior to submitting your assignment.
How to avoid self-plagiarism
If you’re unsure whether something counts as self-plagiarism, first check the relevant plagiarism policy, whether for your university, the journal or publishing house you are submitting to, or your academic department. Plagiarism policies can often be found in the honor code, handbook, or submission requirements.
If there is no explicit policy on self-plagiarism, follow these guidelines.
- Do not reuse your old assignments. It is likely that at some point in your academic career you will be assigned a topic that you’ve already researched. Never submit the same paper again, even if it’s for a completely different course or school.
- Talk to your instructor if you want to cover some of the same ideas in your new paper. They can tell you whether it’s acceptable to reuse or rework parts of old assignments.
- Do not reuse previously published work. Reusing part of an already-published text in a new work could constitute copyright infringement, and misleads readers. To avoid this, make sure every part of your paper is original and written from scratch.
- If you use old data or ideas, always inform the reader. You might want to build on research you’ve published elsewhere. As long as you use the material in a new and original way, and you properly cite the publication where it originally appeared, this is generally acceptable.
How to cite yourself
You can cite yourself just like you would cite any other source. Be sure that you have permission from your instructor to reuse previous content before doing so, and indicate in your citation if the source is unpublished.