Max is finishing his master's degree. He is asked to write a thesis to demonstrate his academic training. He chose to address a topic he had already studied before and wishes to continue this work. Only, he wonders if this is going to be considered self-plagiarism. As we know, plagiarism is attributing others' work to yourself. And, when you reuse an old assignment, you might think you're not harming anyone. Why waste time writing new content if you've already covered the subject in a previous assignment?

When working on an individual written production, (report, dissertation, thesis, article or essay..) whenever existing texts are quoted, it is imperative to apply citation rules even if the author is the same as the original document. Since it is a different work, it is important to lay out what constitutes the «old» production and what belongs to the «new» production.

Summary 

 

Self-plagiarism according to the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CRNS)

« Self-plagiarism occurs when an author partially or entirely « recycles » previously published content without citing the sources. This practice can constitute a breach of ethic rules if the document or the excerpts recycled were already published since they do not comply with the duty of only submitting original works. » "Practical guide “Integrity and responsibility in research practises”" CNRS Ethics Committee, July 2014.

Self-plagiarism: why is it serious?

Self-plagiarism deprives the reader of his rights

Self-plagiarism is not to be taken lightly! According to Michelle BERGADAA, a plagiarism specialist, « self-plagiarism is one of the most concerning cases of lack of scientific integrity ». Although « self-plagiarism might not be a theft of others' ideas », it still robs the reader of his « fundamental right […] to access original sources and knowledge ». Document in french "Self-Plagiarism, Plagiarism and Scientific Fraud" Michelle Bergadaà, June 2013.

 

Self-plagiarism skews evaluations and games reward systems.

"What is at stakes here is not only a clear identification of the author (who in this case is the same), but also the understanding that minor or substantial portions of the text come from a previous work , and are consequently , not part of a new production.

How then can it be possible to assess the new effort made as well as the input of new concepts and ideas?                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Should we consider normal the fact that someone might be rewarded multiple times, sometimes even paid several times for a work that has simply been duplicated?" "Why Is Redundant Publication a Problem?" E.Wager, 2015. 

Plagiarism and self-plagiarism: equal sanctions

Therefore, saying that « duplicating your own work is not plagiarism » cannot be considered a powerful defense argument against accusations, contrary to what Etienne Klein, a science philosopher, has claimed when he was accused of self-plagiarism. Article in french "The Etienne Klein "affair": "Copying yourself" is self-plagiarism", S.Maouche, December 8th, 2016.
In all cases, it is important to be transparent with the reader. When citing one’s own workquotation marks and references to the original work are required. Otherwise it will be considered as self-plagiarism; knowing that self-plagiarism just like plagiarism, can be sanctioned.

Self-plagiarism: examples

Group assignments

During your university studies, you'll often be asked to work on group projects. Even if you played an important role in working on a group assignment, you cannot reuse it without properly citing the authors. You must indicate your classmates' names as well as your own name. To avoid plagiarism, you should also indicate the name of the document and its completion date.

 

An essay from a previous year

You've already researched a topic that you're assigned. You therefore want to reuse these ideas in the new assignment. You have the right to do so. It will not be considered unintentional plagiarism, as long as you indicate the source.

 

A paper from another course

You're taking several courses at the same time or switch courses from one year to another. The topic for your new paper deals with subjects that you've already studied. You decide to use an excerpt from your previous assignment. The courses are different, but the requirement imposed by your academic institution is the same: cite your sources.

Paraphrasing

You decide not to use quotation marks and italics to cite a passage from an assignment you've previously written. You prefer to paraphrase, by restating the idea in other words. In this particular case as well, you must indicate the source so as not to be accused of plagiarism.

 

Personal writing

You wrote a post for your personal blog. It isn't part of an essay, paper or academic research-based work. You decide to use it to support your topic on an assignment. Beyond granting points based on if you've cited your sources correctly, teachers will appreciate your enthusiasm for writing.

Self-plagiarism: how do I avoid it?

In an individual work (report, thesis, dissertation, article, essay, etc.), when quoting pre-existing texts, you must follow citation rules. The same applies if you yourself are the author of the original document. To cite yourself, follow the same steps as for other citations: put the quoted text in quotation marks, indicate the author, the title of the document and its date.

Indeed, since this is a separate work, it is important to distinguish what is part of the “new” work from what is from “previous” work.

Some students may be tempted to rephrase words used in another document so as not to have to cite themselves. Paraphrasing is a form of plagiarism, even when it involves your own research. This shortcut is therefore not a valid option.

Furthermore, it is important to supplement your personal evolution of thought. The goal is to show the reader a certain growth from the learning process.

Note, the names of all authors, documents used while writing, borrowed text, and citations must appear in a detailed bibliography in order for copyright to be respected.

"Discuss it with your teacher. This is especially important if your university does not explicitly state whether self-plagiarism is acceptable or not. If your teacher gives you permission to use your old work, be sure to cite yourself using your chosen format.

For scholars/researchers

Check the publication guidelines on this topic. Like universities, journals have different guidelines on how they view self-plagiarism. Some forbid it, while others allow a minimal amount as long as an appropriate citation is provided. This is extremely important if you are in the biomedical field.” "Self-plagiarism" Scribbr, April 2018

To avoid plagiarism and also self-plagiarism, it's ideal if you use similarity-detection software. Undoubtedly, the Studium solution supports students and doctoral candidates in properly citing sources. Indeed, before the final submission, it is crucial to check your paper, thesis or other academic work. The goal is to avoid being accused of unintentional plagiarism.

Studium consists of powerful copy-paste-detection software and a toolbox. The toolbox provides you document-based resources on plagiarism and citation methodologies to avoid plagiarism in various formats (quizzes, articles, infographics, app, etc.)

The Studium toolbox is free upon registration.


 

Max, now you understand that recycling old material isn't original. This unintentional cheating is called self-plagiarism. The reader expects to see original research. Citation rules apply for all duplicated content, even your own. Self-plagiarism is punishable just like plagiarism. Therefore, you can reuse your own writing from another document, provided the source is indicated.


 

Sources:

 

To go further:

  • "Citations: Citing Yourself". Walden University, Education for good.
  • "Plagiarizing Yourself". James M.Lang, October 2010. 
  • "Can you plagiarize yourself?" Scribbr, April 2018. 
  • "Is recycling your own work plagiarism?" Turnitin,  July 2016.