What is Self-Plagiarism?
Plagiarism is defined as ‘the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2016; http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/plagiarism, accessed 12 May 2016), but how can an author steal their own ideas? Authors can risk committing plagiarism in its broader meaning of ‘literary theft’, by using material to which they have no legal right (see below).
Self-plagiarism can occur when an author republishes his or her work in its entirety, or reuses large portions of his or her previously published material in new work. This raises another ethical issue: copyright infringement. When authors publish their work in any way (for example, in a journal, or as part of a conference), they generally transfer the rights to their material to the publisher. In these circumstances, although the author may have researched or created the material, they no longer own it. Republishing work without the consent of the publisher or proper citations therefore qualifies as using material you have no right to use under these circumstances. Duplicate submission is treated very seriously by journals, which have strict policies in place to avoid wasting the time of peer reviewers and possible copyright infringement.
Self-plagiarism also applies when an author misrepresents or misuses their material. Reusing old text or results as part of ‘new’ work without proper citation can mislead readers into thinking that the new work is novel and original.
Another form of self-plagiarism is data fragmentation, where authors publish their results or findings as several smaller pieces when the material would be better presented as a larger, cohesive whole. This practice, also known as ‘salami slicing’, is considered unethical because it wastes the time of reviewers and readers who could otherwise focus on other academic literature.
How to avoid self-plagiarism
- Always properly cite your previously published material in new work.
- Make sure that any of your previously published text or data is used to support novel material and arguments in new work. There must be enough original content to justify a new publication.
- Publish your findings as a cohesive whole whenever possible to avoid data fragmentation, unless there are good reasons for doing this.
- Always disclose to journal editors when the work you are submitting contains previously published material.
For more information on self-plagiarism, read iThenticate’s whitepaper (iThenticate, 2011; http://www.ithenticate.com/resources/papers/ethics-of-self-plagiarism, accessed 11 May 2016).