Ever heard of self-plagiarism? While it may sound silly, it’s actually a big deal. Incorrectly citing yourself can lead to serious consequences. It’s tempting to think that since you have written material on a topic before, that work can be repurposed without any citations. Unfortunately, this is poor writing ethics and should be prevented as much as possible.
So what is self-plagiarism, and how do you avoid committing it by mistake? Read on for some helpful tips and definitions!
What is self-plagiarism?
Self-plagiarism is the act of incorrectly citing a piece of your own work in another work you are writing. This can take on several forms.
Re-using Old Work
The most common type of self-plagiarism occurs when you republish or re-use your own original work in a new piece of your work. For example, if you wrote a report on plastic recycling in high school, and then use portions of that report in a college paper about recycling. You would need to cite your original report in the new paper, even if it is for a completely different course or instructor. In addition, don’t even think about passing off the old report as the new paper; that is just plagiarism.
Self-plagiarism can also occur when the writer commits something known as “salami-slicing” in their paper. It sounds good, but isn’t. This is when the author of a study separates aspects of a study and publishes it in more than one publication.
This is considered a negative practice for three reasons. First, it presents data without giving a complete picture. Good and thorough research presents all pertinent information found, the “whole picture,” so that others can accurately learn from it. Second, salami-slicing builds a false image of a researcher’s work and research efforts. Lastly, and most importantly, it is disrespectful to the time and attention of readers and publication editors. Nobody wants to invest time into reading an extensive study that they’ve already read about elsewhere.
Copyright infringement is also a common outcome of self-plagiarism. When an author publishes something like a scholarly article, copyright is often given to the research journal that originally published the article. Repurposing this work and publishing it elsewhere without referencing the original could violate the copyright agreement and result in serious consequences.
How to avoid self-plagiarism
There are a few simple steps a writer can take to avoid committing self-plagiarism:
- Conduct further research
If you are tasked with writing a paper on a topic that you’ve previously written about, consider conducting further research on the topic and using different sources than you used the first time. This will allow you to improve on the writing of your first paper, and could also give you new ideas to include.
- Start your paper by consulting your old notes
Go back to any outlines, notes, or rough drafts you wrote the first time around. This gives you the opportunity to further expand on topics. DO NOT copy and paste anything directly from your older paper.
- Cite your previous work
If you wish to use an older paper you have written on a topic as a source for a new paper, you can cite yourself, just as you would cite any other source you use in your research. Consult your style manual of choice, i.e. MLA format or APA format, for further information on how to do this correctly per style rules.
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