Cite Your Old Work: The How and Why

Have you ever been given an assignment and thought, “I’ve written a paper like this before…”? If yes, then you might’ve considered re-using content from that previous paper for your new one. If it’s still relevant and the result of your own work, so why not?

Doing so, however, should be treated with extreme caution, and if done incorrectly can lead to something called “self-plagiarism.” Let’s review how you can self-plagiarism when using work you’ve written before for a new assignment.

What is self plagiarism?

Self-plagiarism is defined as incorrectly citing (or not citing) a piece of your own work in another work you are writing.

There are a few different types of self-plagiarism:

  1. Word-for-word

The most common type of self-plagiarism occurs is when you copy word-for-word a paper you have already written and insert it into a new assignment. If you take any direct material from an old paper of yours, you must create a citation for the older paper. This applies even when your assignments are for different instructors or courses.

  1. Salami-slicing

Another type of self-plagiarism is known as, “salami-slicing,” happens when the author of a study separates aspects of the study and publishes it in more than one publication, depending on what the goal of each published article is. Salami-slicing is considered unethical since it doesn’t present a whole, complete presentation of a research study. Segmenting the data into many “slices” could lead to misinterpretations.

  1. Copyright infringement

Perhaps the most well-known outcome of self-plagiarism is “copyright infringement.” This is when an author publishes work that is copyrighted, only for that writer to take that copyrighted material and publish it elsewhere without citing the original work. Even if the writer was the original author of the copyrighted material, proper referencing to the original is still needed.

How to avoid self-plagiarism

There are a few simple steps a writer can take to avoid committing self-plagiarism:

  1. Conduct further research

If a new paper assignment you’ve been given is similar to one you have already written, consider conducting further research on the topic. Doing this may open up new concepts and avenues of writing that you had not considered before.

  1. Consult your old class notes

Instead of copying directly from your old paper, check any old notes or outlines that you created for that class and try to come up with unique ideas to write about, or perhaps a slightly different angle than the one you previously chose.

  1. 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. Here is how you would do this in some of the most popular citation formats:

Harvard referencing style:

Your Last Name, First Initial. (Year) ‘Title of your paper’. School Name. Unpublished essay.

Harvard example:

Lu, P. (2017) ‘George Washington in early American paintings’. Southern New Hampshire University. Unpublished essay.

APA citation format:

Your Last Name, First Initial. (Year). Title of paper. Unpublished manuscript, University Name.

APA example:

Lu, P. (2017). George Washington in early American paintings. Unpublished manuscript, Southern New Hampshire University.

MLA citation format:

Your Last Name, Your First Name. Title of Your Paper. Year written. Your School’s Name,  Location. Unpublished paper.

MLA example:

Lu, Patricia. George Washington in Early American Paintings. 2017. Southern New Hampshire University, New Hampshire. Unpublished paper.

Looking for more styles or citing guides? Visit Cite This For Me to access a Chicago citation generator, a guide on how to do an in-text citation, an example of an annotated bibliography, and more!