Did you know? Authors Can Plagiarize Themselves

Did you know that authors can plagiarize themselves? Most authors are aware of the kind of plagiarism that involves appropriating someone else’s work, but self-plagiarism is a problem too.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) defines self-plagiarism as “[r]eusing one’s own previous writing without being transparent […] or appropriately referencing/quoting from the original.” Self-plagiarism can manifest in a few different forms.

Duplicate publication is publishing an article more than once—sometimes with an altered title or slightly altered subheadings and sentences—without disclosing prior publications. Duplicate publication wastes editorial staff and reviewer time, creates the potential to double-count and therefore distort data, and results in a retraction when the duplicate is discovered.

Another form of self-plagiarism is text recycling—“when sections of the same text appear (usually unattributed) in more than one of an author’s own publications,” according to COPE/BioMed Central guidelines. In other words, authors heavily borrow from their own previously published work.

Some papers appear to recycle large quantities of previously published text. Posing the same research question, using the same study population, and using the same methods but dividing and reporting the outcomes into different papers is called salami publishing. Authors present just enough new information—the least publishable unit—for a new publication.

According to a post at the COPE website, self-plagiarism creates 3 major problems:

  • The illusion of research productivity, resulting in an uneven playing field for academics because grant money, promotions, raises, and academic acclaim can be based on how many publications an author produces on behalf of his or her institution
  • The waste of editor, reviewer, and publisher time and resources
  • The impedance of scholarship by contributing to an impression that plenty of research exists on a particular topic when in actuality many of the published articles contain the same information

At the Ochsner Journal, we use tools like iThenticate and Retraction Watch Database to help identify plagiarism. These tools are useful but are not foolproof. Avoidance of self-plagiarism comes down to the authors’ commitment to publication best practices and to integrity.