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My Words, My Rights: An Analysis of Self Plagiarism

Suman Laudari (laudari.sum@gmail.com)

Self-plagiarism has been the talk of the town, amongst the Academics, in Nepal after UGC announced that it has blacklisted a few researchers, citing that they had been involved in fraudulent. In reply to the announcement of UGC, the researchers said that they copied words from their previous work, and it cannot be called plagiarism. The defensive statements of researchers seem to suggest that “these are my words, and I reserve the rights to use it”.On the other hand, the UGC’s notice appeared to have been guided by the concept of plagiarism, passing off as one’s own the writing of another. However, considering the context, the definition of plagiarism seems to rule out, as they say that the words are not copied from elsewhere, but from their own work, and they are the owner of those words in both the papers. Nonetheless, it should be seriously considered whether verbatim repetition of words from previously published work is allowed. In the meantime, we should also ask whether it fits into the integrity of our academic environment and follows the internationally accepted norms. To this end, this paper is written to explore responses to these issues, and the issues beyond these.

What is it? 

To begin with, verbatim repetition of words from previously published work without following the established norm is considered to be SELF-PLAGIARISM. Itis considered to be a form of plagiarism in the field of academia (Roig, 2006). Though, it differs from lifting someone else’s word/s from their work, it is equally offensive as it is copying passage/s or paragraph/s from one’s own previously published work without proper referencing (Smith, 2007). Self-plagiarism is considered misconduct because the author makes deliberate attempts to deceive the reader.

According to Office of Research Integrityn(ORI), the institution that drafts guidelines for research integrity, self-plagiarism can take place in four different forms: verbatim repetition or exact duplication of the previously published work, salami-slicing, text recycle, and copyright infringement.

Exact Duplications: Exact duplication is republishing all or substantial part of previously published work without the editor or the readers letting know that there exists an identical version of the paper (Roig, 2006;Scanlon, 2009). Roig further argues that the paper given for republishing may contain identical or near to identical words (p.17). Such verbatim repetition and publishing works may give a false impression that the issues or findings are of high importance, which will earn the researcher undue extra credentials (McCarthy, 1993). Most importantly, as it takes up the space of the platform that it appears in, it becomes an unfair treatment to other researchers/scholars because their publication is delayed or rejected due to space, which prevents new ideas.

Egregious duplications, according to Scanlon (2009) may be the result of simultaneous drafting, in which an author writes two articles for two journals and the writing publishes in both the journals, and intentional verbatim repetition. In case of simultaneous drafting, self-plagiarism occurs by chance, and it can also be argued that it may not bring any benefits directly. But, deliberate duplication occurs due to the lack of academic honesty, and research integrity (Smith, 2007). Moreover, it also shows that suchresearchers lack creativity. With this regard, ORI clearly states that intentional lapse in research integrity is very serious as it is a misconduct which runs on the contrary to the primary goal of the scientific enterprise, which is search for new knowledge in the concerned field.

Salami-slicing: Salami-slicing, on the other hand, is lifting the result section of previously published work and publishing it in many other papers (Scanlon, 2009). Though, it may seem to be less adverse than verbatim repetition, it is also misconduct because it is done without proper attribution. Secondly, it gives undue inflation to such findings, as it gives indication that different data-sets yielded identical results. In addition, from a reader’s perspective, such slicing makes reading incomprehensible as it distorts the text, and such writing may also be misleading (Scanlon, 2009, p. 59).

Copyright Infringement: Thirdly, copyright infringement means to use a large portion of texts as a quotation from a previously published work, especially from academic journals, violating the provision of ‘fair use’, which, according to ORI, is using the text for nonprofit personal use. It implies that in borrowing words from a one’s copyrighted journal articles, one has to follow the convention, i.e. proper summarizing, paraphrasing, or quoting. For example APA publication manual suggests that if an author decides to borrow more than 500 words, she/he has to gain approval from APA (Roig, 2006). Copyright infringement is identical to plagiarized work, which normally occur because the author does not attribute to the source.

Text Recycle: Lastly, text recycle is copying a section of text from previously published work when the study report being written follows identical methodology as the previous one, or has similar literature review, or discussion section (Roig, 2002). I personally feel that some of text recycle is helpful given that it helps in establishing the issues discussed in the earlier paper. But, again, to reiterate, one has to follow the convention to avoid misconduct and to avoid deceiving readers. ORI, in its guidelines to research integrity, states that there is no consensus among journal publication guidelines regarding the amount of words that can be used for recycling, but it suggests that one should not violate the rules in doing so.

How Can I avoid it? 

Though there are not many scholarly articles on self-plagiarism in social sciences, two publication manuals, Medical Library Associations (MLA) and American Psychological Associations (APA) clearly state that verbatim repetition without proper referencing the previous work is not acceptable (Scanlon, 2009). Further, no scholarly journals accept works that infringes copyright provisions. Thus, the basic thing that I personally would suggest is to follow the conventions to avoid self-plagiarism. It is obvious that researchers are provided with some leeway (Scanlon 2009; Smith 2007; Roig 2006), in relation to text reusing, but it should not be taken for granted that we can do rash duplication for monetary or any other gains without properly acknowledging and attributingthe source. It should be noted that egregious duplication reflects academic dishonesty and lack of creative thinking. On the other hand, copying with proper attribution from previous works suggests that the researcher has the sense of research integrity, and is concerned about his/her ethics

Next, researchers/scholars need to develop the sense of research integrity in them so that we are abided by high ethical standards, which lessen the chances of misconduct. However, sometimes, it is likely that we may self-plagiarize if we are doing simultaneous drafting. In such cases, it is advised to inform the editors that the article has been submitted for consideration to publication in another journal too (Scanlon, 2009).

Lastly, self-plagiarism is a grey area, rather than black and white. The concerned academic institutions in the country have to come up with guidelines regarding copyright infringement in relation to self-plagiarism. But, to stress again, the best treatment of this is that every one of us who has concerns regarding academic writing have to be abided by the guidelines of research integrity.

I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation. 
George Bernard Shaw

Reference: 

McCarthy, P. (1993). The paper mill.The New Physician, 24-27.
Roig, M. (November, 2002). Recycling portions oftext from the same author/s previously publishedpapers in psychology: An exploratory study. Paperpresented at the second Office of ResearchIntegrity’s conference on Research Integrity, Bethesda,MD.
Scanlon, P.M. (2007). Song from myself: An anatomy of self-plagiarism. Plagiary: Cross-Disciplinary Studies in Plagiarism, Fabrication and Falsification, 57-66.
Roig, M. (2006). Avoiding plagiarism, self-plagiarism, and other questionable writing practices: A guide to ethical Writing. Retrieved from http://facpub.stjohns.edu/~roigm/plagiarism/Index.html
Smith, E. R. (2007). Editor’s page: Plagiarism, self-plagiarism and duplicate publication. Can J Cardiol, 23(2), 146-147.
Office of Research Integrity. Policies/Regulations. <http://ori.hhs.gov/policies. (Current version)

(Suman Laudari is a life member of NELTA and working as a Training Coordinator of NELTA. He is also a teacher of English and has been teaching almost a decade now. Currently, he is working as an adjunct faculty at Kathmandu University, School of Education, English Language Education and Ace Institute of Management, Baneshwor. His research interests are motivation in second language learning, planning and task performance, and TBLT. )

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