Self-plagiarism: Publishers’ perspectives

The third installment of a short series on academic integrity.

Welcome to the third and final installment of a short series on academic integrity. Missed previous articles? Read them here and here.

To recap, self-plagiarism refers to the practice of reusing the whole or parts of previously published work (e.g., a course essay, a conference paper) without clearly stating that one has done so. Last month, we considered universities’ perspectives on this issue while this month we explore publishers’ perspectives.

Self-plagiarism: Publishers’ perspectives

Publication is a goal of many graduate students; indeed, at this point in your scholastic career, you may have already published with a journal and/or academic press or have plans to do so. As such, it is important to understand why publishers are especially concerned about self-plagiarism.

Publishers have taken a strong stance against self-plagiarism for two main reasons: copyright and quality. Depending on a publication contract, copyright can move from an author to a publisher. Consequently, publishers need assurance that work submitted does not belong to another publication. Otherwise, there can be legal implications.

The main issue, however, is that of quality. Editors want readers to trust that what is being published by a journal or press is original. They are investing time and resources to ensure that the work in question meets editorial standards. If significant self-plagiarism is uncovered during the peer-revision process, editors will communicate their concerns with the author(s) and may even contact an author’s institution to report the concern. If self-plagiarism goes undetected but it is later discovered, the journal can issue a retraction. Such steps are seen as necessary to protect the integrity of the journal and the larger research community.  

For further insight into the do’s and don’ts of reusing your work, I recommend Dr Claire Aitchison’s blog post Recycling old papers and self plagiarism – is it a sin? as well as Professor Mark Israel’s blog post “Self-plagiarism: When is re-purposing text ethically justifiable?”

What about publishing my thesis or dissertation?

Don’t worry – publishers recognize the unique position of graduate students. However, you will still need to make clear to readers the origin of your writing. For instance, if you are following APA guidelines, you are required to include an author’s note that explains the article’s origin:

An exception to the prohibition against self-plagiarism is publishing a work of limited circulation in a venue of wider circulation. For example, authors may publish their doctoral dissertation or master’s thesis in whole or in part in one or more journal articles. In such cases, authors would not cite their dissertation or thesis in the article text but rather acknowledge in the author note that the work was based on their dissertation or thesis (APA Style Blog, 2020).

In contrast, guidelines provided by IEEE stipulate more explicit in-text citation:

It is common in technical publishing for an author to base an article on work appearing in a thesis or dissertation written by that author. IEEE recognizes the importance of this publication paradigm and fully supports it, but IEEE requires that the thesis or dissertation be fully referenced through direct citation of the thesis or dissertation or through other articles generated from and referencing the thesis or dissertation (IEEE Publications, 2020).

As always, you should confirm what standards you will need to follow. If you have questions, you can always review the submission notes or ask the editor directly for clarification. Likewise, if you plan to incorporate much of a previously published conference paper or journal article that you authored or co-authored into your thesis (especially if writing a manuscript-style thesis), you will need to ensure that you have appropriate permissions to do so. 

Keep in mind that the discussion about what constitutes self-plagiarism is ever-evolving. The same practice that is permitted in one context or discipline may not be permitted in another. This lack of consistency can be frustrating for both authors and editors! If you have questions about what is permitted or not within your discipline, ask for clarification from your department and/or CGPS and seek out guidelines from reputable sources. 

Until next time, happy writing!

Jill McMillan

Graduate writing specialist

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