Avoiding plagiarism, self-plagiarism, and other questionable writing practices: A guide to ethical writing Miguel Roig, Ph. D. First on-line version published in September, 2003 Revised on-line version published in August, 2006 http://facpub. stjohns. edu/~roigm/plagiarism/Index. html Please send any questions, comments, or suggestions to Miguel Roig, Ph. D. In recognizing the importance of educating aspiring scientists in the responsible conduct of research (RCR), the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), began sponsoring in 2002 the creation of instructional resources to address this pressing need.
The present guide on avoiding plagiarism and other inappropriate writing practices was created, in part, to meet this need. Its purpose is to help students, as well as professionals, identify and prevent such practices and to develop an awareness of ethical writing. This guide is one of the many products stemming from ORI’s educational initiatives in the RCR. INTRODUCTION Scientific writing can be a complex and arduous process, for it simultaneously demands clarity and conciseness; two elements that often clash with each other.
In addition, accuracy and integrity are fundamental components of the scientific enterprise and, therefore, of scientific writing. Thus, good scientific writing must be characterized by clear expression, conciseness, accuracy of what is being reported, and perhaps most importantly, honesty. Unfortunately, writing, or for that matter the entire scientific process, often occurs within the constraints of tight deadlines and other competing pressures.
As a result of these constraints, scientific papers, whether generated by science students or by seasoned professionals, will at times be deficient in one or more of the above components. Insufficient clarity or lack of conciseness are typically unintentional and relatively easy to remedy by standard educational or editorial steps. Lapses in the accuracy of what is reported (e. g. , faulty observations, incorrect interpretation of results) are also assumed to be most often unintentional in nature, but such lapses, even if unintentional, can have significant undesirable consequences if not corrected.
Intentional lapses in integrity, even if seemingly minor, are by far the most serious type of problem because such misconduct runs contrary to the primary goal of the scientific enterprise, which is the search for truth. In scientific writing, perhaps the most widely recognized unethical lapse is plagiarism. Plagiarism can occur in many forms and some of the more subtle instances, while arguably unethical in nature, may not be classified as scientific misconduct by federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) or the Office of Research Integrity (ORI).
Nevertheless, the ethical professional is expected to operate at the highest levels of scientific integrity and, therefore, must avoid all forms of writing that could be conceptualized as plagiarism. There are other questionable writing practices, some of which may be quite common in professional scientific writing. One example is reporting and discussing results of one’s research in the context of literature that is supportive of our conclusions while at the same time ignoring evidence that is contrary to our findings.
Another writing ‘malpractice’ occurs when another author’s review of a literature is used, yet the reader is led to believe that the current author has conducted the actual review. On ethical writing A general principle underlying ethical writing is the notion that the written work of an author, be it a manuscript for a magazine or scientific journal, a research paper submitted for a course, or a grant proposal submitted to a funding agency, represents an implicit contract between the author of that work and its readers. According to this implicit contract, he reader assumes that the author is the sole originator of the written work, that any text or ideas borrowed from others are clearly identified as such by established scholarly conventions, and that the ideas conveyed therein are accurately represented to the best of the author’s abilities. In sum, as Kolin (2002) points out “Ethical writing is clear, accurate, fair, and honest”. It also conveys to the reader that we strive for ethical conduct as well as ethical practice. As is the case with most other human activities, errors in writing which violate the spirit of the contract do occur.
For example, in proposing a new idea or data, an author may dismiss a certain line of evidence as unimportant, and thus quite unintentionally, ignore other established data or other evidence that fail to support, or outright contradict, his/her own ideas or data thereby misleading the reader. Judging by some of the readers’ letters and commentaries published in scientific journals in response to certain published articles, this type of oversight appears to be not all that uncommon in the sciences, particularly when dealing with controversial topics.
Other errors include situations in which an idea claimed by its author to be completely original, may have actually been articulated earlier by someone else. Such “rediscovery” of ideas is a relatively well-known phenomenon in the sciences, often occurring within a very close timeframe. Cognitive psychologists have provided considerable evidence for the existence of cryptomnesia, or unconscious plagiarism, which refers to the notion that individuals previously exposed to others’ ideas will often remember the idea, but not its source, and mistakenly believe that they themselves originated the idea.
Other unintentional errors occur, such as when authors borrow heavily from a source and, in careless oversight, fail to fully credit the source. These and other types of inadvertent lapses are thought to occur with some frequency in the sciences. Unfortunately, in some cases, such lapses are thought to be intentional and therefore constitute clear instances of unethical writing. Without a doubt, plagiarism is the most widely recognized and one of the most serious violations of the contract between the reader and the writer.
Moreover, plagiarism is one of the three major types of scientific misconduct as defined by the Public Health Service; the other two being falsification and fabrication (U. S. Public Health Service, 1989). Most often, those found to have committed plagiarism pay a steep price. Plagiarists have been demoted, dismissed from their schools, from their jobs, and their degrees and honors have been rescinded as a result of their misdeeds (Standler, 2000). PLAGIARISM “taking over the ideas, methods, or written words of another, without acknowledgment and with the intention that they be taken as the work of the deceiver. American Association of University Professors (September/October, 1989). As the above quotation states, plagiarism has been traditionally defined as the taking of words, images, ideas, etc. from an author and presenting them as one’s own. It is often associated with phrases, such as kidnapping of words, kidnapping of ideas, fraud, and literary theft. Plagiarism can manifest itself in a variety of ways and it is not just confined to student papers or published articles or books.
For example, consider a scientist who makes a presentation at a conference and discusses at length an idea or concept that had already been proposed by someone else and that is not considered common knowledge. During his presentation, he fails to fully acknowledge the specific source of the idea and, consequently, misleads the audience into thinking that he was the originator of that idea. This, too, may constitute an instance of plagiarism. Consider the following real-life examples of plagiarism and the consequences of the offender’s actions: A historian resigns from the Pulitzer board after allegations that she had appropriated text from other sources in one of her books. • A biochemist resigns from a prestigious clinic after accusations that a book he wrote contained appropriated portions of text from a National Academy of Sciences report. • A famous musician is found guilty of unconscious plagiarism by including elements of another musical group’s previously recorded song in one of his new songs that then becomes a hit. The musician is forced to pay compensation for the infraction. A college president is forced to resign after allegations that he failed to attribute the source of material that was part of a college convocation speech. • A member of Congress running for his party’s nomination withdraws from the presidential race after allegations of plagiarism in one of his speeches. • A psychologist has his doctoral degree rescinded after the university finds that portions of his doctoral dissertation had been plagiarized. In sum, plagiarism can be a very serious form of ethical misconduct.
For this reason, the concept of plagiarism is universally addressed in all scholarly, artistic, and scientific disciplines. In the humanities and the sciences, for example, there are a plethora of writing guides for students and professionals whose purpose, in part, is to provide guidance to authors on discipline-specific procedures for acknowledging the contributions of others. Curiously, when it comes to the topic of plagiarism, many professional writing guides appear to assume that the user is already familiar with the concept.
In fact, while instruction on attribution, a key concept in avoiding plagiarism, is almost always provided, some of the most widely used writing guides do not offer specific sections on plagiarism. Moreover, those that provide coverage often fail to go beyond the most basic generalities about this type of transgression. Although plagiarism can take many forms there are two major types in scholarly writing: plagiarism of ideas and plagiarism of text. Plagiarism of ideas • Appropriating an idea (e. g. an explanation, a theory, a conclusion, a hypothesis, a metaphor) in whole or in part, or with superficial modifications without giving credit to its originator. In the sciences, as in most other scholarly endeavors, ethical writing demands that ideas, data, and conclusions that are borrowed from others and used as the foundation of one’s own contributions to the literature, must be properly acknowledged. The specific manner in which we make such acknowledgement varies from discipline to discipline. However, source attribution typically takes the form of either a footnote or a reference citation.
Acknowledging the source of our ideas Just about every scholarly or scientific paper contains several footnotes or reference notes documenting the source of the facts, ideas, or evidence that is reported in support of arguments or hypotheses. In some cases, as in those papers that review the literature in a specific area of research, the reference section listing the sources consulted can be quite extensive, sometimes taking up more than a third of the published article (see, for example, Logan, Walker, Cole, & Leukefeld, 2000).
Most often, the contributions we rely upon come from the published work or personal observations of other scientists or scholars. On occasion, however, we may derive an important insight about a phenomenon or process that we are studying, through a casual interaction with an individual not necessarily connected with scholarly or scientific work. Even in such cases, we still have a moral obligation to credit the source of our ideas. A good illustrative example of the latter point was reported by Alan Gilchrist in a 1979 Scientific American article on color perception.
In a section of the article which describes the perception of rooms uniformly painted in one color, Gilchrist states: “We now have a promising lead to how the visual system determines the shade of gray in these rooms, although we do not yet have a complete explanation. (John Robinson helped me develop this lead. )” (p. 122; Gilchrist, 1979). A reader of the scientific literature might assume that Mr. Robinson is another scientist working in the field of visual perception, or perhaps an academic colleague or an advanced graduate student of Gilchrist’s.
The fact is that John Robinson was a local plumber and an acquaintance of Gilchrist in the town where the author spent his summers. During a casual discussion of Gilchrist’s work, Robinson’s insights into the problem that Gilchrist had been working on were sufficiently important to the development of his theory of lightness perception that Gilchrist felt ethically obligated to credit Robinson’s contribution. Even the most ethical authors can fall prey to the inadvertent appropriation of others’ ideas, concepts, or metaphors.
Here we are referring to the phenomenon of unconscious plagiarism, which, as stated earlier, takes place when an author generates an idea that s/he believes to be original, but which in reality had been encountered at an earlier time. Given the free and frequent exchange of ideas in science, it is not unreasonable to expect instances in which earlier exposure to an idea that lies dormant in someone’s unconscious, emerges into consciousness at a later point, but in a context different from the one in which the idea had originally occurred.
Presumably, this is exactly what happened in the case of former Beatle George Harrison, whose song “My Sweet Lord” was found to have musical elements of the song “He’s So Fine”, which had been released years earlier by The Chiffons (see Bright Tunes Music Corp. v. Harrisongs Music, Ltd. , 1976). Unfortunately, there are probably other John Robinsons, as well as other accomplished scientists, scholars, and artists, now forgotten, whose original, but unacknowledged ideas have been subsequently and unconsciously (or sadly, perhaps quite intentionally) “reinvented/rediscovered” by others and have, thus, failed to get their due credit.
In some cases the misappropriation of an idea can be a subtle process. Consider the famous case of Albert Schatz who, as a graduate student working under Selman Waksman at Rutgers, discovered the antibiotic streptomycin. Even though the first publications describing his discovery identified Schatz as primary author (Martin, 1997), it was Wakman who, over a period of time, began to take sole credit for the discovery ultimately earning him the Nobel prize in 1952 (see, for example, Shatz, 1993; Mistiaen, 2002 for a fuller description of this case).
Of course, there also have been instances in which unscrupulous scientists have intentionally misappropriated ideas. The confidential peer review process is a ripe source from which ideas may be plagiarized. Consider the scenario where the offender is a journal or conference referee, or a member of a review panel for a funding agency. He reads a paper or a grant proposal describing a promising new methodology in an area of research directly related to his own work. The grant fails to get funded based, in large part, on his negative evaluation of the protocol.
He then goes back to his lab and prepares a grant proposal using the methodology stolen from the proposal that he refereed earlier and submits his proposal to a different granting agency. Most of us would deem the behavior depicted in the above scenario as downright despicable. Unfortunately, similar situations have occurred. In fact, elements of the above scenario are based on actual cases of scientific misconduct investigated by ORI. The peer review context appears to be sufficiently susceptible to the appropriation of ideas that in 1999 the federal Office of Science and Technology expanded their definition of plagiarism as follows: Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit, including those obtained through confidential review of others’ research proposals and manuscripts. ” (Office of Science and Technology Policy, 1999). Guideline 1: An ethical writer ALWAYS acknowledges the contributions of others and the source of his/her ideas. Plagiarism of text • Copying a portion of text from another source without giving credit to its author and without enclosing the borrowed text in quotation marks.
When it comes to using others’ word-for-word (verbatim) text in our writing the universally accepted rule is to enclose that information in quotations and to indicate the specific source of that text. When quoting text from other sources, you must provide a reference citation and the page number indicating where the text comes from. Although the use of direct quotes is uncommon in the biomedical literature, there may be occasions when it is warranted. The material quoted earlier from Gilchrist (1979) serves as a good example of when to use quotations.
Although the evidence indicates that most authors, including college students, are aware of rules regarding the use of quotation marks, plagiarism of text is probably the most common type of plagiarism. However, plagiarism of text can occur in a variety of forms. The following review will allow the reader to become familiar with the various subtle forms of plagiarism of text. Guideline 2: Any verbatim text taken from another author must be enclosed in quotation marks. Let’s consider the following variety: Copying a portion of text from one or more sources, inserting and/or deleting some of the words, or substituting some words with synonyms, but never giving credit to its author nor enclosing the verbatim material in quotation marks. The above form of plagiarism is relatively well known and has been given names, such as patchwriting (Howard, 1999) and paraphragiarism (Levin & Marshall, 1993). Iverson, et al. (1998) in the American Medical Association’s Manual of Style identify this type of unethical writing practice as mosaic plagiarism and they define it as follows: Mosaic: Borrowing the ideas and opinions from an original source and a few verbatim words or phrases without crediting the original author. In this case, the plagiarist intertwines his or her own ideas and opinions with those of the original author, creating a ‘confused plagiarized mass’” (p. 104). Another, more blatant form which may also constitute plagiarism of ideas occurs when an author takes a portion of text from another source, thoroughly paraphrases it, but never gives credit to its author.
Guideline 3: We must always acknowledge every source that we use in our writing; whether we paraphrase it, summarize it, or enclose it quotations. Inappropriate paraphrasing • Taking portions of text from one or more sources, crediting the author/s, but only changing one or two words or simply rearranging the order, voice (i. e. , active vs. passive) and/or tense of the sentences. Inappropriate paraphrasing is perhaps the most common form of plagiarism and, at the same time, the most controversial.
This is because the criteria for what constitutes proper paraphrasing differs between individuals even within members of the same discipline. We will discuss these issues shortly, but first let’s consider the process of paraphrasing. Paraphrasing and Summarizing Scholarly writing, including scientific writing, often involves the paraphrasing and summarizing of others’ work. For example, in the introduction of a traditional scientific paper it is customary to provide a brief and concise review of the pertinent literature.
Such a review is accomplished by the cogent synthesis of relevant theoretical and empirical studies and the task typically calls for the summarizing of large amounts of information. Guideline 4: When we summarize, we condense, in our own words, a substantial amount of material into a short paragraph or perhaps even into a sentence. At other times, and for a variety of reasons, we may wish to restate in detail and in our own words a certain portion of another author’s writing. In this case, we must rely on the process of paraphrasing.
Unlike a summary, which results in a substantially shorter textual product, a paraphrase usually results in writing of equivalent textual length as the original, but, of course, with a different words and, ideally, different sentence structure. Whether paraphrasing or summarizing others’ work, we must always provide proper credit. In fact, when paraphrasing in the humanities, one may thoroughly modify another author’s text and provide the proper citation. However, if the original sentence structure is preserved in the paraphrase, some will classify such writing as an instance of plagiarism.
Guideline 5: Whether we are paraphrasing or summarizing we must always identify the source of our information. Paraphrasing and Plagiarism: What the writing guides say Although virtually all professional and student writing guides, including those in the sciences, provide specific instructions on the proper use of quotes, references, etc. , many fail to offer specific details on proper paraphrasing. With some exceptions, writing guides that provide instructions for proper paraphrasing and avoiding plagiarism tend to subscribe to a ‘conservative’ approach to paraphrasing.
That is, these guides often suggest that when paraphrasing, an author must substantially modify the original material. Consider the following examples of paraphrasing guidelines: “Don’t plagiarize. Express your own thoughts in your own words…. Note, too, that simply changing a few words here and there, or changing the order of a few words in a sentence or paragraph, is still plagiarism. Plagiarism is one of the most serious crimes in academia. ” (Pechenik, 2001; p. 10). “You plagiarize even when you do credit the author but use his exact words without so indicating with quotation marks or block indentation.
You also plagiarize when you use words so close to those in your source, that if your work were placed next to the source, it would be obvious that you could not have written what you did without the source at your elbow. ” (Booth, Colomb, & Williams, 1995; p. 167) On the other hand, some writing guides appear to suggest a more liberal approach to paraphrasing. For example, consider the following guideline from the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2001), a guide that is also used by other disciplines (e. g. Sociology, Education), in addition to psychology: “…Each time you paraphrase another author (i. e. , summarize a passage or rearrange the order of a sentence and change some of the words), you need to credit the source in the text. ” (p. 349). However, this same resource provides an example of paraphrasing that is consistent with the more conservative definitions outlined above. Moreover, other writing guides (e. g. , Hacker, 2000) that review the style used by American Psychological Association (APA) interpret the APA guidelines in the same conservative fashion.
I advocate the more conservative approach to paraphrasing with one caveat (see below). Guideline 6: When paraphrasing and/or summarizing others’ work we must reproduce the exact meaning of the other author’s ideas or facts using our words and sentence structure. Examples of paraphrasing: Good and Bad The ethical writer takes great care to insure that any paraphrased text is sufficiently modified so as to be judged as new writing. Let’s consider various paraphrased versions of the following material on the electrochemical properties of neurons (taken from Martini & Bartholomew, 1997).
In acknowledging the source, we will use the footnote method commonly used in the biomedical sciences. The actual reference would appear in the reference section of the paper. “Because the intracellular concentration of potassium ions is relatively high, potassium ions tend to diffuse out of the cell. This movement is driven by the concentration gradient for potassium ions. Similarly, the concentration gradient for sodium ions tends to promote their movement into the cell. However, the cell membrane is significantly more permeable to potassium ions than to sodium ions.
As a result, potassium ions diffuse out of the cell faster than sodium ions enter the cytoplasm. The cell therefore experiences a net loss of positive charges, and as a result the interior of the cell membrane contains an excess of negative charges, primarily from negatively charged proteins. ”? (p. 204). Here is an Appropriate Paraphrase of the above material: A textbook of anatomy and physiology? reports that the concentration of potassium ions inside of the cell is relatively high and, consequently, some potassium tends to escape out of the cell.
Just the opposite occurs with sodium ions. Their concentration outside of the cell causes sodium ions to cross the membrane into the cell, but they do so at a slower rate. According to these authors, this is because the permeability of the cell membrane is such that it favors the movement of potassium relative to sodium ions. Because the rate of crossing for potassium ions that exit the cell is higher than that for sodium ions that enter the cell, the inside portion of the cell is left with an overload of negatively charged particles, namely, proteins that contain a negative charge.
Notice that, in addition to thoroughly changing much of the language and some of the structure of the original paragraph, the paraphrase also indicates, as per guideline 5, that the ideas contained in the rewritten version were taken from another source. When we paraphrase and/or summarize others’ work we must also give them due credit, a rule not always applied by inexperienced writers. Let’s suppose that instead of paraphrasing, we decide to summarize the above paragraph from Martini and Bartholomew. Here is one summarized version of that paragraph:
The interior of a cell maintains a negative charge because more potassium ions exit the cell relative to sodium ions that enter it, leaving an over abundance of negatively charged protein inside of the cell.? In their attempts at paraphrasing, sometimes authors commit ‘near plagiarism’ (or plagiarism, depending on who is doing the judging) because they fail to sufficiently modify the original text and thus, produce an inappropriately paraphrased version. Depending on the extent of modifications to the original, the extent of text involved, and on who is doing the judging, inappropriate paraphrasing may constitute an instance of plagiarism.
For example, the following versions of the Martini and Bartholomew paragraph are inappropriately paraphrased and can thus be classified as plagiarized versions: Inappropriate paraphrase (version 1): Because the intracellular concentration of potassium ions is _ high, potassium ions tend to diffuse out of the cell. This movement is triggered by the concentration gradient for potassium ions. Similarly, the concentration gradient for sodium ions tends to promote their movement into the cell. However, the cell membrane is much more permeable to potassium ions than to it is to sodium ions.
As a result, potassium ions diffuse out of the cell more rapidly than sodium ions enter the cytoplasm. The cell therefore experiences a _ loss of positive charges, and as a result the interior of the cell membrane contains a surplus of negative charges, primarily from negatively charged proteins.? (p. 204). A comparison between the original version of the Martini and Bartholomew paragraph to the ‘rewritten’ version above reveals that the rewritten version is a mere copy of the original. The few modifications that were made are superficial, consisting merely of a couple of word deletions, substitutions, and additions.
Even though by the insertion of a reference note (? ) the writer has credited Martini and Bartholomew with the ideas expressed, most of the words and structure of the original paragraph are preserved in the rewritten version. Therefore, the reader would have been misled as to the origin of the writing. Inappropriate paraphrase (version 2): The concentration gradient for sodium (Na) ions tends to promote their movement into the cell. Similarly, the high intracellular concentration of potassium (K) ions is relatively high resulting in K’s tendency to diffuse out of the cell.
Because the cell membrane is significantly more permeable to K than to Na, K diffuses out of the cell faster than Na enter the cytoplasm. The cell therefore experiences a net loss of positive charges and, as a result the interior of the cell membrane now has an excess of negative charges, primarily from negatively charged proteins.? (p. 204). At first glance this second ‘rewritten’ version may look as if it has been significantly modified from the original, but in reality, it is not unlike the first inappropriately paraphrased version in that only superficial changes have been made to the original.
In this particular case, the writer has made a seemingly disingenuous change by substituting the names of the atoms by using their chemical symbols (e. g. , sodium = Na). In addition, the order of the first two sentences was changed giving the appearance of a substantial modification. However, as in the previous version, the language and much of the rest of structure is still too similar to the original. Again, it must be emphasized that when we paraphrase we must make every effort to restate the ideas in our words. Here is another properly paraphrased version: Appropriate paraphrase (version 2):
The relatively high concentration gradient of sodium ions outside of the cell causes them to enter into the cell’s cytoplasm. In a similar fashion, the interior concentration gradient of potassium ions is also high and, therefore, potassium ions tend to scatter out of the cell through the cell’s membrane. But, a notable feature of this process is that Potassium ions tend to leave the cell faster than sodium ions enter the cytoplasm. This is because of the nature of the cell membrane’s permeability, which allows potassium ions to cross much more freely than sodium ions.
The end result is that the interior of the cell membrane’s loss of positive charges results in a greater proportion of negative charges and these made up mostly of proteins that have acquired a negative charge.? Paraphrasing highly technical language We have established that taking a paragraph, or for that matter, even a sentence from another source, and using it in our own writing without enclosing the material in quotations can constitute plagiarism. Similarly, inappropriate paraphrasing may also be classified as plagiarism.
The available evidence indicates that one of the reasons writers misappropriate text is because they may be unfamiliar with the concepts and/or language with which s/he is working. The ability to properly paraphrase technical text depends in large part on an author’s conceptual understanding of the ideas being processed and his/her mastery and command of the technical language involved. Accordingly, correct paraphrases are easy when the language of the original material allows us many options for substituting words and phrases.
Research shows that when asked to paraphrase, students, as well as university professors, are more likely to appropriate and, therefore, plagiarize text when the original material to be paraphrased is made up of technical language and it is difficult to read than when the material is written in plain language and is easier to read. Obviously, inexperienced authors (e. g. , students) have the greatest difficulty paraphrasing the advanced technical text often found in the primary literature.
In an effort to introduce them to primary sources of information in a given discipline, college students are often required to write a research paper using only articles from professional journals. For those students who must complete this type of assignment for the first time, and, in particular, for foreign students whose primary language is not English, writing a research paper can be a daunting task. This is because scholarly prose: 1) can be very intricate, 2) adheres to unique, stylistic conventions (e. g. , use of the passive voice in the biomedical sciences), and 3) relies heavily on jargon that novice writers have yet to master.
Consequently, students’ need to create an acceptable academic product that is grammatically correct and that demonstrates knowledge of the concepts discussed, forces many of them to rely on close paraphrases of the original text. Unfortunately, such writing can result in a charge of plagiarism. Guideline 7: In order to make substantial modifications to the original text that result in a proper paraphrase, the author must have a thorough understanding of the ideas and terminology being used. An analogous situation can occur at the professional level when we wish to paraphrase, say, a complex process or methodology.
Traditional writing conventions give us the option to use any material that is difficult to paraphrase by enclosing it in quotation marks with some type of indication (e. g. , a footnote) as to its origin. Therefore, if the text is so technical that it would be very difficult or near impossible to modify substantially without altering its meaning, then perhaps it would be best to leave it in the original author’s wording, enclose it in quotation marks, and include a citation. However, unlike literature or philosophy, quoting in certain disciplines (e. g. biological sciences) is not encouraged (see Pechnick, 2001). One would be hard pressed to find an entire sentence quoted, let alone a short paragraph, in the pages of prestigious journals in the biomedical sciences (e. g. , Nature, Science, New England Journal of Medicine). In sum, the reality is that traditional scientific prose and diction do not always facilitate paraphrasing. To illustrate the difficulties inherent in paraphrasing highly technical language, let’s consider the following paragraph from a report recently published in Science (Lunyak, et al. 2002). “Mammalian histone lysine methyltransferase, suppressor of variegation 39H1 (SUV39H1), initiates silencing with selective methylation on Lys9 of histone H3, thus creating a high-affinity binding site for HP1. When an antibody to endogenous SUV39H1 was used for immunoprecipitation, MeCP2 was effectively coimmunoprecipitated; conversely, ? HA antibodies to HA-tagged MeCP2 could immunoprecipitate SUV39H1 (Fig. 2G). ”? (p. 1748) Here is an attempt at paraphrasing the above material: A high affinity binding site for HP1 can be produced by silencing Lys9 f histone H3 by methylation with mammalian histone lysine methyltransferase, a suppressor of variegation 39H1 (SUV39H1). MeCP2 can be immunoprecipitated with antibodies prepared against endogenous SUV39H1; on the other hand, immunoprecipitation of SUB39H1 resulted from aHA antibodies to HA-tagged MeCP2. ? Unlike the previous examples of appropriate paraphrasing, the above example does not embody as many textual modifications. For the exact meaning of the original Science paragraph to be preserved in the present case, many of the same terms must be left intact in the paraphrased version.
Although synonyms for some of the words may be available, their use would likely alter the meaning of the original. For example, take the word affinity, which is defined as “that force by which a substance chooses or elects to unite with one substance rather than with another” (Dorland, 2000). Roget’s Thesaurus (Chapman, 1992) lists the following synonyms for affinity: accord, agreement, attraction, friendship, inclination, marriage relationship, preference, relationship, similarity, and tendency.
Although it might be possible to rewrite the first sentence using the synonym “attraction”, this alternative fails to capture the precise meaning conveyed by the original sentence, given how the term is used in this area of biomedical research. The fact of the matter is that the word affinity has a very specific denotation in the context in which is being used in the Science paragraph and it is the only practical and meaningful alternative available. The same can be said for other words that might have synonyms (e. g. , binding, silencing, site). Other terms, such as methylation and antibodies are unique and do not have synonyms available.
In sum, most of the terms (e. g. , immunoprecipitation, endogenous, coimmunoprecipitated) and expressions (e. g. , HA-tagged, high-affinity, mammalian histone lysing methyltransferase) in the above paragraph are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to substitute without altering the intended meaning of the paragraph. As a result, the paraphrased version looks somewhat similar to the original and thus, applying the strict definitions of paraphrasing, such as those provided by some writing guides would render our paragraph as a borderline or an outright case of plagiarism.
Perhaps in recognition of the fact that highly technical descriptions of a methodology, phenomena, etc. , can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to properly paraphrase, ORI’s definition of plagiarism provides the following caveat: “ORI generally does not pursue the limited use of identical or nearly-identical phrases which describe a commonly-used methodology or previous research because ORI does not consider such use as substantially misleading to the reader or of great significance. ”
The above considerations may underlie the reason for the absence of an operational definition of proper paraphrasing. Nevertheless, and in spite of the above clarification provided by ORI, the following guideline is offered: Guideline 8: A responsible writer has an ethical responsibility to readers, and to the author/s from whom s/he is borrowing, to respect others’ ideas and words, to credit those from whom we borrow, and whenever possible, to use one’s own words when paraphrasing. Plagiarism and common knowledge As has been pointed earlier, one must give credit to those whose ideas and facts we are using.
One general exception to this principle occurs when the ideas we are discussing represent ‘common knowledge’. If the material we are discussing is assumed to be known by the readership, then one need not cite its origin. Suppose you are an American student writing a paper on the history of the United States for a college course and in your paper, you mention the fact that George Washington was the first president of the United States and that the Declaration of Independence was signed in the year 1776. Must you provide a citation for that pair of facts?
Most likely not, as these are facts commonly known by average American college and high school students. The general expectation is that “everybody knows that”. However, suppose that in the same paper the student must identify the 23rd president and his running mate and the main platform under which they were running for office, plus the year they both assumed power. Should such material be considered common knowledge? The answer is probably no. It is doubtful that the average American, would know those facts. In fact, I had to look up the answers. Let’s take another example.
Imagine that we are writing a paper and in it we have a need to discuss the movement of sodium and potassium ions across a cell’s membrane (see the Martini and Bartholomew paragraph above). Surely, those ideas are not common knowledge amongst college students and if they were expected to use those concepts in a paper they would be required to provide a citation. However, let’s suppose that the individual writing the paper was a seasoned neuroscientist and that she intended to submit her paper for publication to a professional journal. Would the author need to provide a citation for that material?
Not necessarily. Although for the non-scientist the description of the concentration gradients of sodium and potassium ions inside neurons may look sufficiently complex and unfamiliar, the material is considered common knowledge amongst neuroscientists. It would, indeed, be shocking to find a neuroscientist or biologist who was not familiar with those concepts. In sum, the question of whether the information we write about constitutes common knowledge is not easily answerable and it depends on several factors, such as who the author is, who the readers are, and the expectations of each of these groups.
Given these considerations, we recommend that authors abide by the following guideline: Guideline 9: When in doubt as to whether a concept or fact is common knowledge, provide a citation. Plagiarism and authorship disputes Consider the following scenario. Two researchers who have collaborated on various projects have, in the past, have jointly published a number of papers. Three quarters into the writing of the manuscript from their most recent joint projects, the researchers experience a profound difference of opinion regarding the direction of the current project and the incident leads to the eventual break-up of their research association.
Soon after, one of the researchers moves to another institution in another country and begins to pursue a different line of research. A year later, the remaining researcher decides to finish writing the manuscript and submits it for publication with his name as sole author. By appropriating the joint manuscript and submitting it under his name, has this other researcher committed plagiarism? Let’s consider another scenario, a graduate student working under her mentor’s supervision makes an interesting discovery as part of her doctoral thesis work.
Before she is ready to publish her thesis, however, her mentor feels that the discovery merits immediate publication and decides to report her data, along with other data he had collected from other graduate fellows working in his lab, in a journal article. The mentor does not list the graduate student’s name as a co-author nor is there a byline in the article indicating the exent of her contribution under the pretext that the student’s contribution in and of itself did not merit authorship.
Clearly, the above scenarios represent ethical breaches that many individuals and institutions, including the National Science Foundation, would consider as instances of plagiarism. However, not everyone agrees that these types of cases are plagiarism. For example, ORI classifies these problems not as plagiarism, but as authorship disputes. The involved parties can avoid these and other troublesome situations, such as disputes regarding the order of authorship of a paper, by discussing and agreeing on a plan BEFORE work on a project commences.
Additional discussion and guidance on these matters can be found in the section titled: “Authorship issues and conflicts of interest”. ——— As this document illustrates, there are many varieties of plagiarism. Although we have covered some of the most common forms, these can be combined in a variety of ways to form new types of plagiarism not discussed here. In the next section we turn our attention to the problem of self-plagiarism. SELF-PLAGIARISM When plagiarism is conceptualized as theft, the notion of self-plagiarism may seem impossible.
After all, one might ask: Is it possible to steal from oneself? As Hexam (1999) points out, it is possible to steal from oneself as when one engages in embezzlement or insurance fraud. In writing, self-plagiarism occurs when authors reuse their own previously written work or data in a ‘new’ written product without letting the reader know that this material has appeared elsewhere. According to Hexam, “… the essence of self-plagiarism is [that] the author attempts to deceive the reader”.
Although in scholarly and scientific writing there are some situations in which some forms of text reuse are acceptable, many other instances in which text and/or data are known to have been reused violate the ethical spirit of scholarly research. The concept of ethical writing, about which this instructional resource revolves, entails an implicit contract between reader and writer whereby the reader assumes, unless otherwise noted, that the material was written by the author, is new, is original and is accurate to the best of the author’s abilities.
In this section we review some of the most common instances of self-plagiarism and provide guidelines to avoid these pitfalls. ————- The available literature on self-plagiarism is concerned with four major problems: The publication of what is essentially the same paper in more than one journal, but without any indication that the paper has been published elsewhere (i. e. , redundant and duplicate publication), the partitioning of a large study which should have been reported in a single paper into smaller published studies (i. e. salami-slicing), copyright infringement, and the practice of text recycling. We now examine these issues in more detail. Redundant and Duplicate (i. e. , dual) Publications A large proportion of scientific and scholarly research is carried out by college and university professors. For these academics, the presentation and subsequent publication of research in peer-reviewed scholarly and scientific journals represents one of the most important criteria for gaining tenure and/or promotion. Consequently, the more publications authored by an academic, the better his/her chances of getting a promotion or tenure.
The current academic reward system is thought to produce a tremendous amount of pressure to generate as many publications as possible. Unfortunately, some of the most serious negative outcomes of the present system are the problems of duplicate publication and of redundant publication. In the sciences, duplicate publication generally refers to the practice of submitting a paper with the same data to more than one journal, without alerting the editors or readers to the existence of other identical published versions.
The new publication may differ only slightly from the original by, for example, changes to the title, abstract, and/or order of the authors. Papers representing instances of duplicate publication almost always contain identical or nearly identical text relative to the earlier published version. The related and more frequent practice known as redundant publication occurs when researchers publish the same data, with a somewhat different textual slant within the body of the paper.
For example, redundant papers may contain a slightly different interpretation of the data or the introduction to the paper may be described in a somewhat different theoretical or empirical context. Sometimes, additional data or somewhat different analyses of the same, previously published data are reported in the redundant paper. The fact of the matter is that each of these types of practices is frowned upon by most scientific journals (see Kassirer & Angell, 1995) and most of the major scientific writing guides caution against them (e. g. , Iverson, et al. 1998). While the accepted practice for authors of manuscripts that are intended to be published as trade books is to send their manuscript to several publishers, the standard practice for authors of scientific or scholarly papers is to submit their paper for publication to a single journal. An author may submit the same paper or a revised version of it to another journal once it is determined that the first journal will not publish it. Only under exceptional circumstances would it be acceptable for a paper published in one journal to appear in another journal.
In spite of these universally accepted practices, redundant publication continues to be a problem in the biomedical sciences. For example, in a recent editorial, Schein (2001) describes the results of a study he and a colleague carried out in which the authors found that 92 out of 660 studies taken from 3 major surgical journals were actual cases of redundant publication. While some authors have estimated that between 10% to 20% of the biomedical literature is laden with redundant publications (Jefferson, 1998), a recent review of the literature suggests the more conservative figure of approximately 10% (Steneck, 2000).
The current situation has become so serious, however, that many biomedical journals have begun to publish policies clarifying their opposition to multiple submissions of the same paper. Some journals now request that authors who submit a manuscript for review must also submit previously published papers or those that are currently under review that are related to the topic of the manuscript under consideration. This requirement has been implemented to allow editors to determine whether the extent of overlap between such papers warrants the publication of yet another paper.
If, in the opinion of the editor, the extent of overlap were substantial, the paper would likely not be published. Instances in which dual publication may be acceptable Some authors who submit the same article to more than one journal do so with the rationale that their paper would be of interest to each set of readers who would probably not otherwise be aware of the other publication. Indeed, circumstances have been identified which would justify the dual publication of a paper.
However, the editors of both journals would have to agree to this arrangement and the existence of each version of the published paper would have to be made clear to each set of readers. Blancett, Flanagin, & Young (1995; cited in Iverson, et al. , 1998) provide a number of scenarios where dual publication may be acceptable (see also the International Committee of Medial Journal Editors’ Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals, updated, 2006).
For example, summaries or abstracts of papers that are published in conference proceedings are often subsequently published in expanded form as a journal article. Another situation where redundant publication may be acceptable occurs when an article published in one language is translated into a different language and published in a different journal. In these and other cases where redundant publication is being considered by the author, the editors and the readers of each paper must be made aware that a second published version exists. Why redundant publication must be avoided
Journal space is notoriously competitive in scholarly and scientific publishing, thus a paper that appears in two different journals unbeknownst to readers and editors robs other authors the opportunity to publish their worthwhile work. Moreover, referees often volunteer their valuable time to review authors’ work in the service of science and scholarship. Duplicate or redundant publications waste the time and limited resources of the editorial and peer review system. More importantly and particularly in the sciences, is the fact that dual/redundant publications mislead researchers as to the true nature of a given database.
For example, an author who wishes to study the significance of an experimental effect or phenomenon using sophisticated statistical techniques, such as meta-analysis, will arrive at erroneous results and conclusions if the same experiment were to be counted twice. Consider the following anecdote reported by Wheeler (1989): “In one such instance, a description of a serious adverse pulmonary effect associated with a new drug used to treat cardiovascular patients was published twice, five months apart in different journals. Although the authors were different, they wrote from the same medical school about patients that appear identical.
Any researcher counting the incidence of complications associated with this drug from the published literature could easily be misled into concluding that the incidence is higher than it really is. ” (p. 1). It should be clear to the reader that redundant and duplicate publication must be avoided, for it has the potential for distorting the existing data base, possibly resulting in the establishment of flawed public health policies. Guideline 10: Authors who submit a manuscript for publication containing data, reviews, conclusions, etc. , that have already been disseminated in some significant manner (e. . , published as an article in another journal, presented at a conference, posted on the internet) must clearly indicate to the editors and readers the nature of the previous dissemination. Academic Self-plagiarism (Double-dipping) Redundant publication has a direct counterpart in the area of academic dishonesty- it is referred to as ‘double dipping’. It occurs when a student submits a whole paper or a substantial portion of a paper to fulfill a course requirement, even though that paper had earlier been submitted to satisfy the requirements for another course taught by a different professor.
Many college undergraduates and even some graduate students are not aware that this type of practice is a serious offense and constitutes plagiarism. Of course, as in redundant publication, submitting the same paper, or a large portion of a paper, to two different courses is entirely acceptable if the instructors of both courses were informed by the student of the double submission, and if both agreed to the arrangement. However, some institutions have specific policies prohibiting this practice. Salami Slicing (i. . , data fragmentation) Although often associated with redundant publication, the segmenting of a large study into two or more publications is somewhat different than reporting exactly the same data in two publications, but it is a similarly unacceptable scientific practice. As with redundant publication, salami slicing can lead to a distortion of the literature by leading unsuspecting readers to believe that data presented in each salami slice (i. e. , journal article) is derived from a different subject sample.
Consider the examples provided by Kassirer and Angell (1995), former editors of The New England Journal of Medicine: “Several months ago, for example, we received a manuscript describing a controlled intervention in a birthing center. The authors sent the results on the mothers to us, and the results on the infants to another journal. The two outcomes would have more appropriately been reported together. We also received a manuscript on a molecular marker as a prognostic tool for a type of cancer; another journal was sent the results of a second marker from the same pathological specimens.
Combining the two sets of data clearly would have added meaning to the findings. ” (p. 450). A related malpractice known as data augmentation occurs when a researcher publishes a study and subsequently collects additional data, which typically end up strengthening the original effect, and publishes the combined results as a new study. The reader is mislead into believing that the data from the new study is derived from a sample that is different than the one from which the initial data were derived.
As with redundant and duplicate publication practices, these types of misrepresentations can distort the conclusions of literature reviews if the various segments of a salami publication or the augmented data that represent data from the same subject sample, are included in a meta analysis under the assumption that all of the data are derived from independent samples. For this reason, data augmentation or fragmentation can have serious negative consequences for the integrity of the scientific database. In certain key areas of biomedical research the consequences can result in olicy recommendations that could have adverse public health effects. Guideline 11: Authors of complex studies should heed the advice previously put forth by Angell & Relman (1989). If the results of a single complex study are best presented as a ‘cohesive’ single whole, they should not be partitioned into individual papers. Furthermore, if there is any doubt as to whether a paper submitted for publication represents fragmented data, authors should enclose other papers (published or unpublished) that might be part of the paper under consideration (Kassirer & Angell, 1995).
Similarly old data that has been merely augmented with additional data points and that is subsequently presented as a new study is an equally serious ethical breach. One element likely to be common to both redundant publication and salami publication is the potential for copyright infringement. This is because data or text (or both elements) appearing in one copyrighted publication will also appear in another publication whose copyright is owned by a different entity. Let’s turn our attention now to this topic. Copyright Law Because some instances of plagiarism and self-plagiarism (e. . , redundant publication) have the potential for violating copyright law, the following section is devoted to a brief review of the concept of copyright. Copyright law is based on Article 1, sec. 8, cl. 8 of the United States Constitution. It’s fundamental purpose was “to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries”. Once owners of an artistic (e. g. , song, lyrics, films) or an intellectual work (e. g. book, article) copyright a product, they have the exclusive right to publish, reproduce, sell, distribute, or modify those products. For authors who wish to have their papers published in traditional journals, the typical arrangement is for the copyright of the author’s work to be transferred to the publisher of the journal. The journal can then reproduce and distribute the author’s work legally. An increasing number of journals now allow the author to maintain ownership of their work, but both entities sign an agreement specifying the journals’ right to publish and re-use the author’s material.
In the case of “Open Access” journals (freely available to the public without expectation of payment), the author agrees to allow for the free dissemination of his/her works without prior permission. With some exceptions, the unauthorized use of copyrighted work violates copyright law and represents copyright infringement. Exceptions to copyright infringement fall under the doctrine of “Fair Use” of copyright law and represent instances in which the activity is largely for nonprofit educational, scholarship, or research purposes (see US Copyright Office, 1996).
For example, in some situations, a student or individual researcher may make a copy of a journal article or book chapter for his/her own personal use without asking permission. Likewise, an author describing the results of a published study may take a couple of lines of data from a table from a journal article, include a citation, and reproduce it in his/her paper. The American Medical Association’s Manual of Style (Iverson, et al. , 1998) provides additional examples of instances of “fair use”. Copyright Infringement, fair use, and plagiarism
The use of relatively short direct quotes from a published work does not usually require permission from the copyright holder as it typically falls under the “fair use” provision. However, extensive quoting of text from a copyrighted source can constitute copyright infringement, whether the appropriated text is properly enclosed in quotation marks or correctly paraphrased, even if a citation is provided according to established scholarly conventions. Obviously, the same applies if the material is plagiarized outright. Moreover, the reader should note that intellectual or artistic work does not need to be published in order to be copyrighted.
In fact, the moment the work becomes final it is automatically copyrighted. Thus, instances of plagiarism, whether from a published article or an unpublished manuscript, such as a grant proposal, can also constitute copyright infringement, though copyright infringement does not always constitute plagiarism. Iverson, et al. , (1998) cautions the reader that the amount of text that can be taken from a copyrighted source without permission depends on its proportion to the entire work. However, the reader should also note that some publishers have established word limits for borrowing text.
For example, according to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), authors who wish to borrow text of more than 500 words from a published APA publication must seek permission from the APA. Given the above considerations, it should be clear that redundant or duplicate publication, which occurs without the respective editors’ knowledge, is not only considered a form of self-plagiarism, but it may also qualify as copyright infringement because the copyright may be held by the publisher; not by the author.
This would certainly be the case if the original article were published in a journal owned by one publisher and the second article were to appear in a journal owned by a different publisher. Guideline 12: Because some instances of plagiarism, self-plagiarism, and even some writing practices that might otherwise be acceptable (e. g. , extensive paraphrasing or quoting of key elements of a book) can constitute copyright infringement, authors are strongly encouraged to become familiar with basic elements of copyright law.
Text recycling Programmatic research often involves publishing papers describing empirical investigations that use nearly identical or identical methodologies. Similarly, the background literature reviewed in one paper may be similar or exactly the same as that of related papers by the same author/s. Therefore, it is possible to have two or more papers describing legitimately different observations that contain almost identical methodology, literature reviews, discussions, and other very similar or even identical textual material.
Given the enormous pressure to publish felt by many researchers and the ease with which text can be manipulated with word processing software, these situations present unique challenges because of the allure to simply use as templates portions of text written for previously published papers and include the recycled material in a new paper. Thus, we define text recycling as a writer’s reuse of portions of text that have appeared previously in other works.
As with the problem of inappropriate paraphrasing, the question of how much a writer may recycle from his/her previous writings has not been generally addressed in the writing literature. In fact, of the concepts reviewed so far, text recycling is perhaps the most problematic because few, if any, official guidelines exist and because when it does occur, it is generally not found to be consistent with the principles of ethical writing. Given that the present instructional resource is grounded in those very principles, some sensible guidelines can be derived. Forms of acceptable text recycling
As with redundant publication, certain types of text recycling appear to be acceptable within the biomedical and social sciences even though they seemingly violate the spirit of the writer’s implicit contract. Here are specific examples. Recycling text from an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application, Animal Care and Use Committee, Grant application, or other form of unpublished ‘internal’ proposal. Academics and researchers who write research proposals, either for the purpose of seeking funding or for internal or ethical review, will often use the same material, though likely in expanded form, in a paper that is later published.
This is an accepted practice because these proposals are typically never published and are only reviewed by a very small number of individuals. On the other hand, in some instances there may be proprietary copyright issues with respect to an unpublished proposal or report that was originally written for a private enterprise when the author was employed by that institution. Therefore, in these cases permission to subsequently publish portions of material originally written for use by, say, a corporate entity should be sought.
On the other hand, the recycling of text from IRB, grants, and other types of proposals reviewed within academic institutions is generally considered an acceptable practice. Recycling papers given at a conference. Often, scientists who make presentations at conferences distribute preliminary copies of their papers to the audience. Sometimes after the presentation, and perhaps based on the audience’s feedback of the scientist’s presentation, some modifications are made to the paper and it is subsequently submitted for publicatio