Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of source material including, but not limited to words, ideas, arguments, theories, and even the data of others. Plagiarism constitutes a breach of research integrity because it results in unfair credit or benefits. Plagiarism can also occur when other peoples' work is poorly acknowledged or misrepresented.
Research integrity includes the proper use of established conventions to acknowledge other researchers’ work but also extends to how a researcher uses or acknowledges their own work (i.e. self-plagiarism).
Researchers must ensure that they cite and acknowledge their own work and the work of others (whether published or unpublished) accurately and in accordance with the Code, [and] the conventions accepted within the relevant discipline or disciplines (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2020, p. 5). While this is most applicable to published work, it is also considered best practice for spoken presentations (i.e. conferences/symposiums).
Errors made unwittingly in relation to the use of source material such as mis-reporting a source or misattribution (attributing a source wrongly) are also considered plagiarism.
National Health and Medical Research Council. (2020). Publication and dissemination of research: A guide supporting the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/attachments/publications/publication_and_dissemination_of_research_guide.pdf Licensed under CC BY 4.0
It is essential that as a researcher you engage with the ideas and theories within your field and that you use material that has been published in your discipline. Research can be thought of as a 'dialogue' between researchers, situated within a research community (who have probably never met!). Acknowledging your sources is a great way of demonstrating that you are part of a wider research community and that you are contributing to a field of knowledge and a body of published work.
Avoiding plagiarism involves developing good researcher habits for managing and organising notes and keeping track of your reading. It does mean that for researchers, proper use of source material needs to be front of mind from the early stages of research. Here are some good habits to develop:
The general rule of thumb is, 'If you use it, cite it!'. The general rule is that you should reference all information/arguments/theories that came from a source that you read. Note some of the tips below.
Redundant publication is defined as “The re-publication of one’s own previously published work or part there of, or data, in the same or another language, without adequate acknowledgment of the source, or justification. Redundant publication is sometimes referred to as duplicate publication or self-plagiarism.” (Adapted from: Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research (2016) by the Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research and the Panel on Responsible Conduct of Research of the Government of Canada).
According to Roig (2016) it is possible to plagiarise yourself when disseminating research. It occurs when "authors re-use their previously disseminated work and pass it off as new" (p.657). Although there is some disagreement amongst scholars regarding what constitutes self-plagiarism, it is thought to involve the practices around the reuse of data and the reproduction of published and unpublished material. Roig (2016) argues that this is a breach of the Reader-Writer contract.
The Reader-Writer contract assumes 3 basic assumptions about the work being read. Firstly, that it is in fact the author's own work and that it is original. Second, any material referred to in the body of the text is accurately cited, and lastly, the material presented is new. In situations where the material is not new, it is expected that the author/s disclose this fully.
A caveat: this concern may be more prominent in the STEM disciplines where the duplication of findings across multiple publications could have a negative impact on meta-analyses.
According to Wiley, there are instances that it is permissible to re-publish or reproduce similar work. These include:
If you are unsure about the ethics of republishing similar work, contact the Research Integrity Training and Education (RITE) at RMIT. When unsure, it is always best to discuss with your supervisor and ask for permission to republish from editors.
A good way to avoid self-plagiarism is to refer to research guidelines and principles. The Publication and dissemination of research: A guide supporting the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2020) states that:
"Researchers may seek to publish the same research in more than one publication, such as an original journal article, followed by publication in book form and/or in anthologies, collections and translations. An author who submits substantially similar work to more than one publisher, or who submits work similar to work already published, must disclose this at the time of submission. Disclosure must also be included in the work itself to prevent any such re-use having the effect of portraying previously presented ideas or data as new" (p.6).
In addition, some publication style guides may be helpful. Here are two very popular style guides:
From the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association: Washington, D.C., 2020. Seventh edition. p.16. (Social Sciences):
'Just as researchers do not present the work of others as their own (plagiarism), they do not present their own previously published work as new scholarship (self-plagiarism). There are, however, limited circumstances […] under which authors may wish to duplicate without attribution (citation) their previously used words, feeling that extensive self-referencing is undesirable or awkward. […] The general view is that the core of the new document must constitute an original contribution to knowledge, and only the amount of previously published material necessary to understand that contribution should be included, primarily in the discussion of theory and methodology.'
From the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publication. Modern Language Association of America: New York, 2021. Ninth edition. pp. 166-167. (Humanities):
'Whereas reprinting one’s published work, such as having a journal article appear in a subsequent book of essays, is professionally acceptable […] professionals generally disapprove if previously published work is reissued, whether verbatim or slightly revised, under another title or in some other manner that gives the impression it is a new work. Although not the same as plagiarizing someone else’s writing, self-plagiarism is another type of unethical activity. If your current work draws on your own previously published work, you must give full bibliographic information about the earlier publication.'
If you are unsure about the ethics of republishing similar work, contact Research integrity at RMIT. When unsure, it is always best to discuss with your supervisor and ask for permission to republish from editors.
It is worth remembering that contemporary researchers, working in a digital era, can disseminate findings in a range of ways (blogs, TV interviews, newspapers, etc.). This can give rise to issues related to Copyright, Creative Commons and Intellectual Property. See the Library's Copyright Guide for useful information. A researcher may also decide to publish their work Open Access, outside of the purveyor of commercial publishers and/or conventional databases. The Library has a great resource to help you determine if this an option for you. See Open Access Publishing
If you are considering the re-publication of data or written work, it is advisable to discuss this with with Journal Editors, PhD supervisors, book publishers early in the process.
The RMIT Library has developed some sources to make referencing conventions easier for students and researchers alike.
iThenticate – checks text-similarity in research outputs including draft manuscripts, journal articles, book chapters, and books, and draft theses prior to publication and/or HDR examination. It protects intellectual property while allowing researchers to identify potential errors in citation and attribution.