Plagiarism and Self-Plagiarism: What’s the Difference?

Most students and researchers are familiar with the concept of plagiarism. The concept of plagiarism in general is taught at a young age in most schools. Plagiarism is copying someone else’s work and pretending that it is your own and is generally considered theft. While it is not a crime that you can be arrested for, it is a serious offense that generally has severe consequences for anyone who is found to have committed it. But what is self-plagiarism? Can you steal from yourself? Is it different from regular plagiarism? How can I avoid committing plagiarism and self-plagiarism? We’ll answer all of these questions and more in this article.

What is Self-Plagiarism?

Plagiarism comes in a variety of forms, and self-plagiarism is just one. Self-plagiarism includes, but is not limited to:

● Using a dataset from a previous study you conducted without indicating the original source
● Submitting an article or manuscript that contains written material that has already been published without proper attribution
● Using the same data and research to publish multiple papers about the same topic in different journals
● Publishing one large study as though it were actually a number of smaller studies

How can you know if you are committing self-plagiarism? There are four main questions to ask yourself.

1. Has this data or writing been published anywhere else?
2. Has this data or writing been submitted for publication and not yet rejected anywhere else?
3. Has this data or writing been presented at a conference?
4. Has this data or writing been submitted to another professor/as part of another class assignment?

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, you must provide proper citation information or quotes to indicate that this is not new work. If you fail to do so, then you are committing self-plagiarism.

Is Self-Plagiarism Really a Problem?

Out of all of the different forms of plagiarism, self-plagiarism is particularly tricky because often, authors do not consider it a form of plagiarism. After all, if plagiarism is a problem because it is theft, can you steal from yourself? 

In fact, plagiarism within academia is considered a type of academic dishonesty as well as intellectual theft. Anyone committing plagiarism within the context of academia is dishonest by lying that the work is their own, and thieving, by stealing the work of others. Self-plagiarism in this context can be a confusing concept. This is because when you reuse your own work, it doesn’t seem as though you are lying (the work is yours) or stealing. However, one definition of plagiarism, offered by Merriam Webster, is “to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.” If we think of plagiarism that way, then self-plagiarism is certainly possible. Self-plagiarism occurs when you take work that you have already created and present it as new or original in a different situation.

Plagiarism and self-plagiarism are problems for two big reasons. It is true within the context of academia that self-plagiarism is not intellectual theft. However, it still falls under the umbrella of academic dishonesty. This is because assignments given to students expect that the work they will be doing is new, or specific to the context. If you really receive identical assignments from two classes, speak to your professors to see how much overlap in your work is acceptable. Otherwise, use proper citation methods to reference your previous work. However, don’t think that citation can justify complete copy and pasting of old work. While you can reference your other work, you cannot reproduce large chunks of it verbatim without committing self-plagiarism.

The second problem with plagiarism and self-plagiarism is more serious and relates to published articles or manuscripts. Submitting the same article or manuscript to different journals or publishers can result in the same paper being published by different publishers. This can lead to copyright problems, which can in the worst case result in lawsuits between the publishers and the author. Plagiarizing your own work in this way risks your career at best and your hard-earned time and money fighting legal action at worst. Sometimes a journal might be willing to accept a paper that is similar to your past work, but often the editors will require substantial rewriting before they are willing to consider publishing. They will also need to confirm that the publisher of your past work will not create any legal problems for them. So, it’s clear that while sometimes self-plagiarism can seem harmless, it is in fact quite a serious offense.

Distinguishing Plagiarism and Self-Plagiarism

Still confused about the difference between plagiarism and self-plagiarism? Don’t worry—self-plagiarism is a tricky concept to grasp! That’s why we’ve created this convenient table that breaks down the differences between plagiarism and self-plagiarism one by one.

Plagiarism

Self-plagiarism

Pretends the work of another writer is your own

Presents your existing work as new and original when it is not

Is both academic dishonesty and intellectual theft

Is academic dishonesty

Is usually copyright infringement

Is occasionally copyright infringement

As we can see from the table above, plagiarism and self-plagiarism are similar, but they do have some distinct differences. Regardless, you should do your absolute best to avoid committing either offense!

How Can I Avoid Plagiarism and Self-Plagiarism?

There are a few easy steps to ensure that you avoid plagiarism and self-plagiarism. You should always keep careful track of your sources and notes, either with a reference manager tool or another system that you prefer. In addition, you should always put your assignments through a plagiarism checker like the one from Enago. Journals, professors, and other publishers nearly all use online plagiarism checkers, which is why you should too! An online plagiarism checker can help you see whether any passages in your paper are similar to existing published work and highlight excerpts or sections to be revised. You should also be careful to compare any assignments on similar topics to past assignments in school to ensure you have avoided plagiarism and self-plagiarism. If you follow these tips, you can avoid committing plagiarism and self-plagiarism and enjoy a fruitful publishing career.