Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Can you plagiarize your own writing?

Dr. Curmudgeon has a post here where she mentions the issue of plagiarizing one's own work. In her case she's working on a book that is essentially an updated version of her dissertation and she notes how she likes the way she worded things originally but feels a little uncomfortable leaving them given that it's published that way in her dissertation.

I've heard/read people mention this before and I too have this weird feeling of guilt when working on my dissertation manuscript that it's not quite right to leave whole paragraphs or sections in the paper, but at the same time I know I wrote it the first time! And I really like the way I did so.

I'm curious how other people feel about this.

Do you re-write your own writing just to avoid this sort of self-plagiarism?

Would you think it was an issue if you knew someone published something pretty much exactly as they had written about it in a dissertation?

What if it wasn't a dissertation but another journal article/book chapter/book?

17 comments:

Unbalanced Reaction said...

It depends on the copyrights. Because LargeU (and we're not the only ones) theses go straight online, my thesis now has certain copyrights that weren't necessarily in place prior to this year. So before this year, I wouldn't say it would be a problem...but I put a one-year hold on my thesis for exactly this reason.

It *does* bother me when review articles are published every few years and authors reuse whole paragraphs in the subsequent publications.

Di Di said...

I don't see an ethical problem with it at all, especially if it comes from a dissertation that nobody will ever read. I also don't care if a whole paragraph is copied from one article to another -- it's probably background information or an explanation of something that applies to multiple studies by the author, something you need to know each time even though the studies are different. If people don't mind you using a reworded paragraph, I don't see why they should care if it's copied exactly -- either way they will read the same point in two articles. But that's okay with me, assuming that as a whole the article is different so it's not like you published the same article twice.

I don't understand where the prohibition on self-plagiarism comes from in this context. I might avoid it because I know others disapprove -- but my personal opinion is that if you define something the exact same way twice, I really do not care at all. I don't see it as an ethics issue.

Seeking Solace said...

There is a famous legal case involving John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revivial. He was sued for plagerising himself. It seems that the owner of the rights to the song "Run Through the Jungle." sued Folgerty because the song "The Old Man Down the Road." sounded the same. Folgerty wrote both.

The Folgerty won the case becuase it seemed crazy to limit one's creatvitity.

B said...

well I already published an article that will be a chapter in my dissertation. I wasn't planning on changing much because if it was good enough for the journal it is good enough for my committee. I don't know if it is "allowed" but I doubt anyone will really care.(at least I hope not!)

Dr. Curmudgeon said...

It's interesting that there seem to be a couple of underlying issues: how much of what one wrote previously can they reuse before it's wrong, and in what direction, is it plagiarism?

In my case, I've got a chapter that I'd like to not change a word of (actually a bit more than that). And based on B's comment, I wonder whether it would matter putting a published chapter into a dissertation more or less than taking a chapter from a dissertation and publishing it?

thenextfish said...

I always thought thesis were technically 'unpublished' works and given that the copyright clearly belongs to us you can't go too far wrong. If cutting and pasting a paragraph makes my life easier I'll do it! On the flip side it always amuses me when people cite their own work to death even when it's not remotely relevant to the current article.

Psych Post Doc said...

Thanks for the comments everyone!

My own opinion is that it's not unethical but I do notice the pang of guilt I feel when working on my dissertation manuscript.

B- you bring up a good point. In a lot of fields the dissertation = published articles with some sort of major intro and discussion. This is not the case in my field but it's interesting how it seems to work one way but not the other way.

Psycgirl said...

This is a good question. I find myself struggling with this. Dr. Smooth is convinced that you can copy your own work into another paper because it's yours. But to me it just feels wrong. I begin to worry too that if I just rely on what I've already written, I'm not challenging myself at all. I usually try to reword it or approach it from a different way. It's nice to see someone else has wondered about this!

Psych Post Doc said...

PG- I think you bring up a good point about your writing starting to feel (sound) stale if you're always copying from previous work.

However, I do think there is room for using the same framework for describing the basic ellements of your work. For example, if you create some framework or theory that you're applying in all your work there is actually a real benefit to using the same language in each of your papers, especially the first few that discuss this particular issue.

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