For example, I want to propose a new algorithm for an existing problem, and I already have published several papers about this topic, they share exactly same background, is it OK for me to copy the "background" and "related work" part from my published paper?

The background contains some already well-studied techniques, in order for the paper to be self-containing, they should be briefly introduced (instead of just being cited).

I don't see the meaning that I have to express the exact same thing in a different way for every new paper


6 Answers 6


This is called "text recycling" or even "self-plagiarism" and generally frowned upon by editors. It's better to avoid it as much as possible, even if it results in more work, particularly for non-native speakers of English. Too much overlap can result in rejection or later retraction, where "too much" is at the discretion of the editor. You are also very likely to annoy reviewers if they notice the overlap with your previous publications.

The Committee on Publication Ethics has the following guidelines for journal editors:

When should action be considered?

Text recycling can take many forms, and editors should consider which parts of the text have been recycled. Duplication of data is likely to always be considered serious (and should be dealt with according to the COPE guidelines for duplicate publications [1,2]. Use of similar or identical phrases in methods sections where there are limited ways to describe a common method, however, is not uncommon. In such cases, an element of text recycling is likely to be unavoidable in further publications using the same method. Editors should use their discretion when deciding how much overlap of methods text is acceptable, considering factors such as whether authors have been transparent and stated that the methods have already been described in detail elsewhere and provided a citation. Duplication of background ideas in the introduction may be considered less significant than duplication of the hypothesis, discussion, or conclusions.

When significant overlap is identified between two or more articles, editors should consider taking action. Several factors may need to be taken into account when deciding whether the overlap is considered significant.

Text recycling in a submitted manuscript

Text recycling may be identified in a submitted article by editors or reviewers, or by the use of plagiarism detection software, e.g. CrossCheck. Editors should consider the extent of the overlap when deciding how to act. Where overlap is considered to be minor, authors may be asked to re-write overlapping sections, and cite their previous article(s). More significant overlap may result in rejection of the manuscript. Where the overlap includes data, Editors should handle cases according to the COPE flowchart for dealing with suspected redundant publication in a submitted manuscript [1].

  • 2
    Before the widespread use of plagiarism detection software, this kind of text recycling was much more common than it is today. Now, since the text recycling is easily detected, you will most likely be asked to rewrite such material. Jan 29, 2018 at 16:03
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    @BrianBorchers And 100 years ago such text recycling was practically unheard of, I believe. People spent much more time and effort on their manuscripts.
    – user9482
    Jan 29, 2018 at 16:14
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    @Roland 100 years ago most scientists would write half a dozen of papers in their whole life, and no one would have complained about their lack of productivity... Jan 29, 2018 at 21:40

There are a number of reasons, besides the obvious legal reasons, why this is a bad idea:

  1. If the papers are similar, the referees might be the same. Getting a feeling of déjà vu while refereeing feels very bad. Experts analyze a paper in terms of how it is different from the existing literature. If it cannot be separated from this literature, things get muddy.

  2. Your previous write-up was probably not yet perfect. A researcher is, at least partly, paid for writing papers and is, therefore, a professional writer. Use the chance to improve your writing.

  3. Even if what you wrote before is perfect, it would only be perfect in the context of the questions addressed in the previous paper. Even if you are talking about the same algorithms and the same papers by other authors, they will relate differently to the present contribution of the current paper. A well-written paper is not a badly fitting collection of parts like Frankenstein's monster but tightly integrated. Work on the coherence of the paper.

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    +1 for "use this as a chance to improve." That aim is a good way to minimize the drudgery.
    – J.R.
    Jan 29, 2018 at 22:35

Another legal reason for publishers requiring you to rewrite this material is that the copyright holder on the previous paper (which is most likely the publisher, not you!) might object to another publisher violating their copyright on the recycled text.


I don't believe it appropriate to copy/paste large portions of verbatim text. Nor does it seem appropriate to rewrite what you have already written. (Plus, this is really hard. In fact, on a paper I co-authored one of the referees pointed out that a paragraph was lifted almost verbatim from our previous work. We decided to rewrite, but the lead author of that section gave it to me to re-write. It is just hard to revise yourself.) There are two options as I see it:

  1. Quote yourself. One big damn blockquote. And cite it. (Duh).
  2. Write a sentence or two and end with, "For a complete discussion of (topic), see (your previous brilliant work which discussed the topic more fully).

As a third option, can I reject your premise entirely? In the end you need to ask yourself why you need to include this. To quote your question:

The background contains some already well-studied techniques, in order for the paper to be self-containing, they should be briefly introduced (instead of just being cited).

If the techniques are so well-studied, a scholar in your field will surely recognize them. So all you may need to do is provide:

  1. Name and Citation
  2. Reason you need it to solve this problem (as opposed to previous problems you have solved).

My two bits. One, the background is meant to set the context for this paper. So, even if the basic idea or concept is similar to previous research, it can still be written differently - and must be written differently - to suit the purpose of this paper. Two, writing it afresh usually provides a new and relevant perspective to the same idea or concept.


Go ahead with the same Introduction, Methodology, Related works sections. What do you need to use some different technology?! If you are really researcher you don't have a time to move from one scientific problem to another. And what about Future works section? If you wrote that you will continuously tuned your algorithm and just go to the Travel to Mars subject then you are poser. Just go with another Result, Conclusion and Future works. That is not self plagiarism. People that understand new algorithms development will understand a movement in a science.

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