5

I recently wrote out some recent experiences I had onto a relevant public forum and am now wanting to adapt the post and publish it into a journal as a reflective piece.

Do I run the risk of self plagiarism if the original post on the forum is left up and available? Should I remove the post before submission?

  • 3
    I'm pretty certain we had this question before, so this probably should be closed as duplicate. In short, the answer is that there is absolutely no risk of "self-plagariasm" (which is a misleading name) between academic and non-academic publications. – Arno Feb 20 '18 at 9:06
  • 1
    Arno is completely wrong (at least wrt every field I've worked in). I'll post an answer in due course with detail and sources. Meantime, some of this answer will be relevant academia.stackexchange.com/questions/71135/… – Wandering Chemist Feb 20 '18 at 11:52
  • 1
    @user2768 1) Ethically, to avoid self-plagiarism, the venue of original publication must be acknowledged. The distinction between academic and non-academic venues is irrelevant. So when we strip out consideration of the Ingelfinger rule from my answer, it removes the potential grain of correctness from Arno's comment (that, if properly referenced, some journals may still consider it for publication). – Wandering Chemist Feb 20 '18 at 15:50
  • 2
    2) The boundaries between self-plagiarism, copyright concerns and duplicate publication concerns are very blurred. In most cases, you can't (usefully) consider one without the others. The journal rules blend all these considerations and create explicit rules that define what is acceptable in a given journal. They are the single most important point of consideration for a question such as this. – Wandering Chemist Feb 20 '18 at 15:53
  • 1
    3) I was trying to give a useful answer to OP - to do this, I interpreted their post as "is it acceptable to publish like this?, what considerations are there? and what problems might I run into?" Simply observing that proper referencing pretty much always obviates self-plagiarism would have been technically correct, but less useful. – Wandering Chemist Feb 20 '18 at 15:56
1

tl;dr: The rules vary, check your intended journal's policies

I'm going to interpret your question as asking about what's acceptable in publishing, what issues you have to consider when republishing work and what problems you might run into.

You have three considerations here (self-plagiarism (1), duplicate publication (2) and copyright (3)); the boundaries between these can become somewhat blurred. Typical conventions vary from field to field and specifics will vary from journal to journal and publisher to publisher. Let's look at each consideration in turn, from a practical perspective the section on journal rules is probably most important to you. This is because, although it's easy to obviate self-plagiarism with adequate referencing (see section 1), this doesn't guarantee compliance with journal duplicate publication policies (section 2).

1) Publishing/scholarly ethics

(For ethical background on duplicate publication, see: 1, 2, 3.)

You should always cite original sources, and be specific where you've lifted quotes/figures from them; just as if you were taking from someone else's work. This is enough to obviate the risk of valid accusations of self plagiarism, but you still need to consider issues like duplicate publication (see links above and the section 2) and copyright (section 3). If work has been made publicly available (either by you, or by someone else), you should consider (for the purposes of referencing) that it has been published, however (in)formal or (non-) academic the context.

The only exceptions I can think of for this are: preprints, where the preprint server will be updated with a link to the version of record instead; publishing work that was included in a PhD thesis (strikes me as odd that a reference/note isn't required in these cases, but typically one isn't); publishing work that was presented at a conference without publishing a proceedings paper (even if the presentation abstract is publicly available). Link 1 goes into a bit more detail on duplicate publication.

In your case, you should cite/reference the online posts. How/when you do this depends on exactly what form the work takes, but a line in the introduction along the lines of the following may well be suitable:

This piece grew out of some posts the author(s) made on [forum][reference post(s)]; here, the author(s) have revised and expanded these posts into a reflective piece on the topic of...

In the case of any doubts about the acceptability of such a submission, mention it in your cover letter. This is probably a good CYA policy, even if you're sure what you're doing is allowed.

2) Journal-specific rules

Every journal will have its own specific rules on prior publication, blending the considerations under publishing ethics and copyright (discussed below) and considerations such as field-specific practices and editorial considerations. These dictate what is or isn't acceptably in a particular journal. You will have to look at your intended journal's policies yourself to find out what they are, if you're not sure how you fall under them, their editorial office will be able to guide you.

In general, putting a thesis online is almost always OK and use of preprint servers is becoming increasingly widespread. Other online publication, is not necessarily allowed. Let's look at some specific examples (emphasis added):

  • Nature:

    The Nature Research journals are happy to consider submissions containing material that has previously formed, and continues to form, part of an online scientific collaboration such as a wiki or blog, provided that the information has not been publicised outside the scientific community, and is not publicised until the publication date of the work in a Nature Research journal.

  • In this case, it would seem to depend on whether or not the forum could be considered an academic collaboration or not

  • Science:

    The Science Journals will not consider any original research paper or component of a research paper that has been published or is under consideration for publication elsewhere. Distribution on the Internet may be considered prior publication and may compromise the originality of the paper as a submission to a Science Journal.

  • ACS ethical guidelines (note, I don't think these are their publishing policies, but good practice guidelines issued as a professional organisation)

    Scientists should, however, be aware that disclosure of research results in the public press or in an electronic database or bulletin board might be considered by a journal editor as equivalent to a preliminary communication in the scientific literature

  • From Wiley's best practice guidelines

Journals from different disciplines vary in their approach to pre-print servers. Many biomedical journals would consider posting an article to a pre-print server to render any subsequent journal publication redundant. Thus an article submitted for consideration after having been posted to a pre-print server would be rejected. However, many researchers working in physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance and statistics post their articles to arXiv before submitting an article successfully to a journal for peer review and publication. Journals should establish a policy about pre-print servers and declare this in their instructions for authors. Any previous publication should be disclosed in the paper.

The following types of “prior publication” do not present cause for concerns about duplicate or redundant publication:

...

  • Results in databases and clinical trials registries (data without interpretation, discussion, context or conclusions in the form of tables and text to describe data/ information).

  • Dissertations and theses in university archives.

I won't give any more examples, because without knowing what field you work in for someone to give specific advice (mention of a "reflective piece" suggests it not STEM?), I don't think it would add much to the above.

If you aren't sure whether your use falls under the rules for your journal, you can contact the editorial office. You should also mention in the cover letter when you submit, eg. a sentence paragraph along the lines of

This work is an extension on materials previously posted to [forum] and, consequently, makes heavy reuse of this material. We believe this is acceptable under [journal]'s rules on prior publication.

3) Copyright

You will need to confirm that you have the rights to reuse your posts. Double check the small print of the forum in question to make sure you didn't transfer copyright when you posted them (hopefully unlikely!). If you did, you will need to obtain permission to reuse them from the from the forum operator and provide this to the journal during submission.

  • 1
    Although very interesting, I don't think you've answered the question of self-plagiarism. – user2768 Feb 20 '18 at 14:50
  • 3
    @user2768 Plagiarism is not a universally defined and objective concept. It varies wildly between cultures, for example. While there are a few fairly standard red lines for any serious academic/research work, "Check the standards for your field and desired journals" is the only sensible answer, as that is where you will find the relevant definition. – zibadawa timmy Feb 20 '18 at 14:57
  • 1
    @user768 I'm going to edit the middle section to explicitly use the term self plagiarism for clarity, but, as I commented above and zibadawa timmy has commented here, the issue cannot usually be considered without discussing journal policies etc. – Wandering Chemist Feb 20 '18 at 15:58
  • 1
    I've also reordered it into a, hopefully, more logical order. – Wandering Chemist Feb 20 '18 at 16:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.