I took a course a couple years ago and was doing well until I could not attend any longer and abruptly had to stop. I am currently retaking the course and wanted to hand in the work I submitted years ago since I worked hard on it and did well. Is this plagiarism or against some academic code?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Sep 13 at 19:57

Whether or not this is a problem probably depends more on the goal of the assignment for the purpose of this course rather than plagiarism as a general academic concept, because in both cases the work is your own sole work for a course assignment (the same course even), and is not owned by anyone else, published, etc.

The only thing you can do is to ask your instructor for guidance. Depending on their goals for the assignment, they may be okay with a re-submission of the previous work or they may want you to complete a new assignment; they may even want you to pick a new topic if the assignment allows for a broader interpretation.

I was once given credit for a paper that I'd submitted to a previous school after I moved. However, there were two considerations. I moved before I completed the first course so wasn't given complete credit for my work previously. Also, I asked the instructor beforehand whether I could submit it, as the assignment was nearly the same.

Even if I'd written it from scratch, it would have had the same ideas, and because thought and language patterns are fairly consistent over a short period, it might have had much of the same phrasing unless I'd tried to obfuscate it - a stupid practice.

Note that the earlier work wasn't published, so it really isn't a technical case of plagiarism to reuse your own thoughts. I also, I suppose, revised a bit to include more recent ideas (this was more than 50 years ago). But complete honesty with the professor isn't likely to hurt you here even though the professor isn't likely to know of your earlier work unless you tell him/her.

However, revision is worth doing in any case. Presumably you have learned some things since the work originated.

  • "Published" is a bad metric for plagiarism in the context of a class assignment. Many universities will consider the unreferenced reuse of previous assignments to be (self-)plagiarism, regardless of whether the work was 'published' or not. – E.P. Sep 13 at 12:58

I tend to fall more into the line of thought that such use of your work is not plagiarism. A key component here though is disclosure. I would speak with the professor about re-use of your work. If he or she approves re-use of the work, I would find it to be perfectly allowable to re-use that work.

I have had a few instances where my students have re-used work even from other classes. Insofar as it fulfilled the assignment, I was okay with this. It saved them from a busywork-like rewriting of an assignment into slightly different language. In each case, all I asked is that students indicate that they were re-using the work.

Some slight caveats would be cases where the student does not retain sole copyright of the work, or cases where the work was a collaborative effort. These cases require much more care not to plagiarize. However, in cases where a student is the sole author of the work and they have not assigned the copyright to any other party, I allow students to re-use their personal work.

I wouldn't focus too much on the label 'plagiarism'. I'd suggest focusing on acting with integrity and honor and in line with your personal ethics. Not everyone understands the word 'plagiarism' in the same way (as is evident from the answers here), and the specifics of the academic code might vary a bit from university to university and from class to class, but regardless of whether it counts as plagiarism or something else, you can still be sure to do the right thing. Even if it is not 'plagiarism' per se, that doesn't completely settle the question; you should still ask whether it is right and acceptable to do this.

I don't know whether it will be considered acceptable in your particular class, but let me suggest some questions to help guide your thinking. What would the instructor say if they knew that you were re-using your answer to an assignment from when you took the class earlier? Would they be happy with it, or would they consider it unacceptable? What would they say if they discovered that you had re-used an old assignment, without indicating that you had done so? Would they feel deceived? Would they feel like you were trying to hide that fact? What would a disinterested third party think, if they learned that? Your answers to those questions might help guide your thinking about what to do. Of course, you might not know the answer to some of those questions, in which case the natural solution is to talk to your instructor to find out the answers.

In particular, I have some concrete suggestions:

  1. Ask your instructor. Find out what their standards are. This may make it clear what to do. And I suspect the instructor would prefer to be asked, rather than discover it on their own after the fact.

  2. Be honest about what you are doing. Disclose on your assignment that you wrote the essay the last time you took the course and turned it in for credit then. That way, no one can claim that you are hiding what you are doing. (If you are thinking that you shouldn't need to do this, well, you totally might be right; but it's also worth considering that when we are tempted to hide some facts, that can sometimes indicate that we know or suspect it might be wrong.) And it helps protect you: if anyone later accuses you of plagiarism or wrongdoing, you can point to the fact that you proactively disclosed it on the assignment, and I expect that would count for a lot.

In general, you need to understand the rules at your institution.

In broad terms, what you describe broadly fits the definition of what is called "self-plagiarism". I.e., using your own published work in a subsequent publication where there is an expectation of originality and you do not acknowledge that part or all of the new publication is taken from the earlier publication. Of course, in a student setting, replace the words publication with assignment.

At all universities that I have worked at (Australian context), there has been a rule that treats submitting assignments used in previous units without acknowledgement as academic misconduct. I imagine this is in place for pedagogical reasons. You are meant to learn by creating a novel piece of work, even if you happen to have done something similar in the past.

That said, your case is a little different. You are not taking an assignment from a different unit. Rather you are taking your assignment from the same unit. This scenario is presumably fairly common (e.g., students that fail, students that drop out of a unit, and the re-enrol at a later date).

I would seek explicit guidance from your professor about what is their policy.

Since you don’t mention how long ago it was that you dropped your class, I would say no, don’t laze your way through your first assignments. Man up and work hard again. I am a retired teacher and I agree with @louic. You are there to learn and to PROVE what you have learned. Use your past work as a study guide and fulfill your new syllabus again. If you are truly a learner, you will enjoy getting back into the swing of this class and breeze through the portions you completed earlier. Then, you will be prepared for the part of the syllabus that you dropped and have not done the work for. It sounds like this class is one you need for your major, so cutting corners will only hurt you in the long run.

It also sounds as though you submitted some of it for a grade already. In my opinion, it would be unconscionable to RESUBMIT ALREADY SUBMITTED AND GRADED WORK, whether it counted on your transcript or not. You would have an unfair time and learning advantage over others in your class that could skew the curve (if there is one).

At any rate, you’re already ahead of the game by even considering the question, so best of luck!

My daughter received an F on a paper in college that she had self-plagiarized from a paper in high school. Best to check with the instructor and confirm their policy.

  • 3
    Sounds like she got an F for submitting the same work for credit in more than one course. The academic honor policy at her school probably specifically forbids that in those or very similar works. It benefits no one to use loaded phrases like "self-plagiarism", stick to the much more clear and accurate verbiage the policy uses. – Ben Voigt Sep 12 at 4:10

Both the question (plagiarism) and the current answers (yes / no / ask your instructor) are not in line with what a typical teacher would expect: the purpose of the class is that you learn something.

Unfortunately a past achievement is not necessarily the same as something you can still do now. So the question you should ask yourself, and also what your teacher wants to see is: are you capable of completing this assignment TODAY.

In other words: you are not in university to pass exams. You are there to learn something. So the solution is simple: do the assignment again.

  • If you already know how to do it you will get it done quickly.
  • If there are details you forgot, you will learn something which is the purpose of attending the course in the first place.

Good luck!

  • 1
    Given that the OP seems to have dropped the initial class without credit, and is retaking it, I think it very possible that the repeated assignment is fairly narrow and there's little value in attempting to redo it. The most extreme example would be a math problem set. – Andrew Lazarus Sep 12 at 1:03
  • 3
    @AndrewLazarus I'd argue that a math problem set might be at the top of the list of things I'd recommend redoing. On some written creative or analysis assignment particularly if you feel the same way about the subject and would come to the same conclusions as previously, it may be difficult to come up with completely original output, and redoing the assignment is likely to result in just rehashing the same arguments, but with math problems, you don't really do them as proof of your capability, but for practice. – Mr.Mindor Sep 12 at 17:46

Your Answer

 

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

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