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:-) We would like to ask a question of general interest, as it might be the case in other studies. It is the first time I stumble upon this situation.

In our research, we have used the wild-type of a microbial strain and mutants for about 7 distinct genes. They were all subjected to different treatments and assessed by the same response variables. The seven genes, however, are not strictly related to each other, so that 3 of them as a group make-up one story, and the other 4 make-up a different one (thereby, two distinct manuscripts). The reason why they were all worked together (the wild-type and the mutants for these genes) were simply logistics and efficiency of resources usage.

One of the authors are concerned with the fact that for both papers with different groups of mutants (hence very different stories), the wild-type controls were the same! Therefore, he is afraid that using the same pictures and data in this case would configure a self-plagiarism issue between the two manuscripts.

Could you please help us on deciding whether this will indeed be an issue, or not?

Thank you very much in advance for your kindness and attention to this matter.

Best regards, Dr. Leandro.

  • Hi Dr. Leandro, it is good practice in SE communities to provide some feedback, e.g. at least by voting and choosing the most useful answer. – Scientist Nov 20 '18 at 13:58
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This is a recurrent issue in biological sciences, and seeking for peer advice is a commendable step. Most colleagues would just move on while trying to conceal the fact that the results of two different manuscripts have a significant overlap.

My general advice is quite simple: focus on the scientific outcome of your research and aim for robustness. Transparency is essential, so that others judge whether they can trust you. Give your readers & peers all they need to follow your steps and rationale.

In short: as long as you explicitly declare the overlap and you unbiasedly trust it cannot affect your conclusions on both papers, I think you should be just fine.

Of course, independent controls and higher numbers of repetitions are always better for more representative results, and there will be always those who will not appreciate your "strategy". You cannot please everyone. Rest assured many of your critics include those who just don't like the concept of transparency.

Can you publish both papers in the same journal? Consider depositing all raw data in the same repository, to be linked to both papers.

Good luck!

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Ordinary plagiarism is avoided because it tries to claim ideas and words as your own when they are due to another. Citation, on the other hand, is to let scholars find the original source of ideas along with the context of the development. So a citation isn't just to a person, but to a work.

Self plagiarism is a bit different. It is to be avoided, not because another person's work is appropriated, but because it makes it harder for other scholars to see the complete context in which ideas are developed. This is similar to citation in the ordinary case.

Is there any reason why your papers can't cross-cite each other? A note somewhere in one or both can point to the fact of the overlap, letting another researcher find any additional context they need for understanding whichever paper they are reading. This fulfills your duty to be both honest and helpful.

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