This remains an old concern of mine, and something I have never been able to wrap my head around. For instance, I have never understood why using your own sentences that you have crafted without citing yourself counts as plagiarism.

That being said- I am currently working on a paper and describing the data section, and the dataset is common enough that I see myself using it in the future for another paper. The efficient thing to do here would be to use the same description for both papers. This would, however, be considered as plagiarism. How can one reasonably be accused of plagiarism here? The data section is ancillary to both papers, is not based on a 'novel' idea, but is purely descriptive. To describe the data again using different words just for the sake of not plagiarizing from myself seems to be waste of time. Now imagine this happening to thousands of researchers over many years. It seems to me that productive hours that are wasted for such a strange, and honestly, unnecessary formality. Am I missing something here?

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    Does this answer your question? Attitudes towards self-plagiarism
    – GoodDeeds
    Jun 15, 2020 at 0:01
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    Yes, the other paper of yours may also be of interest to the reader so reference it.
    – Solar Mike
    Jun 15, 2020 at 5:29
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    You are concerned for no reason. In this case it is perfectly fine to copy the descriptive text, as long as you add a reference to the other paper. However, there may be copyright issues if you publish in a different journal.
    – Louic
    Jun 15, 2020 at 9:20

1 Answer 1


Well, the pedantic legal answer to the question of why an academic re-using blocks of text they themselves have written in a previous publication would be plagiarism is that said academic has (almost certainly) assigned the full copyright of the work to the previous journal publisher. Given this is a forced part of academic publishing I would argue that the above is ethically something of a grey area, but legally chances are our hypothetical author no longer owns the text they want to reproduce.

However, I would say you are missing something here! The most efficient thing to do in the case you describe would be to cite the publication containing the data set and original description. Perhaps providing a brief summary in the new paper would be appropriate depending on the specifics of what you're writing about.

A similar example of the above from my own research was experimental equipment descriptions. I realized fairly swiftly that I was often reproducing text describing a particular spectroscopy setup. This can easily be condensed down to: "Technique X was performed as previously described.[REF]" and those who are interested in the exact details can read the referenced paper.

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    Copyright and plagiarism overlap but are not the same things. Besides, self plagiarism would be passing the same data and or concepts as new. When it comes to self plagiarism the main criterion is duplicate publications rather than wording. This is just a comment and overall I like the answer.
    – Alchimista
    Jun 15, 2020 at 8:49
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    It is much nicer for the reader of a paper to find the description of the dataset in the same paper instead of having to look for another paper to understand the current one.
    – Louic
    Jun 15, 2020 at 9:23

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