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I recently enrolled in a Master's program at a new university. I'm in the process of finishing my Master's thesis from a previous program, so now I'm sort of doing both at the same time. They are in related fields (political theory/democracy/human rights)

One of the classes in the new program is quite similar to a class I had in the previous program. For the first class, I did a pretty good paper that eventually inspired my Master's thesis. The topic of the paper was roughly something like "Gender perspective on X".

Given that X is like a concept developed by a specific philosopher, the topic is quite narrow. I was excited about the opportunity to write a new paper on the same topic, introducing some things I did not address in the previous paper-- the new paper would focus more on theoretical aspects, etc. Writing such a paper would also definitely help me with writing the Master's thesis.

But having started to develop an outline for the new paper, I realized there will inevitably be some overlap.

Obviously I know I can't just resubmit the paper, and wouldn't want to. But how much overlap is tolerated? I would not copy sections or anything, but is it necessary that I completely omit everything I've previously mentioned? Can I even cover the same exact topic, even if the content and structure of the paper are different?

I have already gotten the topic approved by the new professor, and in the email, I said "In full disclosure, I have researched similar topics before, but from a different perspective". I'm afraid this was not enough.

Admittedly, I am doing this to save time and help develop my thoughts for the Master's, because the topic is something I am already familiar with and interests me. I'm afraid that this alone amounts to academic dishonestly.

Am I just being paranoid- are we allowed to develop our own thinking in this way, by returning to topics? Basically, is it possible to do this in an ethical way at all?

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The best way to cover this is to cite the earlier paper in the new one. A citation can be to an "unpublished" work as well as to a published one.

Submitting the old paper in the new course would be a violation unless done with explicit permission, but you aren't suggesting that. You are planning to extend the earlier work in a different direction which is a perfectly good thing to do in any research or scholarly writing.

Many scholars cover "the same topic" in separate papers so long as they have new things to say and also cite the earlier work.

If you want to be really clear, cite the old work and also include a copy of it with the new paper when you submit it. It can be hard to find "unpublished work" as well as citations of "private communications" and such other things that require citation. No one can make any claim of improper behavior as long as you are completely transparent, as you have been so far.

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