I wrote a paper in which I mentioned all citations for definitions that are not mine, and did not cite my previous paper's definition or my supervisor's previous papers as both of us are authors.

My supervisor got really angry on me for this. Did I deserve it?

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    Do I understand correctly that you showed the manuscript without those citations to your supervisir before submitting it to a journal, so that you had the opportunity to add the citations before submission? Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 8:13
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    One more reason to cite your previous work, is to make it easier to read. When you use some definition, it's very handy how was the definition created.
    – user46147
    Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 13:08
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    I properly understood the value of citiations when I got from nearly zero AI knowledge, to understanding GPT-2, by following citations backwards. If you are referring to work that was done earlier, please cite it so readers can find it! Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 18:53
  • Interested readers will want to read those papers to understand the background.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 3:14

3 Answers 3


Yes, you do need to cite your own past work. Not doing so is considered to be self-plagiarism. While ethically self-plagiarism might not be as bad as plagiarizing someone’s else work, it is still not okay.

Self-plagiarism misleads the reader as it presents previously published work as new and original. Academic readers expect that all uncited material is either common knowledge or a novel idea. By not citing your previous work, you are undermining the integrity of academia.

Next, self-plagiarism is bad because publishers (including academic ones) sometimes have a copyright on your previously published work. While you are still an author you are no longer allowed to use the previous work willy-nilly. However, this also depends on what copyright agreement you have and nature of the self-plagiarism (e.g. paraphrasing old work would not violate it).

Lastly there is no reason not to cite yourself. Self-citations still improve your citation count. You should not do it unnecessarily, because overly self-citing is also frown upon, e.g., even when the previous work is not much relevant. However, when there is a legitimate reason to self-cite, there is no reason not to do it.

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    self-plagiarism bad because publishers […] have a copyright on your previously published work – This paragraph is misleading about the reach of copyright. Copyright only applies if you reproduce something verbatim or close to verbatim – which should you rarely ever do in most disciplines anyway. For example, I could remove all my citations from all my publications without committing a single breach of copyright. (Mind that for verbatim quotes, citations can help copyright-wise.) Also, most modern copyright agreements are not wholesale transfers of copyright anymore.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 8:55
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    @Wrzlprmft thanks for the comment I tried to clarify my answer
    – 1muflon1
    Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 9:15
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    Self plagiarism is repeated publication of the same material. It's still plagiarism even if the previous publication is cited. Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 16:43
  • Publishers being assigned copyright in an academic paper is rare (depending a bit on field I guess). I don’t think I’ve assigned copyright for over a decade.
    – rhialto
    Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 20:53
  • @AnonymousPhysicist but if the prior work is cited, wouldn't it be clear to readers that the author is not trying to pass this as something new? Would it be self-plagiarism if I put my paper on two websites (e.g., arXiv and my personal website)? And which good journal wouldn't reject publishing the same idea even if it's cited?
    – justhalf
    Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 9:09

It appears that you mistakenly assume that citations are only about avoiding plagiarism. However, the main purpose of citations is to document the provenance of ideas, evidence, etc. If done properly, this automatically wards you against any accusation of plagiarism, but that is only a side effect. In most papers, you can leave out a considerable portion of citations without introducing any plagiarism (it would still not be a good idea though).

If you treat citations as documenting provenance, it is clear that it shouldn’t matter who authored the work you cite: Ideally, you cite your own work if and only if you would also cite it if authored by somebody else.

Typically, authors tend to overdo self-citations, but you can also underdo them. Usually this is just bad citing, but at worst it can also be regarded as self-plagiarism, i.e., selling your own old work as new work.


Your choice to cite a paper should not depend on who wrote the paper. It does not matter if you wrote it, your supervisor wrote it, or a nazi wrote it. Cite all sources you use. Where feasible, cite other relevant sources.

Do not cite your own work if it's not relevant.

I cannot think of any situation where it would be appropriate to be angry about citations.

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    This is the best answer
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 3:15

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