If I reuse unpublished work in new unpublished work, would this be considered self-plagiarism?

Examples would be:

  1. Use the same paragraph of text in more than one cover letter for job applications
  2. Use the same unpublished results in more than one funding application

I would usually say better safe than sorry but it just seems silly to state I previously used this text/material in [unpublished work X], in contexts such as the examples I gave above.

  • No, not if you use your own work. I had the same issue while I was in school...
    – user24715
    Nov 24, 2014 at 20:51
  • Why the downvotes?
    – gerrit
    Nov 25, 2014 at 15:05
  • 7
    For a particularly extreme example, it is not plagiarism to copy a paragraph verbatim from your own unpublished first draft of a work, into the draft for submission ;-) Jan 15, 2015 at 15:50
  • I think for most people, the cover letter is more or less the same in many job applications. It's a letter intended for the selection committee and noone cares if you use the same paragraph. For funding application, again, you can write the same proposal for different funding applications, so similarities can occur. Again, the results are intended only for the selection committee.
    – BioGeo
    Mar 20, 2017 at 6:31

3 Answers 3


No. Unpublished work is unpublished. It's almost as if it doesn't exist. Given that it is your work, there is no case of plagiarism. I don't even think you need to cite yourself --- what would you actually be citing?

Indeed, how would you prove that you plagiarised yourself?

If your unpublished work has been circulated among other authors and has been cited by them, maybe you can cite it too. But that seems a bit odd.

  • 4
    The exception would be for coursework. Instructors should have a policy on whether they permit you to submit work you've created for or used in another course...
    – ff524
    Nov 24, 2014 at 17:12
  • 2
    @ff524 Right. But then the issue would not be plagiarism as such? I mean, even if it was published it is not plagiarism if I clearly indicate the sources. Copy-pasting a public domain source with proper attribution is neither plagiarism nor a copyright violation, but is likely not acceptable in the context of coursework.
    – gerrit
    Nov 24, 2014 at 23:00
  • @gerrit I'm referring to the practice of submitting a piece of original work you wrote & submitted for an assignment in course A, as an assignment in course B. Or even submitting something you did as part of your research for a course assignment (I've known instructors who disallowed this).
    – ff524
    Nov 24, 2014 at 23:12

Self-plagiarism is attempting to pass off your own words as previously unpublished original work when they are not. If you are copying text from a work that is not intended for publication, then it cannot be a prior publication, and thus it cannot be self-plagiarism. Likewise, it is OK to take text from one of your rejected works if you have decided not to publish it. If the other work is not published but is also aiming for publication, however, then it would be self-plagiarism (though which of the two works would be "original" and which "self-plagiarized" could depend on the details of the progress of each toward publication).

Many pieces of text, however, do not expect the work to be original, in which case you can plagiarize, but not self-plagiarize. Taking your example: if you create job application letters by modifying a base template, the duplication from letter to letter is perfectly ethical, because there is no expectation of originality in a job application, just for truthfulness.

Funding applications are a funny in-between state. They do not have the same expectation of originality in text as a publication, but most funding agencies require that you not be attempting to fund the same proposed research through any other application. Thus, you would be safe to use the same preliminary work text as part of pitching two different ideas (though it will probably need to be customized for context in any case). Pitching closely related ideas, however, even with different text, would typically be a violation of the funding agency rules. Since there is a decent chance that some of the same people will see both proposals, it's a fast track to rejection and burning bridges with funders. Don't do it.


Yes, technically you CAN plagiarize yourself.

According to this page on the Lancaster University's page, for example, they say: "Duplication of your own work:It is possible to plagiarise yourself by directly copying a section from a previous essay you have written and submitting it as part of your new essay."

You need to check the student policies of the school you attend, most likely there is a clause that specifically forbids you from handing in two separate essays that share sections containing the same work.

I'm not sure if this is really what you are asking though, because you make it sound more like you will be paraphrasing previous work within a new context, which I believe would be acceptable use.

  • 1
    Can the downvoter please explain?
    – Octopus
    Nov 25, 2014 at 21:29
  • 1
    I cannot find such a section in my college's conduct guide or policies. All sources I can find refer to copying of other people's work as the definition for plagiarism. Feb 5, 2018 at 5:16

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