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Academics sometimes publish popular books based on their own research, but not always cite properly themselves, even when book references other authors properly. Moreover, sometimes I can see that one author publishes very similar (but not same) papers on the same topic, without self-referencing, even though it can be seen that the author recycles some of hers/his ideas. Even respectable people in the profession do it.

Given this where is the line beyond which we are talking about self-plagiarism?

On one hand it feels bit wrong to do this even in a small amount. On the other hand I can imagine that it can be impractical, and cumbersome to piously self-reference yourself, and I also worry that that might seem egocentric to the reader.

It is no brainier that copying part of your old article, and submitting it as new is clearly wrong. On the other hand it does not seems to be wrong using the main ideas, quotes (or chapter titles), or paraphrasing minor ideas of your earlier papers to publish a book without using the same referencing standards for yourself as you use for other authors.

Any opinion on this? Should I always reference myself as well as I do others, or is it ok to be more lenient on yourself as long as it is not more excessive then it is usual in the field? Do you think that this depends mostly on the context?

  • I cannot understand your question. A new paper has to have enough contribution to get published, even if it builds on previous work of yours. A book on the other hand, might survey the most important papers about a subject, and thus, it does not necessarily need to have totally new content. For which case, are you interested in? – Alexandros Sep 22 '15 at 15:35
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    One problem/confusion in this issue is that "publication" seems to implicitly include "to score status points", rather than simply "making things public". For scoring points, sure, double publication (as in @EbeIsaac's answer) is cheating. For essays that are publicly available, e.g., on one's home page at a dot-edu site, what could possibly be wrong with re-using bits of one's prior writing (assuming one has not foolishly given up copyright). But, yes, the conflation of these two creates confusion, of course! – paul garrett Sep 22 '15 at 16:29
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    Also, as the OP stated, in my field many of the top authors do this all the time! They "self-plagarize" in published journals, often without citing their prior sources. Usually, they provide some incremental result tacked on at the end, but the new part is typically only 5-15% of the paper. When all of the tenured and tenure track people are doing it, the calls to avoid it fall on deaf ears, since I have to do what they do in order to proceed in academia. – daaxix Sep 22 '15 at 16:47
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    I am not too deep into publishing yet, but even with minor presentations I sometimes have the feeling that there are those key concepts of my own work that I talk about all the time. Those are so basic and intrinsic for me that it would never occur to me to figure out where I mentioned that first and then consistently cite that over and over. In fact, with real publications, that would feel like cheating, as I would artificially increase citations on my own old publications with each new one. (Not that you should never cite yourself, but in moderation.) – skymningen Jan 19 '16 at 10:20
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Let us set aside debate about whether the word "self-plagiarism" makes logical sense. The concept is fairly generally acknowledged, and rests on a simple ethical principle: it is wrong to give the impression that a work is novel when it is not.

We can further distinguish two distinct forms of self-plagiarism:

  • Literal self-plagiarism, in which words are directly reused.
  • Conceptual self-plagiarism, in which the words are different but the content is (largely) the same.

From this definition, we can elaborate several key points of evaluating whether a reuse counts as self-plagiarism:

  1. Is there an expectation of novelty (e.g., a journal article, conference paper, or book)? In some cases, such as one-paragraph conference abstracts in some fields, there may not be an expectation of novelty, in which case there is no "impression of novelty" to be considered and self-plagiarism is not at issue (the reviewers may still decide they are uninterested if the work is insufficiently novel).

  2. Is more than a trivial amount of material being directly reused? If so, then they must either be in a quotation, or else the publication must be clear that portions have previously been published, and a citation to the prior publication must be included. Otherwise, it is self-plagiarism. (Note that this may not apply to "non-creative" words, such as a tersely written methods section).

  3. If concepts are shared with prior publication, then there must be clear attribution of the significant antecedents. There is a lot of flexibility that enters with "significant," and different communities interpret this in different ways, so you need to know your community expectations. Here, one basically treats one's own results just like those of any other scientist, with the exception that one cannot claim ignorance of one's own prior publications.

  • I am mostly interested in demarcation line around the conceptual self-plagiarism. I understand that the literal one is unethical, but what is puzzling me is the conceptual one. Precisely, as you said different communities have different standards, but still there must be some way how to think about this more analytically. Could you maybe recommend some good sources (accessible for someone who had just basic philosophy of science course)? I personally would like to know more about this topic, because I would like to become good scholar. But there seems to be efficiency-ethics trade-off. – 1muflon1 Sep 23 '15 at 11:29
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In reality, there is no such thing as self plagiarism. I would recall them as replication or double publication. Plagiarism means to copy the written piece of work of another author without proper citation. It compared to stealing. You cannot steal your own work.

Coming back to your question, any work that succeeds your previously published work deserves to be published (and cited). It would be better to cite the previous work so that the readers would know the previous work was enhanced. This is ethical as long as most of the new article is not a replication of the predecessor.

  • You can copy your work without proper citation, and that is precisely the definition of self-plagiarism that academia agrees on. As for equating copying and stealing, that is a well-known fallacy. – Federico Poloni Jan 19 '16 at 14:26
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    Actually, there is quite a bit of debate on "self-plagiarism". One reason is that it is actually quite common for the faculty to do that for multiple publications. – MikeP Aug 21 '16 at 1:09
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    @FedericoPoloni I'm not sure there is a consensus on self-plagiarism yet and even if there were it is in a different category from plagiarizing another. In normal plagiarism you are claiming credit that is not due at all, and possibly diminishing someone else's work in the process. In self-plagiarism you are asserting something is novel that is not. While still unacceptable, it is a very different category. – TimothyAWiseman Sep 17 '18 at 16:42
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The only real ethical problem that falls under the term self-plagiarism is when a person submits the same work twice or anything of that form. Anything else is not a real problem.

  • Personally, I would still consider it a problem, if there are no citations. In my experience, it is commonly accepted to reuse article material for a book, but the articles should be explicitly referenced. – Federico Poloni Jan 19 '16 at 14:29

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