Suppose that I submitted an essay of a literature review for 1 course and I have to prepare a study for another course with similar ideas. My questions:

  1. Can I 'copy' some of the ideas of the literature review of the 1st essay into the 2nd one? How ethical is such a practice?

  2. Generally speaking, suppose that I define x and lists its components in one study, can I reuse the same source in another study since I want to also include the definition of x and its components in this 2nd study? If yes, can one use the same exact words?

  • Does the course syllabus for course 2 say anything about re-using material from previous courses? – svavil Feb 21 '16 at 9:22
  • Not really, it has nothing to do with the syllabus. If you define marketing in 1 course, can you use the same source and sentence in another course paper? That's my idea; using the same ideas/references of literature reviews in more than a course. – R. AS. Feb 21 '16 at 9:24
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    I've met courses that specifically prohibit re-using your own words from previous courses. Has to do with the credits awarded for the course, I believe. If not on the syllabus, ask the professor, anyway. – svavil Feb 21 '16 at 9:26

The answer to this question is very simple: Fully explain the situation to the teachers of BOTH classes and ask what is acceptable to them. Transparency is the key to avoiding almost all kinds of perceived inappropriate behaviour, and this is definitely such a case. The only right answer in your situation is what both teachers consider acceptable.

Believe it or not, standards of what is or is not plagiarism can sometimes be quite subjective, and in my experience, no area is more subjective than when it comes to questions about multiple submission and repurposing your own previous work (which some people call "self plagiarism", but I hate that term and so I avoid using it--I prefer to describe the behaviour rather than making the ridiculous suggestion that you can plagiarize yourself). What is acceptable to one teacher is unacceptable to another, and not only that, a teacher can change their mind on a situation simply because you take the time to openly explain what's going on.

Often, if you are transparent to both teachers about reusing material across classes, they will let you do it as long as you are very clear to them what is new and original in each submission. (At least, that was my experience in university when I used the same subject for an English paper and a Public Speaking speech, having fully informed both teachers of what I was doing.)

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It is a good question (one that has likely come up in various guises in the past on this forum). In practice, academics regularly do this form of self-plagiarism (note that does not make it ok). The only real difference here is that the prior art was not published.

In general, it is never a bad idea to ask the teacher. Even if it is not the same professor, there is a chance it can be flagged by plagiarism software that collates prior student work. Pre-emptively asking though clears up what is reasonable to all parties though. Small snippets of copying some professors may not worry about - but wholesale copying of a prior paper is not going to be ok.

It is not a bad practice to learn to re-write the same thing in different words. You will have to do it for future journal articles.

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