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Last year, I wrote a 10 page term paper for a geology class that focused on the geochemistry of certain rock deposits. I received an A on the paper. This year, I'm taking a geochemistry class at a different university and have to write another thesis paper. This assignment has the same criterion as the other paper did and the topic I wrote on before is on of the allowed topics.

Would it be acceptable (morally and/or academically) to submit a slightly edited version of the first paper I wrote in the new class?

The paper was not published/distributed in any way (to my knowledge), and is entirely my own work with proper citations.

  • Whatever you do, be fully open about it. If you open your new paper with a preface that it is (almost completely) identical to the previous paper, it is not (self-)plagiarism. However, it may still be rejected. Ask your instructor – gerrit Jun 14 '16 at 12:03
  • Yup, looks like I'll be re-writing the paper, thanks! – user56627 Jun 14 '16 at 22:41
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Almost invariably, the answer to "Is it OK to submit X for a class assignment?" is "Ask the instructor.".

You do need to ask yourself whether your objective for the geochemistry class is to get a good grade, or to improve your knowledge and skills in the area of geochemistry, or both. Even if the instructor agrees with recycling the old paper, you may get more out of the class if you pick a different topic and write a new paper.

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    I totally agree. I've "recycled" the papers betweeen courses many times. I always asked the instructor whether I can reuse my own work and I got the task that was based on the previous work. Sometimes I've used 80% of the old one, sometimes I had to add 80% of new work. – Crowley Jun 14 '16 at 17:18
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    +1 for the purpose of a class. If it's beyond "Press button, get grade", re-using a paper represents a missed opportunity. – Fomite Jan 16 '17 at 6:20
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Since you said it has not been distributed or published in any way, you probably wouldn't have any issues with plagiarism in that regard. However, in my experience, teachers expect unique coursework for individual classes. Thus, it becomes a matter of coursework integrity/ethics. To be fair, I am not saying it is flat out wrong to reuse your assignment, but it might not be aligned with your school's code of conduct or academic integrity policies.

PS. If you submitted your assignment online, it likely would be added to a plagiarism database which might be matched when you submit this assignment.

  • I did not submit it online, but this is what I was concerned about too. – user56627 Jun 14 '16 at 22:35
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Academically it is probably not okay if you don't at the very least ask. Many guidelines for self-plagiarism specifically mention submitting coursework completed for one class to another. E.g.

For example, to quote the UO guidelines:

SUBMITTING THE SAME ASSIGNMENT FOR DIFFERENT CLASSES Submitting the same assignment for a second class violates the assumption that every assignment advances a student's learning and growth. Unless the second instructor expressly allows it, submitting an assignment already submitted for another class is a form of academic misconduct. This is also known as self-plagiarism or recycling work.

  • I wrote the original paper for UC Davis, and the other will be for Stony Brook university (summer school), both prohibit re-using papers without permission. Since the geochemistry course is summer school, I don't think they'll allow me to re-use a paper and not work as hard. NB my actual reason for wanting to re-use the paper is to save time to prep for the GRE which I take the day the paper is due. – user56627 Jun 14 '16 at 22:40
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I actually ran into a similar situation to this in my course work. Though this was within the same university. There was a subject that came up to write a paper on that I wrote a really good 20 page essay on for another class. I asked the teacher if it would be ok if I used this paper again since technically I am the one who wrote it and there shouldn't be any issues about copying other people's work. She told me that I can QUOTE my previous paper, quote my previous thoughts, but she still wanted to see my original thinking.

So basically, I ended up writing something to the effect of:

In class HUM405, I wrote a paper called "Rocks rock!" in which I discussed the ideas of _____________. In this paper, I ascertained that the studies found the data to be inconclusive. "insert a quote of your thoughts from this previous paper" (cite your paper).

That way you still are creating an original piece of work while able to use your last paper to do most of the heavy work for you. You might even find that the paper you wrote a year ago has some incorrect conclusions or that you didn't do something correctly.

You would be able to even state how, in this paper I said that XXXX would be the results but actually, I found that this isn't true and here is why. Then provide the new research to show why your previous paper was actually wrong. You can still use the same references as long as you cite them because you are more than likely going to cite them again anyways. The key though, the teacher wants to see your original work.

When they check for plagiarism, each paper gets scanned into a database that is cross checked across the country. This way, any paper submitted regardless of college is verified to be original. More than likely, your paper is already in that system that you previously wrote. If you were to submit it again, there is a good chance it would come up. Even though it is your own work, the teacher will probably talk to you about it and depending on how nice the teacher is, could still mark you for plagiarism or even a 0 for the paper. So talking to them and telling them upfront what you would like to do would be your safest bet.

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I did recycle an essay paper report once. In my poetry and theater classes, two courses required an essay. I turned the same paper in to both professors. One course was 'The Spoken Word', an introduction into elocution or dramatic speaking. The other course was in the same department of education. I believe it was 'Introduction to Poetry & Drama'. They both gave me a high grade of A. Now I know it was immature to assume the professor need not know that I had already used it for the other course.

  • Your answer is interesting, but it might be worth while adjusting it to more directly answer the ‘would it be acceptable...?’ question. Your final sentence suggests it would or wouldn't be acceptable (which is probably true!), but you don't commit yourself one way or the other. Of course, if you mean ‘even after considering it, ... it still depends on the situation’, then that's a further reasonably defensible possibility. – Norman Gray Jul 9 '17 at 14:38
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This is what my university says:

Cheat/Cheating: means to seek to obtain an unfair advantage in an examination or written, oral or practical work, required to be submitted or completed for assessment in a course or unit of study and includes the resubmission of work that has already been assessed in another unit.

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As far as I'm concerned this is perfectly fine as long as you make it clear that this paper is heavily based on a similar paper written on your own for another course. And includes any citations required by your academic institution.

This is also heavily dependent on culture of the country/school and the opinion of the person grading the paper. So if you are not sure just explain your opinion and ask what is the correct course of action. This way you will know exactly what the prof expects/prefers and there is no question regarding your intent (did you believe you were doing nothing wrong, did you not know and hope it will work, did you know you were wrong but counted on not getting caught, ....).

You might even be told that doing the same thing twice is a waste of his and your time and your old grade accepted or tips on how to improve your old paper and turn it in for a better grade if you wish or get another assignment.

  • I agree that it's ethical if you make appropriate disclosures. However, if the instructor didn't want to allow previously written papers, it's quite possible that the instructor will still give you a zero on the assignment - not for any ethical violation, but for failing to meet the standards of the assignment. So while this advice will save you from doing anything unethical, it may not achieve what you actually want. – Nate Eldredge Jan 16 '17 at 23:03
  • You are right. I left out a few important bits from my answer. Editing now. Hope it's better. – Mr. C Feb 1 '17 at 23:46

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