I have just completed a Ph.D. in May and have some papers I wrote for classwork that I would like to use to write articles for submission to publications.

Would this be self-plagiarism? How do I handle this?

  • Can you clarify, what are the "papers you wrote for classwork"? Were they published as a part of your thesis? – Dmitry Savostyanov Nov 28 '16 at 16:11
  • not part of dissertation... just short papers done for various classes. not published. – Joyce Frey Nov 30 '16 at 14:11

The problem with typical self-plagiarism is that a scientific work or part of it is published twice in a peer-reviewed venue. This inflates the scientific credit obtained for this work and wastes the times of everybody involved in the publication process.

Assuming that your classwork is not scientifically published (if it is, you should know), you should not commit self-plagiarism. To be on the safe side, I suggest to clearly reveal the history of your paper when submitting. This way, the publisher cannot claim that you hid something from them and they can decide themselves whether they have any problems with it.

Some further remarks:

  • If your work was published non-scientifically (e.g., hosted on the course’s website), this may conflict with the exclusive copyright wanted by some publishers. However, for most publishers, this should not pose a problem. Be sure to read the copyright-transfer agreement or similar thoroughly in this respect.

  • Your university may impose some restrictions on publishing coursework. You’ll have to check.

  • Be aware that whoever supervised your classwork (if anybody) may have contributed to it to such an extent that they deserve authorship. Again, this is something you have to check.

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  • Unless it is a case such as von Neumann's (or Dantzig's) where they solved some unsolved homework problems, in which case, a statement such as "problem posed by [...]" might be appropriate. – Captain Emacs Nov 28 '16 at 16:48

Would this be self-plagiarism? How do I handle this?

The answer here is simple: no, this would not be self-plagiarism. You would best handle this by not worrying about it.

More precisely, the entire concept of self-plagiarism simply doesn't apply in this situation, since the purpose of submitting work for publication is fundamentally different than submitting work as classwork for a course - in one case you are trying to prove that you have mastered some body of knowledge that's already known, and in another case you are trying to publicize (presumably) new things you've discovered.

It follows that the credit you would be getting for each of those two types of submissions is also of a fundamentally different nature from the other. The bottom line is that I don't see how anyone could reasonably accuse you of trying to get credit twice for the same work in a dishonest way (which is the essence of self-plagiarism), regardless of whether or not you mention in the papers you write that the work originated as classwork. You may still want to mention the origin of the work in your paper for its curiosity value or because you find it amusing, but it is essentially irrelevant from the reader's point of view.

With that being said, I find the fact that you ostensibly came up with original research as part of a class assignment highly unusual and even somewhat suspect. I would encourage you to consult an experienced researcher (preferably the instructor of the course you did the work for) about whether you assessment of the publishability of these results is accurate.

Finally, while you don't need to worry about self-plagiarism in this case, as Wrzlprmft and Captain Emacs suggested you do need to give credit to others for any contributions they made to the work, so indeed a "problem posed by [...]" or similar type of acknowledgement may be necessary. (The other concerns expressed in Wrzlprmft's answer seem like total non-issues to me.)

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