How common is for good and high quality research papers to contain 1 or 2 paragraphs of copy paste from previous papers of the same researcher?

Is this common or it's a red flag of low quality research?

Edit: 2 papers from the same researcher tackle different problems. To solve each of these problems some sub methods are used. On paper A sub methods 1, 2 and 3 are used. On paper B sub methods 3, 4 and 5 are used.

Sub method 3 is copy pasted (exact same explanation) on both papers A and B. The newer paper (B) makes no reference to paper A. The papers have nothing in common, aside from using this sub method.

  • Please specify a bit where in the paper that copy-and-pasted text is found. For example, if it is in the conclusion, or in the description of experimental goals, I would consider it rather questionable. On the other hand, if two papers on very closely related topics more or less (i.e. with only small changes) share parts of their related work, I would not be surprised, and if two papers produced on the basis of the same project contain a brief description of the goals and type of the project in two short paragraphs or so, I would almost expect these to be absolutely identical. May 23 '17 at 11:42
  • 17
    When I worked at a sequencing facility, our customers often asked for detailed description of our protocols (for the Mat&Met section of papers). We had pre-written paragraphs for our standard protocols, and they probably ended up in several papers.If the method does not change, I don't see the point in artificially rewriting a perfectly good description.
    – Kerkyra
    May 23 '17 at 12:42
  • You say 'copy paste'. \What about paraphrased text, would it be (effectively) plagiarism?
    – rleir
    May 24 '17 at 8:29
  • If you are copy & pasting, you should be referencing where you originally published it, as people may be curious to see this paper. And if it is ever so slightly different, this needs to be clearly communicated. It's not about rewriting it or making it easier for you to write, it is about communicating with your readers. May 24 '17 at 16:10

As a user of papers I strongly prefer copy-paste to rewrite for the sake of rewrite. It takes a lot longer to see if there are any differences in the method between the papers if the descriptions use different words.

That said, it seems to me that the later published paper should reference the earlier one.

  • 9
    Actually, in a lot of papers you find an empty section ("method as described in Xxx et al"), which is then followed by you looking for the referenced paper, which references yet another one, and soon you've lost two hours. Copy/Paste + referencing seems a pretty good choice to me!
    – Kerkyra
    May 23 '17 at 13:00
  • 5
    This is a form of self-plagiarism though. A reference is not sufficient. It should be made clear that identical text was previously published
    – innisfree
    May 23 '17 at 14:44
  • 31
    How about "method as described in Xxxx et al. The description is repeated here for reader convenience."? May 23 '17 at 15:35
  • 5
    @TheGreatDuck The question says "previous papers of the same researcher". May 23 '17 at 15:39
  • 4
    @innisfree I think that really depends. If I'm writing several lab reports in a row for the same program, chances are high that if the experiments are similar that I'll take the previous lab report and delete the irrelevant stuff and fill in with new material. I'm specifically referring to the part about steps in doing the experiment. Granted, those were not to be published as they were just assignments as part of a lab class. However, the point still stands that it being reused has nothing to with plagiarism. If the papers are meant to go together, I see no reason why one cannot do that
    – user64742
    May 23 '17 at 15:44

For methods, probably very few people notice or care about copy pastes (for the reasons said by others here, although I more often see "as described", which can be a pain).

That being said, from a strict definition, self-plagiarism is still plagiarism. Referencing something and quoting it word-for-word are two very different things. Plagiarism software should pick it up and self-plagiarising is technically academic misconduct. Outside of methods I would consider it the reddest of red flags.

  • 5
    Just to clarify - using the same text again is not plagiarism. It is not indicating the source of the text that makes it so.
    – Floris
    May 23 '17 at 20:12
  • 1
    @Floris for plagiarism, the copied (or paraphrased) text and material needs to be clearly highlighted with quotes. Omitting those quotes can be serious academic misconduct. Sorry for the nitpicking, but I'm sure not all readers find this obvious. That's probably less true for self-plagiarism or for standard boilerplate. May 23 '17 at 22:40
  • 1
    @Blaisorblade yes of course. Thanks for clarifying
    – Floris
    May 23 '17 at 23:50

This came up a number of years ago on a technical program committee for a computer science systems conference. If I remember correctly, someone identified a page or two of text that was identical to another publication, people objected, and the paper was rejected over the self-plagiarism issue.

So it does happen, and some people do care. That doesn't mean it isn't relatively common, and also, the amount of repeated text here was more (let's say 2 pages out of a 12 page paper), not just a couple of paragraphs.

But it is clearly a gray area, and something that some people feel more strongly about than others. I think if I were reviewing a paper with that sort of overlap, either with another published paper or a dual submission to the same venue, it would be a red flag, and I would push back. But if it was just a couple of paragraphs about background or methodologies, I wouldn't reject it out of hand. Some might.

My own approach is to start each paper anew, unless I'm extending something explicitly (conference->journal). Call that rewrite for the sake of rewrite if you like, it's definitely safer.

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