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Bigger Pictures: Self-Plagiarism? Oh Yeah, It’s a Thing

Penn shield in brick on the side of a building

“I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; 

l looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me.”

     ~  Woody Allen

In the Mansion of Plagiarism, there are many rooms. Most are familiar. There’s the Great Hall of Blatant Theft, where aggressive plagiarists expropriate the work of others and attempt to pass it off as their own, to say nothing of the Parlor of Poor Paraphrasing and the Gallery of Insufficient Citation.

While the Coat Closet of Self-Plagiarism has always been on the Mansion of Plagiarism Tour, it’s just easy to breeze by. So let’s take this opportunity to linger a moment and rummage around and see just what’s hanging out.

As far as students go, the most common self-plagiarism involves “recycling” a paper, either in part or in its entirety. In other words, say you write a paper for one class. Then, in another class covering similar or related topics, you elect to use the paper from the previous class. What’s the problem?

The problem begins (as so many problems do) with a rationalization. The rationalization for committing self-plagiarism boils down to ownership – I’m not stealing somebody else’s work, its mine to begin with. Thus ends the rationalization.

The Code of Academic Integrity has some news for this particular rationalization. You simply are not permitted to pass off previously submitted work as new work.  And if you didn’t know deep down in the utter depths of your very soul that recycling your entire paper wasn’t wrong… well, you do now.

But what if you decide to use just part of the paper, not the whole thing, just some of it, that couldn’t possibly be wrong, could it? Well, you’re right, there’s nothing wrong with using some of your original paper, so long as you clearly cite it and, of course, follow the formatting requirements of the required style manual, most commonly Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Association (APA), or the Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago). But, remember, all the usual rules of quoting and paraphrasing apply.  For instance, you wouldn’t turn in a 10-page paper with a direct quote stretching a page and a half in bloc form from any source, would you? Well, don’t.

Anyway, it’s getting stuffy in here, and closets are for mothballs, not students.

By Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Specialist, Weingarten Center

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