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Referencing And Citation

Plagiarism in Scientific Writing: What It Is and How to Avoid It


Amy Clark, Associate Editor, and Teri Surprenant, Managing Editor, Language Editing

March 2020

Scientific research builds on the work of past and contemporary scientists and using the work of others is necessary. However, when presenting your research, you need to recognize any work of others that is included. Plagiarism is unattributed copying of another researcher’s work presented as if it were one’s own. Text recycling , also called self-plagiarism, is re-use of portions of the same text from one’s own previously published work. The U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) provides a definition of plagiarism as “both the theft or misappropriation of intellectual property and the substantial unattributed textual copying of another's work.”

Plagiarism is unethical, and if detected it will negatively affect your career. Moreover, textual plagiarism is easy to detect. Publishers regularly use the software iThenticate to check for duplicated text. To learn more about how iThenticate works, read our Learning Nexus article Understanding the Similarity Score.

So how do you avoid textual plagiarism? We recommend the following:

The key to all of the above steps is to ask 1) whether the reader might be misled into thinking content from someone else’s work is your own, or 2) in the case of text-recycling, the reader might be misled into thinking your own previously published work is being presented for the first time. Remember, always give proper attribution where due.

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