Duplicate publication, etc.

Is it possible to plagiarise oneself?

As suggested by an article entitled "Self-plagiarism: Oxymoron, fair use, or scientific misconduct?" by Broome (2004), the term 'self-plagiarism' may indeed sound like an oxymoron (a contradiction in terms). However, as Broome writes,

Unlike plagiarism, a practice in which one copies the work of another individual without acknowledgement of the original source, self-plagiarism refers to the not-so-uncommon practice of "reusing" some of one's own already-published writings in a subsequently published article. This is related to, but not the same thing as, duplicate publishing when an author submits (and has accepted and published) the same manuscript to 2 different journals with very little change in any of the text. (p. 273)

Re-publication of texts may, of course, be warranted, for instance when a text is translated, an out-of-print text is being republished, or when previously published facts are presented in a new way and with a new aim.

In some fields it is common for researchers to publish several articles on similar issues, and the borders between what is new material and what can be regarded as re-publication can be fuzzy. Writers therefore need to make sure that they follow the policies of journals and publishing houses, many of which have strict regulations concerning duplicate, or dual, publication. It is generally understood that texts should not be simultaneously submitted to more than one publisher and that writers should always state any correlation to their own previous publications on the topic.

Example: A case of duplicate publication (click to expand/contract)

Duplicate publication is sometimes the result of writers not being fully aware of publication conventions. In order to discuss the problems attached to duplicate publication, Reeves, Wise and Drummond (2004) presented an authentic case where two articles, written by the same authors and published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (JAC) and the American Journal of Medicine (AJM), respectively, were found to be so alike that both journals decided to contact the writers.

It turned out that the authors had previously submitted an article to another journal, which had rejected it, suggesting "that the paper might be better split into two articles, each addressing one of the main audiences that would be interested in the results" (p. 411). Following this advice, the authors

prepared the two papers that were subsequently submitted to and accepted for publication by JAC and AJM. However, neither submission cross-referenced the other and neither journal was provided with a copy of the submission that had been made to the other. Copies of such material are expressly requested in the JAC Instructions to authors, and in the advice provided by most scientific journals. (p. 411)

Since it was concluded that the authors did not intend to deceive, the editors of the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy

decided that […] no further action would be taken against the authors. Authors should be aware, however, that a wide range of sanctions are available and can include one or more of banning authors from submitting to the Journal for a specified time period, informing the authors' employers or professional body and requesting an investigation, informing other journals, and publishing a rebuke. JAC has banned other authors from submission in the past. AJM's conclusions and action have already been published, along with a letter of apology by the authors. (p. 411)

For further reading: Duplicate publication: A matter of discussion (click to expand/contract)

In 2008, an article in Nature sparked off a discussion concerning duplicate publication. Erramer and Garner (2008) suggested an increase in duplicate publication, identifying what they referred to as "the three major sins of modern publishing: duplication, co-submission and plagiarism" (p. 397). In order to curb this problem, Erramer and Garner proposed that scholarly journals use text-matching systems (software tools for plagiarism detection) similar to those used at schools and in undergraduate university teaching.

In a response to Erramer and Garner, David (2008) argued that duplicate publication can actually be defended, provided that the use of previously published works is referred to and that copyright violation is avoided. His point was that texts that are recycled, with the constraints he listed, may reach a larger audience, whereas,  "Efforts to suppress the dissemination of scientific knowledge by overregulation call to mind the Inquisition, which was established to prevent spiritual wrong-doing in the Middle Ages" (p. 29).

Acknowledging related publications

Whenever a text or part of a text is re-published, reference to the original publication must be given.

Below are authentic examples of three common forms of scholarly re-publication that show different ways of phrasing such references to previous publications. Writers should always check with editors and journal guidelines for preferred style, since practices may vary between disciplines and between journals.

To avoid copyright violation, writers must also obtain permission for re-publication from the copyright holder of the original text (illustration, etc.).

Example: How to acknowledge duplicate publication (click to expand/contract)

Here are some authentic acknowledgements of duplicate publications, taken from different kinds of publications and written in different styles:

Article re-publication in the same journal

In the following example, a footnote attached to the article title indicates that it is a re-publication with some updates:

This article was first published in J Pathol 1999; 187: 503-510. An 'update' section has been added at the end.

(Thompson, Li & Maragoudakis, 2000, 330n)


Re-publication in new format

A text can be re-published within a different genre; for instance, a journal article can be re-published as a book chapter, or vice versa. In the example below, a footnote to the article title indicates that the text originally appeared in a textbook the same year:

This article was first published in Textbook of Uncommon Cancer Second Edition. Edited by D. Raghavan, M. L. Brecher, D. H. Johnson, N. J. Meropol, P. L. Moots and J. T. Thigpen © 1999 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

(Young, 1999, 53n)


Publication of conference presentations

Conference presentations are often turned into written form (journal article or book chapter). Unless the text is published in the conference proceedings (where it is obvious to readers that it was presented at the conference in question), a reference to the first performance/publication of the piece is needed. In the following example, the first presentation of the paper is recorded towards the end of the abstract of the article:

This paper was originally presented at the Richardson Research Seminar in the History of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College.

(Hart, 2008, 516)

Advice: How to avoid redundant publication: For editors and for writers (click to expand/contract)

What should an editor do if he/she suspects unacknowledged redundant (duplicate) publication? Publishing companies and journals have guidelines for this, and such guidelines are useful for writers as well, since they define what redundant publication is as well as offering suggestions on how to deal with it. 

Here are some more resources on duplicate or overlapping publications: