Can You Plagiarize… Yourself?

Spider-Man, 19b, “Double Identity,” produced by Grantray Lawrence Animation, aired January 13, 1967, on ABC.

At some point as a student, you may be assigned a paper very similar to one you’ve written in the past for another class. You might start thinking about saving hours of precious time by resubmitting that old paper for this new assignment.

Turns out that’s not a great idea. In fact, resubmitting that old paper as a new work is considered a form of self-plagiarism.

Self-plagiarism by students often means submitting an old assignment from one course to meet the requirements of another, and presenting it as new work. It can also involve directly copying or paraphrasing portions of one’s own writings into a new paper, without citing the original paper.

Sure, with published academic work, self-plagiarism seems like a much more serious offense. Authors who self-plagiarize may be violating the copyrights of journals in which they’ve already published their work. Self-plagiarism can give the false impression that recycled writings or data represent new research.  In comparison, recycling an unpublished paper as a student might seem innocuous. You aren’t stealing someone else’s work or skewing scientific consensus, so what’s wrong with reusing a paper you’ve already written?

It all comes down to honesty. When an instructor gives you an assignment, they expect you to return an original work product. Ideally, you should learn something valuable from doing the assignment. Self-plagiarism not only misrepresents the originality of the work, but you also cheat yourself out of the knowledge you would have gained by doing original work for the new assignment.

Self-plagiarism is an act of academic dishonesty.  It’s often specifically mentioned in university policies.  Bellevue University’s Student Academic Dishonesty Policy prohibits “using similar papers or other work product to fulfill the obligations of different classes without the instructor’s permission.”

If you do end up in a situation where you want to use previously submitted work for a new assignment, here’s what to do:

1.Consult with the new assignment’s instructor. They’ll advise you on whether it’s appropriate and how you can build upon your previous work for the new assignment.

2. Properly cite your previous work. If you have permission to use parts of your old paper, even if it was unpublished, cite your original work with the same diligence and correct formatting you would use when referencing another author’s work. Take a look at our Citing Sources LibGuide for citation resources.

3. Don’t try to be sneaky. Anti-plagiarism tools like Turnitin will detect the similarities in a recycled work if you already submitted it for a previous assignment. Consequences for academic dishonesty can range from a lowered grade to expulsion from the University. The hours you tried to save by copying an old paper are nothing compared to retaking a whole course.

For more information on plagiarism, check out the Plagiarism section of our Copyright Center LibGuide.

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