Self-plagiarism, also referred to as ‘text recycling’, is a topical issue and is currently generating much discussion among editors. Opinions are divided as to how much text overlap with an author’s own previous publications is acceptable, and editors often find it hard to judge when action is required. In an attempt to get some consensus and consistency on the issue, editors at BioMed Central have produced some guidelines (see below). They would very much welcome your feedback and invite you to comment on the guidelines below.
It will also be the topic for discussion at the next COPE Forum on 12 March, so do read the guidelines and then leave your comments.
How to deal with text recycling
These guidelines are intended to guide editors in dealing with cases of text recycling. Text recycling, also known as self-plagiarism, is when sections of the same text appear in more than one of an author’s own publications.
Editors should consider each case of text recycling on an individual basis as the most appropriate course of action will depend on a number of factors.
When should action be considered?
Text recycling can take many forms, and editors should consider which parts of the text have been recycled. Duplication of data is likely to always be considered serious (and should be dealt with according to the COPE guidelines for duplicate publications [1,2]. Use of similar or identical phrases in methods sections where there are limited ways to describe a common method, however, is not uncommon. In such cases, an element of text recycling is likely to be unavoidable in further publications using the same method. Editors should use their discretion when deciding how much overlap of methods text is acceptable, considering factors such as whether authors have been transparent and stated that the methods have already been described in detail elsewhere and provided a citation. Duplication of background ideas in the introduction may be considered less significant than duplication of the hypothesis, discussion, or conclusions.
When significant overlap is identified between two or more articles, editors should consider taking action. Several factors may need to be taken into account when deciding whether the overlap is considered significant.
Text recycling in a submitted manuscript
Text recycling may be identified in a submitted article by editors or reviewers, or by the use of plagiarism detection software, e.g. CrossCheck. Editors should consider the extent of the overlap when deciding how to act. Where overlap is considered to be minor, authors may be asked to re-write overlapping sections, and cite their previous article(s). More significant overlap may result in rejection of the manuscript. Where the overlap includes data, Editors should handle cases according to the COPE flowchart for dealing with suspected redundant publication in a submitted manuscript .
Text recycling in a published article
If text recycling is discovered in a published article, it may be necessary to publish a correction to, or retraction of, the original article. This decision will depend on the degree and nature of the overlap, and several factors will need to be considered. As for text recycling in a submitted manuscript, editors should handle cases of overlap in data according to the COPE flowchart for dealing with suspected redundant publication in a published article .
Journal editors should consider publishing a correction article when:
- Sections of the text, generally excluding methods, are identical or near identical to a previous publication by the same author(s);
- The original publication is not referenced in the subsequent publication; but
- There is still sufficient new material in the article to justify its publication.
The correction should amend the literature by adding the missing citation and clarifying what is new in the subsequent publication versus the original publication.
Journal editors should consider publishing a retraction article when:
- There is significant overlap in the text, generally excluding methods, with sections that are identical or near identical to a previous publication by the same author(s);
- The recycled text reports previously published data and there is insufficient new material in the article to justify its publication in light of the previous publication(s).
- The recycled text forms the major part of the discussion or conclusion in the article.
- The overlap breaches copyright.
The retraction should be issued in line with the COPE retraction guidelines .
How far back should this be applied?
Attitudes towards text recycling have changed over the past decade. Editors should consider this when deciding how to deal with individual cases of text recycling in published articles. Editors should judge each case in line with accepted practice at the time of publication.
In general, where overlap does not involve duplication of results, editors are advised to consider taking no corrective action for cases where the text recycling occurred earlier than 2004. Editors may wish to take corrective action in the case of duplication of data prior to this date and should follow the COPE flowchart for dealing with suspected redundant publication in a published article .
Opinion, Review and Commentary articles
Non-research article types such as Opinion, Review and Commentary articles should in principle adhere to the same guidelines as research articles. Due to the critical and opinion-based nature of some non-research article types, action should be considered when text is recycled from an earlier publication without any further novel development of previously published opinions or ideas or when they are presented as novel without any reference to previous publications.
1. COPE flowchart for suspected redundant publication in a submitted manuscript http://publicationethics.org/files/u2/01A_Redundant_Submitted.pdf
2. COPE flowchart for suspected redundant publication in a published article http://publicationethics.org/files/u2/01B_Redundant_Published.pdf
3. COPE guidelines for retracting articles http://www.publicationethics.org/files/retraction%20guidelines.pdf