Here at DC Student Defense, a problem we regularly encounter is with self-plagiarism. If you are a student, you may be very familiar, or at least somewhat familiar, with what plagiarism is. Plagiarism is taught to students from an early age in order to teach them how to avoid it. Plagiarism has many different definitions, but the core idea is not to use the thoughts, words or ideas of another person by passing it off as your own. You now may be wondering, what is self-plagiarism? Well, the answer is in the name; it refers to the fact that you can also plagiarize yourself (i.e. your own thoughts, words and ideas).
Often this is through student’s use of a previous paper they have turned in for a class in order to complete a new paper for a present class assignment. The previous paper used can be your high school U.S. History paper’s material for a college level Introduction to American Politics course or even a middle school biology research paper on volcanoes being used again in high school biology. Essentially – if you have turned in any part of an assignment previously and are using it in whole or in part for a new assignment, you are guilty of self-plagiarism.
You now may be wondering – how is that fair? Well, the principle behind self-plagiarism is the same as plagiarism in the eyes of school administrators – it shows that you did not do the work assigned to you on your own. You either used help from others or from your own previous assignments. Many students struggle with this idea and continue to either live in ignorance of what self-plagiarism is or simply disagree with the logic behind it. It is a confusing concept that you can plagiarize yourself; however, anyone who has ever done it or thought about doing it will see why it is wrong. Not only are you cutting corners on your assignments, but you are also doing a disservice to your current teacher or professor to turn in work from one of your previous classes. The point of this new assignment is to show that you’ve learned from your current course, and if you use an assignment from your previous class, it shows you haven’t really learned anything (or haven’t tried).
You may even think you can get away with self-plagiarism. You think, “There is no way this professor will know I used this paper in high school”. However, you’d be wrong to assume there is no way for the professor to find out. Many teachers, as early as middle school, submit papers that they receive to programs like Safe Assign TM which automatically saves the material into its database and compares new material to its database. Therefore, if your paper was submitted in high school, it was saved into the database, and if you current professor submits your paper, it will show up as a 100% plagiarism match. Even if you think that’s an easy explanation: “I used my own work, I didn’t plagiarism anyone else”, educational institutions consider plagiarism and self-plagiarism the same thing. Therefore, you can receive academic integrity charges for plagiarism, even if it is self-plagiarism.
Our best advice is to avoid using your work from previous classes for current assignments. If, however, you feel that you have a good reason to use work from a previous class, you should ask both your previous and current teacher or professor for permission to use your old work.
These materials have been prepared by WGW for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.