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What is self-plagiarism?

By March 28, 2019September 25th, 2023No Comments

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.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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