Ethical Aspects of Multiple Projects - From a Single Work to Multiple Scholarly Spin-Offs - Writing as Professional Development

Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016

Ethical Aspects of Multiple Projects
From a Single Work to Multiple Scholarly Spin-Offs
Writing as Professional Development

Whenever we conduct workshops on writing for publication, one common question has to do with “working smarter”—in other words, how can scholars maximize the time invested in scholarly activities? Without a doubt, generating multiple scholarly products from a body of work has appeal. One word of caution has to do with self-plagiarism. Self-plagiarism also occurs when authors take essentially the same piece of writing and present it as something new. After work has been accepted for publication, authors are routinely required to sign a copyright transfer agreement. You cannot use any of the same wording or you will plagiarize yourself (Stichler & Nielsen, 2014). This is sometimes surprising to faculty members who see it as “their” work, to use as they wish. But, most of the time, the copyright is, just as the agreement form indicates, a transfer of copyright to another entity, so you would need to get written permission to use the entire piece for another purpose or to quote from it extensively.

Online Tool

The fillable pdf of the Wiley Blackwell Copyright Transfer Form is typical of the terms authors agree to when publishing their work.

Baggs (2008) and others have described the pitfalls of trying to publish too many articles from one data set—what they refer to as “salami science” because the body of work is shaved very thin. The issue is serious, as evidenced by this excerpt from guidelines by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (2016):

The author must alert the editor if the manuscript includes subjects about which the authors have published a previous report or have submitted a related report to another publication. Any such report must be referred to and referenced in the new paper. Copies of such material should be included with the submitted manuscript to help the editor decide how to handle the matter. If redundant or duplicate publication is attempted or occurs without such notification, authors should expect editorial action to be taken. (Section III.D.2)

This does not mean that one cannot legitimately divide a dissertation or other large research project into meaningful segments for publication. It does mean that doing so requires thoughtful planning and careful communication with the editor. Multiple publications on the same topic may make it difficult to avoid self-plagiarism (Broome, 2004). For example, if the dissertation literature review is published as a review article, it is challenging to write new background sections for related articles. One approach is to target literature for data based articles that specifically supports that narrower topic, making it easier to synthesize the literature in such a way that it does not duplicate the earlier publication.