What Is Self-Plagiarism, and How Can You Avoid It?

Plagiarism updated on  May 27, 2024 5 min read

Self-plagiarism, or auto-plagiarism, means reusing ideas or specific wording from your own previously submitted or published work.

Yes, you can plagiarize yourself just as you can plagiarize someone else's work. And even if you cite yourself, heavy reuse can still be plagiarism.

This form of plagiarism can overlap with other types of plagiarism. For instance, you might copy something you’ve written before into your work, intending to go back later, rephrase it, and add a citation and a couple of new points. But maybe you forget, making it accidental plagiarism as well as self-plagiarism.

Or you could paste in a couple of paragraphs from your previous work on the same subject, and just change some of your word choices to make it a little different. If you don’t provide a citation, this would be classified as paraphrasing plagiarism as well as self-plagiarism.

Self-plagiarism occurs when you duplicate your work. Consider a few examples:

Submitting the same paper for both literature and English class
Publishing the same article in two different journals
Using the exact same content you wrote for your blog as part of a nonfiction manuscript

Why is self-plagiarism wrong?

We all know there are restrictions when it comes to quoting other authors and using their ideas in our writing. But what about using our own words and ideas? If we came up with them, how can we be stealing them?

Let’s examine some reasons that auto-plagiarism is just as unethical as other forms of plagiarism.

It’s Deceptive

Self-plagiarism might not be theft, like all other forms of plagiarism, but it is a form of deception.

Self-plagiarism is fraud because it gives the impression that old work is brand-new even though it isn’t, which is a misrepresentation of the research and writing process.

It also tries to convince the reader that the author put in more effort than they really did, because all they did was recycle old work.

It Insults the Audience

To gain a deeper understanding of why the dishonesty of self-plagiarism is problematic, think about how you might feel in these cases:

  • As a reader or publisher, reading a novel in which the author reused plot points from a previous novel
  • As a doctor, reading an article in the latest issue of your favorite journal consisting mostly of information that the author already published five years ago
  • As a high school student, spending two weeks writing an original paper and getting the same grade as a classmate who tweaked a similar paper he wrote last year
  • As a dissertation supervisor, reviewing 40,000 words, of which a significant portion have been copied from the candidate’s undergrad work
  • As a marketing manager, publishing content on your company’s website that appears almost verbatim on another company’s site, making it much less likely to show up in searches

Like other types of plagiarism, self-plagiarism is inconsiderate of others. It wastes their time, fails to deliver what it promises, and makes them feel manipulated when they discover it.

It Slows Down the Publishing Process

If the fact that a document contains text from a previously published paper is obvious, it will hold things up right away. Its publication may be canceled entirely, or you may have to go over it again and rewrite the plagiarized parts and add citations.

But if the auto-plagiarism is subtler, it may take more time to investigate. Other people may be tasked with uncovering the extent of the duplicate publication, and there could be major delays or deadline setbacks while they complete the process.

Ultimately, both of these outcomes are the opposite of saving time, making it pointless to engage in self-plagiarism for this reason in the first place.

In the US and plenty of other countries, a previously published paper or document no longer belongs to the author, but to the publisher. As a result, copying text from such a document can violate copyright law.

An author who reuses their previously published work may suffer the legal consequences of plagiarism. They could be sued by the publisher and forced to pay fines. In extreme cases, copyright infringement can result in jail time.

How can I avoid self-plagiarism?

Avoiding plagiarism is typically a matter of being both careful and honest. If you use your previous work, paraphrase and cite it. Keep direct quotes to a minimum. If you include them, use quotation marks and cite them appropriately.

Any old content that you decide to reuse should make up only a tiny part of your new work. If including it truly adds value, then do so, but also look for ways to add some new perspective to it. A majority of your paper should be an original contribution. Always be innovating, as they say.

Some schools store information about or copies of assignments that students have turned in. They may even be able to check other schools’ records. This practice makes you much more likely to be found out if you self-plagiarize.

So if you’re in high school, college, or grad school, it’s a good idea to get clarification from your instructor about the limits of using your old work. They may say you can’t do it at all, or they may just require you to cite yourself. Learn and follow the rules to protect yourself.

Don't Be Afraid to Use the Right Tools

QuillBot has a number of tools that work directly to combat plagiarism. And most of them are free.

QuillBot's Plagiarism Checker. This one is a no-brainer if you're anxious over accidentally reusing your own words. Our Plagiarism Checker scans your document for duplicate text and flags it so you can cite it properly.

Check plagiarism in your text now
QuillBot's detects plagiarism in your text and makes sure that it is plagiarism-free.

QuillBot's Citation Generator. You can create a citation for any previously published text in the click of a button, making sure that everything that needs to be cited has been cited.

Need to Cite sources used by you?
QuillBot's Citation Generator will enable you in quickly creating citations in APA, MLA, Chicago, and other styles.

QuillBot's Paraphraser. If you need to reuse your own writing, use the Paraphraser together with the Citation Generator to ensure academic integrity. The Paraphraser will let you rewrite your work in a variety of different ways to find the perfect tone that supports your paper.

Need to reuse your own writing?
QuillBot's Paraphrasing Tool will let you do that in many different ways

When in doubt, cite your sources. Ask for help, double check your work, paraphrase parts of your previous work, and remember that self-plagiarism = wrong.

Is self-plagiarism cheating?

Self-plagiarism is like cheating because a writer who plagiarizes themselves is trying to pass off old work as new work. This is a dishonest representation of the amount of time and effort a writer has put into a project and how innovative it is.

Can a plagiarism checker detect self-plagiarism?

Yes, a plagiarism checker can find self-plagiarism if the previous work was published or, more often, if it was turned in for credit at a college or university. In the case of unpublished works, the honor system is all we have for now.


Hannah Skaggs

Hannah, a writer and editor since 2017, specializes in clear and concise academic and business writing. She has mentored countless scholars and companies in writing authoritative and engaging content.

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