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Writing in Style

Avoiding Plagiarism and Self-Plagiarism

By Brieann Kinsey & Victoria Comerchero

The purpose of this article is to assist researchers and students in understanding how to best avoid plagiarism and self-plagiarism. With the advent of new technologies, it is difficult to always know how to credit a source appropriately. For students and researchers, the word “plagiarism” conjures up much anxiety. However, most issues of plagiarism can be easily avoided.

As explicitly stated in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), “Researchers do not claim the words and ideas of another as their own; they give credit where credit is due” (APA, 2009, p. 15). The previous sentence provides a concrete example of how to cite a direct quotation. When quoting a short statement (less than 40 words), you simply restate the authors' words and insert the authors, year of publication, and page numbers in parentheses with the period following the parentheses. Even if you are paraphrasing material and not directly quoting it, you should still cite the original source in this manner, just without the quotation marks.

The format for citing long quotes is quite different from citing a shorter quote. If a quotation is longer than 40 words, it is formatted as an indented, freestanding block of text without quotation marks (APA, 2009, p. 171). The following illustrates an example of how a long quote would appear in the manuscript:

Quotation marks should be used to indicate the exact words of another. Each time you paraphrase another author (i.e., summarize a passage or rearrange the order of a sentence and change some of the words), you need to credit the source in the text. (APA, 2009, p. 171)

If you use a long quote from a copyrighted source, you may also need permission to reprint the text. This permission would need to be granted, in writing, by the copyright holder—who is not necessarily the author! Journals often hold copyright over articles; the rights to book chapters are usually held by the publisher. These organizations have their own policies on when permission is needed, so it is always best to check before you use a longer, substantial quote. As an author, it is your responsibility to obtain necessary permissions and include copies when submitting your new manuscript for publication, or else you risk your work being rejected for print.

Self-plagiarism may present the researcher with a bit more ambiguity. “Just as researchers do not present the word of others as their own (plagiarism), they do not present their own previously published work as new scholarship” (APA, 2009, p. 16). The manual states that the main body of the new document should provide an “original contribution to knowledge” (APA, 2009, p. 16) and that the new work should only include as much previously published material as is necessary to understand the new material being presented. Using opening comments such as “I have previously indicated” will let the reader know what material being presented has been previously published. Also, as mentioned above, the rights to your previous works are likely owned by the company or journal that published them. This means that you may need the publisher's written permission to quote your own work, if the quotes are extensive.

So how do you cite yourself in a reference section? The answer to that is, the same way you would cite another author. Simply use the proper APA format for your citation. A good way to see how this is done is to examine some articles by some of the most prolific researchers (e.g., Martin Seligman) to see how their prior work is cited both within the text and in the reference section. In any case, it is important to cite your work appropriately in the reference section so that other readers will be able to find the original sources of your work.

Also keep in mind that plagiarism and self-plagiarism can occur not only with text, but also in tables, figures, photos, artwork, and other graphics—even those with superficial modifications. Reused tables and graphics “must be clearly marked as reprinted or adapted, and the original source must be provided both in the text and in a footnote to the table or figure” (APA, 2009, p. 14). Just like with long quotes, you will need to obtain written permission to reprint or adapt any figures or tables from copyrighted publications, such as NASP books or journals.

In conclusion, avoiding plagiarism and self-plagiarism is important and fairly straightforward. If you take the time to ensure that all quotes and paraphrases give the source both within the text and within the reference section, your chances of avoiding plagiarism will be greatly enhanced.

Reference

American Psychological Association. (2009). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.


Brieann Kinsey is NASP Manager of Editorial Production. Victoria Comerchero, PhD, is an assistant professor of school psychology at Touro College, New York, NY.