4 tips from Elsevier to avoid accidental plagiarism


Plagiarism is a serious violation in academia. Sometimes researchers are unaware they are plagiarizing – but ignorance is no excuse. So it’s important to know what plagiarism entails and how to avoid any unintentional plagiarism errors.

We present you the following recommendations for avoiding accidental plagiarism posted on the website of the well-known world publisher Elsevier:

1. Understand the discipline’s writing style

The style of writing differs across disciplines in academia. Every discipline has a unique way of communicating findings and interacting with stakeholders in their field. As Melanie Rügenhagen (Manager of the HEADT Centre and doctoral candidate at the Berlin School of Library and Information Science at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) explained:

«Discipline-based customs of writing are different in the natural sciences than, for example, in the social sciences. Reusing texts in some discipline is simply more common than in others, and this has to be (considered) if you want to determine what is acceptable and what's unacceptable».

2. Use proper citation style for text and images

A clear and proper citation of references saves a researcher from being accused of plagiarism. Failure to properly give credit to works consulted is unethical and tars the researcher’s integrity. Dr. Thorsten Beck, (a postdoctoral researcher at the HEADT Centre) noted that it is important to keep track of the sources of images and other materials to reference them properly.

«There are many different standards and formats when it comes to image citation, and they vary across fields», – he said. – «For example, for an image in a journal article, the image must be referenced and cited together with the article while also including information on the author's source and copyright information on the image. Also, if they image involved post-production, you may want to detail the manipulation and processing that took place in the caption».

3. Understand image rights and permissions

To use an image that is not in the public domain or copyright-free, you must get permission from the owner or cite it according to the requirements of the licensing agreement. Failure to do this can result in image plagiarism. Dr. Beck talked about the case of plagiarism against American artist Hank Wills Thomas, who incorporated an iconic photograph by South African photographer Graeme Williams into his own work.

In some cases, image plagiarism happens inadvertently. As Dr. Beck explained:

«Many cases of inappropriate image plagiarism happen due to error, when data gets mixed up or it's mislabelled or prepared for publication by someone who is not involved in the original experiment, for example. … It may sound obvious, but proper data management is certainly key to avoiding image plagiarism».

He also warned that many people assume images are free to use when they’re not.

«Even if images are retrieved online, (you) should never expect they're free to use. For each image used in a publication, one may have to search for copyright information and ask permission. There are images that are free to use, for example, when they are in the public domain or licensed under the Creative Commons license (with proper attribution) or even copyright free».

4. Know the «PhD by publication» rules at your institution
Can an author reuse a research article they published as their PhD thesis or disseration? Or will it be considered as plagiarism? This question is central to the PhD by publication model adopted by some universities across the world. According to Prof. Dr Michael Seadle (founding co-director of the HEADT Centre) and Dr. IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg (Elsevier’s Senior VP for Research Integrity (moderator)), this model cannot be deemed plagiarism.

Dr. Seadle said he’s seen examples of this in his own work as a professor. As he explained, it is legitimate if it’s planned in advance with the university committee, «where someone is simply saying they've written an article and they are transforming that into their dissertation». It can also be legitimate «if one makes it very clear that this text comes from this article that I wrote at this time and it is not the dominant piece (but) a segment of it».

Above all, he said, it’s important to check the rules of your university and what your doctoral thesis committee is willing to accept. «Those are very important issues because it varies enormously not just from person to person within the university but from university to university and from country to country».

Source: https://www.elsevier.com/connect/4-tips-to-avoid-accidental-plagiarism


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