Self-Plagiarism Explained | Can You Plagiarise Yourself?

Plagiarism often involves using someone else’s words or ideas without proper citation, but it’s also possible to plagiarise yourself.

Self-plagiarism means reusing work that you have already published or submitted for a class. It can involve re-submitting an entire paper, copying or paraphrasing passages or excerpts, or recycling previously collected data.

Self-plagiarism misleads your readers by presenting previous work as completely new and original. If you want to include any text, ideas, or data that you already submitted in previous work, be sure to inform your reader by citing yourself.

To ensure your text doesn’t contain unintentional self-plagiarism, get your document checked before submission by specialised self-plagiarism software, such as our Self-Plagiarism Checker.

For students: Self-plagiarism in university

While self-plagiarism may not be considered as serious as plagiarising someone else’s work, it’s still a form of academic dishonesty. Your academic institution may not accept your work if you recycle your own previous assignments.

Examples of self-plagiarism by students

You may be committing self-plagiarism if you:

  • Submit an assignment from a previous academic year to a current course.
  • Tweak a paper you wrote in secondary school and resubmit it on a university course.
  • Recycle parts of an old assignment without citing it, such as copying and pasting sections or paragraphs from previously submitted work.
Example: Submitting the same paper to two classes
You are studying the battles of World War II in both a literature class and a history class, and a writing assignment asks you to choose a battle to analyse. You may think you are saving time by submitting versions of the same paper to both courses, but in fact you are committing self-plagiarism.
Example: Reusing passages from a previous paper
You are working on your capstone project, your last big piece of coursework before graduation. You have chosen to write a thesis about the effects of Brexit on European commerce. You already wrote a paper about Brexit for a previous course, so you may not see any harm in reusing a section or two in your thesis. However, if you don’t cite yourself, you are committing self-plagiarism.

For academics: Self-plagiarism in published works

Self-plagiarism in academia has ethical and legal implications. Published research is expected to make a new and original contribution to knowledge, so recycling your old work undermines academic integrity. Your journal submissions will likely be rejected if you self-plagiarise.

Examples of self-plagiarism by academics

You may be committing self-plagiarism if you:

  • Reuse a dataset from a previous study (published or not) without letting your reader know
  • Submit a manuscript for publication containing data, conclusions, or passages that have already been published without citing your previous publication
  • Publish multiple similar papers about the same study in different journals
Example: Simultaneous submission
You have conducted research on the effects of the recent elections on policy initiatives. You submit your findings to all relevant academic journals, hoping someone picks them up. You may think you are raising your chances of getting published, but in fact you are at risk of committing self-plagiarism if multiple journals opt to publish your research.
Example: Recycling data
You are working on a new paper about military spending, and realise that a portion of a dataset that you used in a previously published paper would really enhance your current dataset. Since it’s your own data, you don’t see any harm in adding it to your new dataset. However, if you don’t cite yourself, you are committing self-plagiarism.

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Consequences of self-plagiarism

For students

Many universities treat self-plagiarism the same way as other types of plagiarism, with the same consequences for committing it.

At most universities, plagiarism results in an automatic zero on the assignment and sometimes an automatic fail on the course. More serious consequences involve academic probation or even expulsion.

If you reuse a previously submitted assignment, you are also hurting your learning process. Each course has something different to teach you, and resubmitting an old assignment means you aren’t learning anything new.

Some university departments do allow you to reuse previous work under certain circumstances. Make sure you fully understand the policy to avoid facing unforeseen consequences. If your university allows you to reuse elements of your old work, be sure to check with your professors and get permission before doing so.

For academics

The consequences for an academic or researcher who self-plagiarises can be quite severe, ranging from delayed or rejected publication to accusations of copyright infringement.

If your article is too similar to one of your previously published works, the journal is likely to reject it outright or require extensive edits to your submission. This impacts your reputation as a researcher and may lead to future rejections.

Even if the journal allows resubmissions of previously published work, be sure to check whether the original publisher owns the copyright of your paper. If you publish large portions of the same material elsewhere (even with a citation), you may be infringing copyright, which could have legal consequences.

If you had a co-author, be sure to get their permission prior to resubmitting, and give them appropriate credit in the citation. Not doing so could constitute fraud.

How do educational institutions detect self-plagiarism?

In addition to plagiarism software databases, many educational institutions keep databases of submitted assignments. Sometimes, they even have access to databases at other institutions. If you hand in even a portion of an old assignment a second time, the plagiarism software will flag it as self-plagiarism.

Online plagiarism checkers not affiliated with a university do not have access to the internal databases of educational institutions, and therefore their software cannot check your document for self-plagiarism.

In addition to our Plagiarism Checker, Scribbr also offers an Self-Plagiarism Checker. This unique tool allows you to upload your own original sources and compare them with your new assignment. It will flag any unintentional self-plagiarism, in addition to other forms of plagiarism, and helps ensure that you add the correct citations prior to submitting your assignment.

How to avoid self-plagiarism

If you’re unsure whether something counts as self-plagiarism, first check the relevant plagiarism policy – whether it’s that of your university, the journal or publishing house you are submitting to, or your academic department. Plagiarism policies can often be found in the honour code, handbook, or submission requirements.

If there is no explicit policy on self-plagiarism, follow these guidelines.

For students

  • Do not reuse your old assignments. It is likely that at some point in your academic career you will be assigned a topic that you’ve already researched. Never submit the same paper again, even if it’s for a completely different course or school.
  • Talk to your instructor if you want to cover some of the same ideas in your new paper. They can tell you whether it’s acceptable to reuse or rework parts of old assignments.

For academics

  • Do not reuse previously published work. Reusing part of a published text in a new work could constitute copyright infringement, and it misleads readers. To avoid this, make sure every part of your paper is original and written from scratch.
  • If you use old data or ideas, always inform the reader. You might want to build on research you’ve published elsewhere. As long as you use the material in a new and original way and properly cite the publication where it originally appeared, this is generally acceptable.

How to cite yourself

You can cite yourself just like you would cite any other source. Be sure that you have permission from your instructor to reuse previous content before doing so, and indicate in your citation if the source is unpublished.

Example: Citing an unpublished thesis
Format Author last nameInitials. (Year). Thesis title [Unpublished type of dissertation/thesis]. University Name.
Reference entry Merkus, J. (2018). The power of reading: The effect of different reading methods on the vocabulary of multilingual children [Unpublished master’s thesis]. Radboud University.
In-text citation (Merkus, 2018, p. 15)
Format Author last name, Initial. (YearThesis title. Unpublished type of dissertation/thesis. University Name.
Bibliography entry Merkus, J. (2018) The power of reading: the effect of different reading methods on the vocabulary of multilingual children. Unpublished master’s thesis. Radboud University.
In-text citation (Merkus, 2018, p. 15)

Scribbr’s Self-Plagiarism Checker for self-plagiarism

Online plagiarism scanners do not have access to internal university databases, and therefore cannot check your document for self-plagiarism.

Using Scribbr’s Self-Plagiarism Checker, you can upload your previous work and compare it to your current document:

  • Your thesis or dissertation
  • Your essays or assignments
  • Any other published or unpublished documents

The checker will scan the texts for similarities and flag any passages where you might have self-plagiarised.

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Frequently asked questions about plagiarism

Can I plagiarise myself?

Yes, reusing your own work without citation is considered self-plagiarism. This can range from resubmitting an entire assignment to reusing passages or data from something you’ve handed in previously.

Self-plagiarism often has the same consequences as other types of plagiarism. If you want to reuse content you wrote in the past, make sure to check your university’s policy or consult your professor.

When do I need to cite myself?

If you are reusing content or data you used in a previous assignment, make sure to cite yourself. You can cite yourself the same way you would cite any other source: simply follow the directions for the citation style you are using.

Keep in mind that reusing prior content can be considered self-plagiarism, so make sure you ask your instructor or consult your university’s handbook prior to doing so.

Does Turnitin check for self-plagiarism?

Most institutions have an internal database of previously submitted student assignments. Turnitin can check for self-plagiarism by comparing your paper against this database. If you’ve reused parts of an assignment you already submitted, it will flag any similarities as potential plagiarism.

Online plagiarism checkers don’t have access to your institution’s database, so they can’t detect self-plagiarism of unpublished work. If you’re worried about accidentally self-plagiarising, you can use Scribbr’s Self-Plagiarism Checker to upload your unpublished documents and check them for similarities.

What happens if I plagiarise?

The consequences of plagiarism vary depending on the type of plagiarism and the context in which it occurs. For example, submitting a whole essay by someone else will usually have severe consequences, while accidental citation errors are considered less serious.

If you’re a student, then you might fail the course, be suspended or expelled, or be obligated to attend a workshop on plagiarism. It depends on whether it’s your first offence or you’ve done it before.

As an academic or professional, plagiarising seriously damages your reputation. You might also lose your research funding and/or your job, and you could even face legal consequences for copyright infringement.

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Tegan George

Tegan is an American based in Amsterdam, with master's degrees in political science and education administration. While she is definitely a political scientist at heart, her experience working at universities led to a passion for making social science topics more approachable and exciting to students. A well-designed natural experiment is her favorite type of research, but she also loves qualitative methods of all varieties.

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