Text Recycling in Scientific Research Writing

September 1st, 2017 - August 31st, 2022 | PROJECT

Often called "self-plagiarism," text recycling occurs frequently in scientific writing. Over the past decade, increasing numbers of scientific journals have begun using plagiarism detection software to screen submitted manuscripts. As a result, large numbers of cases of text recycling are being identified, yet there is no consensus on what constitutes ethically acceptable practice. Text recycling is thus an increasingly important and controversial ethical issue in scientific communication. However, little actual research has been conducted on text recycling and it is rarely addressed in the ethical training of researchers or in scientific writing textbooks or websites. To promote the ethical and appropriate use of text recycling, this project will be conducted in two phases: In Phase 1, the researchers will investigate the ethical, practical, and legal aspects of text recycling as relevant for professional researchers, students, and publishers. In Phase 2, the investigators will produce educational materials and develop model language for text recycling guidelines and author-publisher contracts that can be adapted by educational institutions, research organizations, and publishers.

This project is a multi-institutional, multidisciplinary investigation of text recycling, the reuse of material from one?s previous work in a new manuscript. In Phase 1, the researchers will investigate questions such as these: What do expert researchers, students, and others involved in scientific communication believe to be appropriate practice, and why? Where is there a clear consensus among experts and where is there substantive disagreement? How often do professional scientists actually recycle material, and in what ways? Under what circumstances does text recycling violate publisher contracts or copyright laws? One facet of this research will involve interviewing and surveying experienced STEM faculty, students, journal editors, and others regarding the ethics of text recycling. A second facet will analyze a corpus of published scientific papers to investigate how researchers recycle text in practice and how this has changed over time. The third facet involves analyzing publisher contracts to better understand the rights of publishers and authors regarding text recycling and to assess their legal validity. In Phase 2, the investigators will use findings from Phase 1 to develop, test, and disseminate two kinds of materials: The first are web and print based instructional materials for STEM students (and others new to STEM research) explaining the ethical, legal, and practical issues involved with text recycling, as well as accompanying documents for faculty, administrators, and librarians. The second are model policies and guidelines for text recycling that address appropriate practice in both academic and professional settings. The investigators will obtain feedback on drafts of these materials from potential users and revise them accordingly, after which they will be disseminated.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Team Members

Cary Moskovitz, Principal Investigator, Duke University


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Cultivating Cultures of Ethica, AISL, DISCOVERY RESEARCH K-12
Award Number: 1737093
Funding Amount: $479,367.00


Audience: Administration | Leadership | Policymakers | Educators | Teachers | Scientists | Undergraduate | Graduate Students
Discipline: General STEM | History | policy | law
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Higher Education Programs