Cary Moskovitz. Standardizing terminology for text recycling in research writing. Learned Publishing (Forthcoming)
Because research in science, engineering, and medical fields advances incrementally, researchers routinely write papers that build directly on their prior work. While each new research article is expected to make a novel contribution, researchers often need to repeat some material—method details, background, and so on—from their previous articles, a practice called “text recycling.” While increasing awareness of text recycling has led to the proliferation of policies, journal editorials, and scholarly articles addressing the practice, these documents tend to employ inconsistent terminology—using different terms to name the same key ideas and, even more problematic, using the same terms with different meanings. These inconsistencies make it difficult for readers to know precisely how the ideas or expectations articulated in one document relate to those of others. This paper first clarifies the problems with current terminology, showing how key terms are used inconsistently across publisher policies for authors, guidelines for editors, and textbooks on research ethics. It then offers a new taxonomy of text recycling practices with terms designed to align with the acceptability of these practices in common research writing and publishing contexts.
Cary Moskovitz & Aaron Colton. iThenticate, Self-plagiarism and Fraud: A Complicated Relationship. Inside Higher Ed (Forthcoming)
iThenticate’s widely-cited white paper, “The Ethics of Self-Plagiarism” might look like an authoritative, scholarly guide, but it is produced by a for-profit, plagiarism-detection business with a virtual monopoly across academe, scholarly publishing and government. Given this clear conflict of interest, the academic community should know exactly what this document says, as well as what it is: a disguised marketing ploy that misrepresents the realities and ethics of academic research.
Text recycling in STEM: A text-analytic study of recently published research articles. Accountability in Research (2020) . LINK FULL TEXT
Over the past decade, text recycling has become an increasingly debated practice in research ethics, especially in science and technology fields. Little is known, however, about researchers’ actual text recycling practices. We report here on a computational analysis of text recycling in published research articles in STEM disciplines. Using a tool we created in R, we analyze a corpus of 400 published articles from 80 federally-funded research projects across eight disciplinary clusters. According to our analysis, STEM research groups frequently recycle some material from their previously published articles. On average, papers in our corpus contained about three recycled sentences per article, though a minority of research teams (around 15%) recycled substantially more content. These findings were generally consistent across STEM disciplines. We also find evidence that researchers superficially alter recycled prose more often than recycling it verbatim. Based on our findings, which suggest that recycling some amount of material is normative in STEM research writing, researchers and editors would benefit from more appropriate and explicit guidance about what constitutes legitimate practice and how authors should report the presence of recycled material.
Cary Moskovitz. There is no absolute expectation about text recycling, Clinical Biochemistry (2020). LINK FULL-TEXT
The recent essay, “How to write (and how not to write) a scientific review article” raises an important concern about reviews that contain excessive amounts of recycled material, but misrepresents norms on text recycling in scientific writing.
Cary Moskovitz & Susanne Hall. Text Recycling in STEM Research: An Exploratory Investigation of Expert and Novice Beliefs and Attitudes. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, March, 2020. LINK FULL-TEXT
When writing journal articles, STEM researchers produce a number of other genres such as grant proposals and conference posters, and their articles routinely build directly on their own prior work. As a result, STEM authors often reuse material from their completed documents in producing new documents. While this practice, known as text recycling (or self-plagiarism), is a debated issue in publishing and research ethics, little is known about researchers’ beliefs about what constitutes appropriate practice. This article presents results from an exploratory, survey-based study on beliefs and attitudes toward text recycling among STEM “experts” (faculty researchers) and “novices” (graduate students and postdocs). While expert and novice researchers are fairly consistent in distinguishing between text recycling and plagiarism, there is considerable disagreement about appropriate text recycling practice.
Chris Anson, Susanne Hall, Michael A. Pemberton & Cary Moskovitz. Reuse in STEM Research Writing: Rhetorical and Practical Considerations and Challenges. AILA Review, Vol. 33, 2020, pp. 120–135. LINK FULL TEXT
Text recycling involves the verbatim reuse of text from one’s own existing documents in a newly-created text— such as the duplication of a paragraph or section from a published article in a new article. Although plagiarism is widely eschewed across academia and the publishing industry, the ethics of text recycling are not agreed upon and are currently being vigorously debated. In this article, we first describe and illustrate text recycling in the context of academic writing. We then explain and document several themes that emerged from interviews with publishers of peer-reviewed academic journals. These themes demonstrate the vexed and unsettle nature of text recycling as a discursive phenomenon in academic writing and publishing. In doing so, we focus on the complex relationships between personal (role-based) and social (norm-based) aspects of scientific publication, complicating conventional models of the writing process that have inadequately accounted for authorial decisions about accuracy, efficiency, self-representation, adherence to existing or imagined rules and norms, perceptions of ownership and copyright, and fears of impropriety.
Ian Anson, Cary Moskovitz & Chris Anson. A Text-Analytic Method for Identifying Text Recycling in STEM Research Reports. Writing Analytics, Vol. 3, 2019. LINK
Text recycling—the reuse of one’s own textual materials from one document in a new document—is a common but hotly debated and unsettled practice in many academic disciplines, especially in the context of peer-reviewed journal articles. Although several analytic systems have been used to determine replication of text—for example, for purposes of identifying plagiarism—they do not offer an optimal way to compare documents to determine the nature and extent of text recycling in order to study and theorize this as a practice in different disciplines. In this article, we first describe text recycling as a common phenomenon in academic publishing, then explore the challenges associated with trying to study the nature and extent of text recycling within STEM disciplines. We then describe in detail the complex processes we used to create a system for identifying text recycling across large corpora of texts, and the methods used to refine and test the system.
Michael A. Pemberton, Susanne Hall, Cary Moskovitz & Chris Anson. Text Recycling: Views of North American Journal Editors from an Interview-Based Study. Learned Publishing, 2019. LINK FULL TEXT
Over the past decade, text recycling (AKA ‘self-plagiarism’) has become a visible and somewhat contentious practice, particularly in the realm of journal articles. While growing numbers of publishers are writing editorials and formulating guidelines on text recycling, little is known about how editors view the practice or how they respond to it. We present results from an interview-based study of 21 journal editors from a broad range of academic disciplines. Our findings show that editors’ beliefs and practices are quite individualized, rather than being tied to disciplinary or other structural parameters. While none of our participants supported the use of large amounts of recycled material from one journal article to another, some editors were staunchly against any use of recycled material, while others were accepting of the practice in certain circumstances. Issues of originality, the challenges of rewriting text, the varied circulation of texts, and abiding by copyright law were prominent themes as editors discussed their approaches to text recycling. Overall, the interviews showed that many editors have not thought systematically about the practice of text recycling, and they sometimes have trouble aligning their beliefs and practices. Many journals are not yet handling the issue in a consistent, transparent way.
Text recycling, often called “self-plagiarism”, is the practice of reusing textual material from one’s prior documents in a new work. The practice presents a complex set of ethical and practical challenges to the scientific community, many of which have not been addressed in prior discourse on the subject. This essay identifies and discusses these factors in a systematic fashion, concluding with a new definition of text recycling that takes these factors into account. Topics include terminology, what is not text recycling, factors affecting judgments about the appropriateness of text recycling, and visual materials.
Text recycling, the reuse of material from one’s own previously published writing in a new text without attribution, is a common academic writing practice that is not yet well understood. While some studies of text recycling in academic writing have been published, no previous study has focused on scholars’ attitudes toward text recycling. This article presents results from a survey of over 300 journal editors and editorial board members from 86 top English-language journals in 16 different academic fields regarding text recycling in scholarly articles. Responses indicate that a large majority of academic gatekeepers believe text recycling is allowable in some circumstances; however, there is a lack of clear consensus about when text recycling is or is not appropriate. Opinions varied according to the source of the recycled material, its structural location and rhetorical purpose, and conditions of authorship conditions—as well as by the level of experience as a journal editor. Our study suggests the need for further research on text recycling utilizing focus groups and interviews.
The past few years have seen a steady rise in the number of health science journals using plagiarism detection software to screen submitted manuscripts. While there is widespread agreement about the need to guard against plagiarism and duplicate publication, the use of such tools has sparked debate about text recycling—the reuse of material from one’s prior publications in a new manuscript. Many who have published on the topic consider all uses of text recycling anathema. Others argue that some uses of recycling are unavoidable and sometimes even beneficial for readers. Unfortunately, much of this discourse now merely repeats dogmatic assertions. I argue that progress can be made by acknowledging three points: First, citation standards for research writing in the health sciences will not mirror those of the humanities. Second, while it is impossible to draw a definitive line between appropriate and inappropriate uses of text recycling, some uses of the practice lie clearly on the legitimate side. Third, the needs of editors for information regarding recycled text are different from those of readers. Ultimately, calls for rewording and citation as alternatives or fixes for text recycling are unlikely to prove satisfactory to either readers or editors.
Cary Moskovitz. Self-Plagiarism, Text Recycling and Science Education. BioScience, 66(1), January 2016. LINK
Academicians generally consider it unethical to reuse text from published work without explicit attribution. However, in practice, the conventions and ethics associated with reusing text vary considerably across academic domains and genres. Although it may be anathema in the humanities, certain types of reuse are both common and acceptable in contemporary scientific discourse. The boundaries of acceptable practice are complex, however, so there is a strong temptation to ignore the topic in educational settings. Because the fallout from innocent errors can be damaging, scientists must assume responsibility for determining what constitutes acceptable reuse in their domain and for instructing future scientists in these practices.
Work in Progress
David Hansen & Cary Moskovitz. CSE White Paper: Legality of text recycling in STEM research reports. Council of Scientific Editors. (Under review)
Cary Moskovitz. Text Recycling in the Writing Process: Interviews with three STEM researchers. (Under review)