Researchers often have occasion to reuse material from their previously written documents in new documents. Examples of such occasions included reusing passages from one’s IRB protocol in a grant proposal, reusing literature review material from a grant proposal in a research report, reusing the description of an experimental apparatus from a research report in a new report that used the same apparatus, and reusing material from one’s published paper in one’s dissertation. All of these examples can be seen as cases of text recycling. It is difficult, however, to define text recycling in a way that is sufficiently broad to accommodate the range of such practices but also sufficiently narrow to be practically useful.*
As we learn more about text recycling, we continue to refine our definition. As we do, we update this page. While our publications and presentation often include a definition of text recycling, we encourage the scientific, publishing, and research ethics communities to use the up-to-date definition we give here.
Here is our current working definition (updated January 2020):
Text recycling is the reuse of textual material (prose, visuals, or equations) in a new document where (1) the material in the new document is identical to that of the source (or substantively equivalent in both form and content), (2) the material is not presented in the new document as a quotation (via quotation marks or block indentation), and (3) at least one author of the new document is also an author of the prior document.
*To see a discussion of the challenges of defining text recycling, see: Cary Moskovitz. Text Recycling in Scientific Writing. Science and Engineering Ethics. 2019 (March, 2018). DOI: 10.1007/s11948-017-0008-y LINK FULL TEXT
A note on ethical and legal concerns
In some contexts, text recycling is ethical, professionally appropriate, legal, and even desirable for the communication of ideas. In other situations, text recycling may be unethical, professionally inappropriate, infringe copyright or violate a publishing contract, or inhibit communication. Publishers, educational institutions and other organizations should not systematically prohibit or discourage authors from recycling material from their prior work. Instead, they should provide explicit and well-considered guidelines for text recycling that promote effective, ethical, and legal scholarly communication. Authors should be careful to make sure that any use of recycled material is both legal and appropriate in its specific context, following any applicable guidelines for text recycling.
However, due to both ethical and legal nuance and the contextual nature of text recycling, such guidelines are difficult to construct and articulate. Producing useful guidelines is one of the primary objectives of the Text Recycling Research Project.