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How to Write Unique Scientific Papers: Quoting Without Plagiarizing


I: Introduction: Good versus bad.
  A: How are quotations use appropriately?
  B: What is plagiarism?

II: Body.
  A: Using quotations appropriately.
  B: Two kinds of plagiarism.
    1: Plagiarism of others.
    2: Self-plagiarism.

III: Conclusions.

How to Write Unique Scientific Papers:Quoting Without Plagiarizing

Science is a cooperative effort. Scientists of today build on the work of generations past scientists. Without the work of Carl Linnaeus1 and those that followed him in naming hundreds of thousands of species, for example, an ecologist today would be faced with attempting to describe every species in a forest when a new research paper is published. However, when we as scientists depend on the work of others we need to recognize their work and not publish it as our own. For example, Linnaeus described the red maple tree using the name we now write as Acer rubrum L. Scientific names give credit to the author of the name. In this case, the L. indicates that Linnaeus was the first person to describe this species.

When preparing a scientific research paper scientists often properly use the work of scientists who have gone before them. Using the work of others is absolutely necessary, although authors should give credit when they refer to the work of other scientists. Scientists quickly become familiar with the usual methods of getting someone credit for information that they include in newly published research studies. For example, the present author cited the work of his professor in a published paper as follows2: “Smith published county record dot maps for 2,469 taxa of vascular plants (1988)[2], and Keys to the Flora of Arkansas (1994)[3].”4

Note that two methods of citation are used here. The original book placed the dates in parentheses. This paper uses a different method that gives each research paper that is cited a sequence number. We combine both methods here to retain the original paper’s format and use the numbering method for the current paper simultaneously.

If scientists have to refer to the work of others, where does plagiarism come to the picture? Wikipedia defines plagiarism as "the ‘wrongful appropriation’ and ‘are stealing and publication’ of another author's ‘language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions’ and the representation of them as one's own original work." Therefore, plagiarism can be defined more simply as using someone else's writing and making it appear that you prepared material independently.

The above quotation from Hyatt4 provides a good example of the appropriate use of another scientists’ work. This author gives appropriate credit to another author for a previously published work. Defining the format used to give that credit is beyond the scope of this paper.

If Hyatt had plagiarized Smith's work, he could have simply made the above statement without giving Smith credit for having done the work. For example, he might have said: “A total of 2,469 vascular plant taxa are known to occur in the state of Arkansas.”

Clearly, this would have been plagiarism. Hyatt would've taken Smith's statement and made it appear that you personally identified 2,469 plants that grow in Arkansas, USA. Obviously, if an author wants to make a statement based on someone else's work they should create a citation of the previous authors work and list the place where that work can be found in his or her list of references.

Most journals demand that an abstract not include references and citations. To some extent, an abstract is an exception to rules related to plagiarism. An abstract only provides a brief summary of a research study; the citations of previous work are almost always only included in the body of the research paper itself. In fact, after four years of editing scientific research papers full-time, the author of this paper has yet to see an abstract with a citation. In general, most citations appear in the Introduction and the Discussion sections of a research paper, although the Results section often needs to refer to the manufacturers of equipment or the makers of software and infrequently includes other citations. Even the Conclusion section of a paper may sometimes need to cite the previous work of others.

If it is so easy to cite the work of someone else, why are journals so adamant, so certain, that they will not accept papers with plagiarism. Occasionally, an author may want to take shortcuts and use the description of a technique previously described by someone else in their own paper. If such a description is included without a citation, this would be plagiarism. In our example above, the author could have made it appear, incorrectly, that he had personally identified 2,469 species of plants from Arkansas. However, he had not done that. Smith was the author who had taken on that task.

Therefore, when preparing a research paper you should be careful to make sure that you give credit appropriately if you describe the work of someone else or present numerical data or findings of someone else's research. This also applies if you use the same techniques that someone else uses and you want to describe the techniques in detail in your paper. Two specific situations apply here. If you use a previous authors wording, then cite that author’s research paper. In addition, if you use a previous author’s ideas or methods, you still need to cite their research even though you use completely different wording as is shown in our example with 2,469 species.

A second type of plagiarism is called self-plagiarism. Self-plagiarism occurs in a few different ways. The most blatant example occurs when an author submits an identical research paper to two different journals simultaneously. Journals do not want to use their time and energy to analyze your research paper and go through the process of preparing it for publication only to discover that you have submitted your work to another journal that has processed the paper faster and chosen to publish it. While technically this might not be called self-plagiarism, submitting the same paper to two different journals simultaneously is considered very inappropriate.

Sometimes, an author may make the mistake of pulling data or information, including complete sentences, from a previous publication of their own. This may not seem like a bad idea. After all, you created the paper, why can't you use your information? The answer is fairly simple. You can use the information, but you need to recognize your own work as having been previously published elsewhere. Don't make the mistake of trying to publish two slightly different papers based on the same data using the same ideas without appropriate citation. It is appropriate to publish a series of papers on the same topic. This occurs frequently, but as usual, authors need to remember to refer to previously published material with appropriate citation.

Lastly, it doesn't matter whether you were quoting a sentence, a paragraph, or an entire method section of the paper. You either need to write independently and use unique data or recognize that you are using previously published information. Today, software is readily available to publishers that will check your paper for plagiarism, including self-plagiarism.

In today's world, it is quite easy for even the careers of high-level politicians to be destroyed by plagiarism6. Preparing citations and adding a list of references is fairly easy to do. Don't let your career suffer because you neglected to give appropriate credit to the scientists who have laid the foundation for your work, including yourself.

1. Last assessed on November 17, 2014.
2. Smith, E. B. 1988. An atlas and annotated list of the Flora of Arkansas. Published by the author.
3. Smith, E. B. 1994. Keys to the Flora of Arkansas. University of Arkansas Press. Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA.
4. Hyatt, P. E. 1998. Arkansas Carex (Cyperaceae): A briefly annotated list. Sida, Contributions to Botany 18:535–554.
5. Last assessed on November 17, 2014.
6. Last assessed on November 17, 2014.

(Please retain the reference in reprint:

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