Crime and punishment
Plagiarism and self-plagiarism can be both intentional and unintentional, the latter resulting from the lack of experience in writing scientific papers. Ethical misconduct can be fueled by professional competition, personal ambitions, especially if a researcher is not well-educated, or the burden of responsibility to sponsors. Some non-English speaking researchers engage in plagiarism when they write in English simply because they want to improve the style of their work . However, you cannot be sure that linguistic forms you have borrowed from other articles are always correct. Besides, any serious international journal will refuse to publish such work once the copied fragments are identified. Poorly formatted citations and references may not be critical, and sometimes the authors are given a chance to make corrections to their manuscript , but this is not a universal rule. The higher impact the journal has (meaning more serious competition between authors), the less time the editor has to analyze each individual situation: the manuscript may be rejected on formal grounds.
If plagiarism is detected after the article has been published, the journal must retract it. The editorial board issues a notice providing full information on the article, naming the initiator of the retraction procedure and specifying the reasons for retraction. After that, all online copies of the article must be tagged as retracted . A retracted publication will not be removed from online databases or withdrawn from circulation, but it will be permanently tagged as retracted. Spotless reputation of the authors is not an argument to mitigate the punishment. Moreover, the editor has a right to report ethical misconduct to the institution the authors are affiliated with and suggest initiating an investigation of their previously published work. If a person accountable for plagiarism is one of the co-authors, every author who signed the author agreement required by the publisher will share full responsibility. It ensues from the internationally accepted definition of authorship .
How can plagiarism be detected? Once a manuscript is submitted, it is run through specialized software, which, unfortunately, is not perfect. First, it is impossible to compare texts written in different languages; second, access to a number of journals and books can be restricted or completely blocked, which hinders the analysis; third, even if data or ideas have been stolen but the text itself has been reworded, plagiarism will not be identified; fourth, such software cannot differentiate between blunders and unintentional mistakes. This last circumstance is most unfavorable for those authors who submit their manuscripts to journals that totally rely on a software-based analysis. Another way to detect appropriated work is peer review. If experts invited to evaluate the quality of manuscripts are qualified enough, they can easily recognize the pieces seen somewhere else previously. The third anti- plagiarism filter is audience who can always report their findings to the editor.
How to avoid plagiarism
A good publication is a result of a good research work. If you are truly fascinated by the subject of your research, adhere to the international standards for research planning and implementation, are not afraid to face a frustrating outcome and are brave enough to report your mistakes to colleagues, you will most likely feel no need to falsify, fabricate or plagiarize data. Unintentional breaches of ethical code are not rare though, so in order to reduce the risk of unpleasant situations, it might be a good idea to use the following hints.
Hint 1. Familiarize yourself with the ethical regulations the journal adheres to. They normally contain definitions of plagiarism and self-plagiarism and stipulate responsibilities ensuing from scientific misconduct.
Hint 2. Avoid copying bits of scientific publications by other researchers. Carefully read the articles written by your colleagues and search for your own words and expressions to articulate ideas or patterns you have discovered. One and the same idea can be worded differently even if a text is technical. Paraphrasing also helps to better understand the original text.
Hint 3. Always provide information about the original source when quoting or paraphrasing it in your draft; specify the original source in brackets as follows: (Lastname et al., 2016). Later on, you can format your work as required by the journal you plan to submit your work to . When quoting someone else’s publication, use quotation marks, even if a citation is only a few words long.
Hint 4. Provide information on the original source of the citation right after the borrowed fragment (thesis – reference) and avoid multiple (5 to 10) references when communicating a single idea. First, a multiple-reference style can indicate that you have not analyzed the publications you refer to. Second, readers will not know where exactly to search for the information they find interesting. Third, you complicate editor’s work: remember that the editor has to make sure that the facts you list match the content of every original source you refer to. The more time the editor spends on your manuscript, the less patience he/she is left with to scrupulously revise the paper.
Hint 5. Double check the title of the publication you refer to, the year it was published and other relevant information.
Hint 6. If you plan to use an image or a graph borrowed from some other source, find out who owns a copyright to it and what are the procedures (if any) to use these materials. In some cases you will need to obtain permission from a copyright owner.
Hint 7. If you are the first author or a corresponding author, monitor the work done by your co-authors. Ensure your colleagues are familiar with publication ethics. After a draft is ready, see if it contains fragments different from the rest of the work in style and containing zero references: usually such pieces are indicative of plagiarism .
Hint 8. Avoid copying fragments of your own previous publications; paraphrase them instead. Remember that an honest researcher does not tread water: although a subject of your research may still be the same, every new article on this subject requires a refreshed introduction. If you need to use previously published data, clearly specify it in the manuscript body and also warn the editor.
Hint 9. If the editor has detected unintentional copyright infringement, be honest when explaining the situation. Honesty is your chance to be allowed to make corrections to your manuscript.
Plagiarism is a serious breach of publication ethics which discredit science and scientists. In the age of digital technologies, it has become easier to present and share research data; at the same time protecting your research from unscrupulous colleagues has become harder. Current algorithms of plagiarism detection are far from being perfect, and the role of peer review and vigilant audience is still important.
Plagiarism can be unintentional, especially in the works of young scientists who do not know yet the nuances of proper citation styling. Experienced researchers should be more attentive to their students and younger colleagues and not only share scientific knowledge with them, but also teach them to adhere to ethical standards. Unfortunately, copyright issues receive little attention in Russian schools and universities, and many unscrupulous authors experience plagiarism for the first time when preparing their thesis.
To avoid ethical issues, we recommend authors should try paraphrasing instead of quoting, use quotation marks when citing works by other researchers, style references appropriately, and submit accurate information about the original publication. Remember that all co-authors of the work share full responsibility, and do not let your colleagues down.