What is Research Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is a very serious form of research misconduct. It is important to have a solid understanding of what plagiarism is and how to avoid it with ethical writing. Plagiarism is defined as, "Taking over the ideas, methods, or written words of another, without acknowledgment and with the intention that they be taken as the work of the deceiver." American Association of University Professors (September/October,1989).

Plagiarism can take form in many instances and is often unintentional, especially within scientific literature. All disciplines address plagiarism in some way, thus, making the awareness of plagiarism a key element of scientific work, whether it be an idea or text. Writing guides exist that can help guide professionals in their own respective fields. Members of the scientific community are expected to uphold a high standard in regards to their scientific work.

Plagiarism Topics

The Federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI) recognizes the importance of Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training. The information provided will help explain the Office of Research Integrity's guideline and offer additional tips for ethical writing. The guideline offers writing best practices for Professionals and Students within this area. 

  • To view The Office of Research Integrity's ethical writing guidelines, click here

Many guides already exist that can help individuals with their writing. One guide is theIntroduction, Methods, Results and Discussion (IMRaD). Few, if any, exist that cover responsible writing. Responsible writing requires clear expression, conciseness, accuracy, and honesty. In most cases, good scientific ethical writing is missing one of the aspects of responsible writing. 

Written work includes an implicit contract between the Authors and Readers. Within the contract, the Reader assumes: work created is that of the author, if any material is borrowed form another text, it uses all established writing conventions to indicate borrowing, and all information presented is accurate to the best of the Authors' knowledge. Despite writing best practices, human errors do occur. Some of the biggest examples of human errors can be from copying and pasting another source. 

Click here for our Best Practices in Grant Writing and Text Recycling document.

“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” (TRRP 2020)

Developmental Recycling

“The reuse of material from unpublished documents. This is common in research and generally considered acceptable.” 

Generative recycling

“The reuse of portions of a previously published document in a new work that makes an original intellectual contribution clearly distinct from that of the source. Whether it is ethical or legal depends on the specifics of the case. 

Adaptive publication

“The republication of an entire document or of its central part(s), but modified to fit a different context. The new context may, for example, be different in the target audience (different language or expertise) or genre. Whether this is ethical or legal depends on obtaining publisher permission and transparency with editors and readers. 

Duplicate publication

“The publishing of a work that is the same in genre, content, and intended audience as a previously published source document. This is widely considered unethical; in most publishing situations it would be illegal as well—whether as copyright infringement or a violation of author-publisher agreements.” (updated January 2020), taken from textrecycling.org  

Text Recycling in Grant Funding  

The National Science Foundation (NSF) found examples of text-recycling to occur 1%-1.5% in an internal study of received grants (Mervis 2013). In another study looking at 800,000 grant applications to 5 different agencies, 167 duplicates were found and potentially 12,441 pairs of grants contained some form of text recycling (Garner, Mclver and Waitzkin 2013).  

  • Grant proposals are usually considered unpublished work and the researchers hold the copyrights in their work if it has not been published. Recycling in these cases has been both common and appropriate.   

  • Text recycling from unfunded proposals to a new agency with a new grant is acceptable  

  • Text recycling in funded grant application to a new or existing agency is generally acceptable as long as the main focus of the grant is different now, it is not looking to fund the exact same endeavor. Reusing some introductory and background literature material would be ok in these cases.   

  • Text recycling in which you are restating your research question from previously published papers do not have to be re-written or put in quotes in these contexts.   

  • Text recycling should be permitted in cases that need consistency in the language in order to make the most sense to readers. To describe methods, or statistics, these areas of a study may not have any changes although they are now used in a new study you are doing. In these cases, the changes may further alter the text in a way that can make it harder for readers to understand.   

  • BE TRANSPARARENT. If not sure, indicate with a footnote that this contains recycled material. If there are any problems with this submission, changes can be requested. This transparency can solve most if not all of the problems encountered in this field.  

  • There are agency specific requirements (e.g. NIH). Find out if you are submitting a new grant or resubmission. Check for any other specific requirements regarding any resubmissions.  

  • Cannot resubmit after a second time. But can resubmit same and recycled materials for a new NIH grant with a different focus in mind. 

Works Cited 1. Garner, H. R., McIver, L. J., & Waitzkin, M. B. (2013). Research funding: Same work, twice the money? Nature, 493, 599-601.  2. Hall, S., Moskovitz, C., and Pemberton, M. 2021. Understanding Text Recycling: A Guide for Editors. Text Recycling Research Project. Online at textrecycling.org  3. “Text Recycling: Best Practices for Researchers” by the Text Recycling Research Project is licensed under CC BY 4.0.  4. This document is a modified version of “Text Recycling: Best Practices for Researchers” by the Text Recycling Research Project used under CC BY 4.0. Modifications were made to items [list numbers of items with changes].  5. Mervis, J. (2013). NSF Audit of Successful Proposals Finds Numerous Cases of Alleged Plagiarism. ScienceInsider, March 8th, http://news.sciencemag.org/2013/03/nsf- auditsuccessful-proposals-finds-numerous-cases-alleged-plagiarism.  

Guidelines for writing 
  • Avoid copy and pasting materials to a draft document with the intention of going back to rewrite.  

  • Always highlight (or mark somehow) any text that is copy and pasted so you can come back to it and cite properly  

  • Always acknowledge, cite, describe, contributions of others in your work as part of ethical writing.  

  • Block text off if longer than 4 lines, no quotations.  

  • If you are not sure what you are writing is common knowledge, provide a citation.  

  • Some common knowledge is discipline specific. Can confer with us or colleagues when unsure.  

  • Any words or phrases taken verbatim without any changes must be enclosed in quotation marks.  

  • This must also include a citation next to it to show its origination.  

  • Some examples of this include copying a portion of text from a source and then only changing or inserting select words, then continuing to not give credit and not enclose in citations.  

  • Taking verbatim text and changing it should only include paraphrasing and summarizing.  


Please read through our recommendations and ethical writing guidelines and then go over a quick quiz on the topic to see how you did! We also have some case studies and practice writing exercises to practice learning about plagiarism.
Plagiarism Facts

A study recently completed by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in March of 2022 has compiled one of the most complete plagiarism reviews to date. This review has looked at 134 recent plagiarism cases ranging from 2007-2017. When surveyed, NSF found these responses to be the most common reasons for committing plagiarism:  

  1. Did not know what constitutes appropriate citation;  

  2. Thought they used appropriate citation when they did not;  

  3. Did not understand what kinds of text require citation;  

  4. Considered appropriate citation less important in certain document sections;  

  5. Recklessly incorporated sources into drafts; and/or  

  6. Rushed through document preparation.  

Plagiarism can occur in grant applications as well as published work. From 2007 - 2017, NSF reported 170 research misconduct findings. 137/170 cases (81%) were plagiarism related. 61% of these cases involved junior academic positions. Generally, this has been associated with taking something that someone else created, and representing it as their own. Plagiarism can ultimately result in demotions, firing, degrees rescinded.  

Plagiarism can look different, depending on discipline.  


Take a look at the paragraph below. 

“Because the intracellular concentration of potassium ions is relatively high, potassium ions tend to diffuse out of the cell. This movement is driven by the concentration gradient for potassium ions. Similarly, the concentration gradient for sodium ions tends to promote their movement into the cell. However, the cell membrane is significantly more permeable to potassium ions than to sodium ions. As a result, potassium ions diffuse out of the cell faster than sodium ions enter the cytoplasm. The cell therefore experiences a net loss of positive charges, and as a result the interior of the cell membrane contains an excess of negative charges, primarily from negatively charged proteins.” (Martini & Bartholomew, 1997). (p. 204).

View the paraphrasing options below. Which of the three paraphrasing options do you think is most appropriate? 

Paraphrasing Examples

Because the intracellular concentration of potassium ions is _ high, potassium ions tend to diffuse out of the cell. This movement is triggered by the concentration gradient for potassium ions. Similarly, the concentration gradient for sodium ions tends to promote their movement into the cell. However, the cell membrane is much more permeable to potassium ions than to it is to sodium ions. As a result, potassium ions diffuse out of the cell more rapidly than sodium ions enter the cytoplasm. The cell therefore experiences a loss of positive charges, and as a result the interior of the cell membrane contains a surplus of negative charges, primarily from negatively charged proteins.1 (p. 204).



The concentration gradient for sodium (Na) ions tends to promote their movement into the cell. Similarly, the high intracellular concentration of potassium (K) ions is relatively high resulting in K’s tendency to diffuse out of the cell. Because the cell membrane is significantly more permeable to K than to Na, K diffuses out of the cell faster than Na enters the cytoplasm. The cell therefore experiences a net loss of positive charges and, as a result the interior of the cell membrane now has an excess of negative charges, primarily from negatively charged proteins.1 (p. 204).


A textbook of anatomy and physiology1 reports that the concentration of potassium ions inside of the cell is relatively high and, consequently, some potassium tends to escape out of the cell. Just the opposite occurs with sodium ions. Their concentration outside of the cell causes sodium ions to cross the membrane into the cell, but they do so at a slower rate. According to these authors, this is because the permeability of the cell membrane is such that it favors the movement of potassium relative to sodium ions. Because the rate of crossing for potassium ions that exit the cell is higher10 than that for sodium ions that enter the cell, the inside portion of the cell is left with an overload of negatively charged particles, namely, proteins that contain a negative charge.


Case Studies:

You are a researcher beginning a sixth year as assistant professor. Your research is going well, you are publishing papers and winning grants. You expect to reach a promotion with no issues.

One afternoon, your graduate student approaches you with two papers written by a senior colleague in your department. This colleague is on your promotion and tenure review. Your graduate student shows you that there are two identical figures in two different papers. It looks like the same graph is being reported as two different experiments. After reviewing the data from each paper you agree that something is definitely wrong.

  • Do you ask the senior colleague about the graphs?
  • Ask your department chair?
  • Report it to the office of research integrity?
  • Encourage the graduate student to report?
  • Wait until your promotion is settled?

Adapted from Chapter 2




Pulitzer board historian resigns from the board after allegations that they plagiarized sources in their book.
Try Again.

A famous molecular biologist had to resign from a well known organization after it was found that a book they wrote contained plagiarized materials.
Try Again.


Musician guilty of unconscious plagiarism. Incorporating music from another group into their own recording. Musician was forced to pay compensation.
Try Again.
Renowned psychologist has doctorate degree rescinded due to plagiarism found in their doctoral dissertation.
Try Again.
College president resigns after it was found that parts of their convocation speech were taken from another source and not attributed or acknowledged properly.
Try Again.
Reusing Figures

If you want to reproduce any figures from previously published text, you can not just paste a figure from your other papers and then include a citation to it. You need to work through and with the publishers to obtain permission.

  • If you need help with reusing figures, please contact Donald Williams University Libraries.
The Writing Center

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Research Support
  • Visit the Research in the Graduate School page for more resources on research. 
  • WCopyfind is an open source, free to use, public Gnu license which is useful when comparing your own documents to your own documents. The main use for WCopyfind is when both documents are stored locally, or you are comparing two things not on the internet. Note that this does not do internet searches to compare out to published work and is not a plagiarism checker.