The Ridiculous Notion of Self-Plagiarism

To my friends in education: Just when you think you’ve reached the bottom of ignorance, you find there is no bottom to this abyss. The powers of ignorance and darkness are mighty.

Every semester my college students are required to study plagiarism and every semester someone lists “SELF-PLAGIARISM” as a type of plagiarism.  And unfortunately, there are sites, even some educational sites that warn students against self-plagiarism.  One student complained about the points I took off when she wrote a whole paragraph on “self-plagiarism.” She used a Wikipedia article as a source. (Now, there’s an academic site for you!)

This absurd notion makes me want to stick my head in the fan. There is no such thing as self-plagiarism. The idea is ridiculous. It may be perhaps less than honest, may be lazy for one to recycle work, improve it, or adapt it to an assignment, but it is not stealing something from someone else and claiming it as one’s own. (The definition of plagiarism remember?) Think about it: How can one steal something from one’s self? It’s absurd.  I can see why academic journals and such may not want recycled writing, but calling it plagiarism does not make it plagiarism. Even Shakespeare borrowed scenes from his own writing. In A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Act V.1, he had a more or less condensed version of Romeo and Juliet (of course a comedic version of that tragic romance).

Students too often believe anything anyone says without thinking of basic word definitions and logic. I would affirm that every published writer in the world saves and uses previous writing–and that’s as it should be.

If a writer didn’t save, improve, adapt and pull phrases and paragraphs and words from his previous writing (Ah, all those writing notebooks I’ve saved often come in handy), he or she might have very little to say.  Just like some of my students who talk about self-plagiarism.

One thought on “The Ridiculous Notion of Self-Plagiarism

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