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How to Avoid Plagiarism

The use of works, words, and ideas without attribution of citation is plagiarism. Most everyone knows that passing off someone else's work as your own is plagiarism, but other more common types of plagiarism are less widely understood. Plagiarism, even inadvertent plagiarism, can damage a researcher's reputation, and may also affect the researcher's institution, funding, and future opportunities in science.

What is plagiarism?

A definition of plagiarism from Dictionary.com:

"1. An act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author's work as one's own, as by not crediting the original author."

"2. A piece of writing or other work reflecting such unauthorized use or imitation."

 

Stolen words and ideas can both be considered plagiarism. STE How to Avoid Plagiarism rev title

 

From Plagiarism.org:

"But can words and ideas really be stolen?"

"According to U.S. law, the answer is yes. The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some way (such as a book or computer file)."

So not only is plagiarism of words and ideas theft, it can also come with legal ramifications of copyright violations.

In this era of Google search, Copyscape, CrossCheck, iThenticate, and other online plagiarism detectors, it is extremely easy to check whether a paper has been plagiarized in whole or in part. 

With English as the language of science, scientists with English as a second language may be tempted to copy sentences or even whole paragraphs from other papers. Other countries may also have a different view of plagiarism, one that is looser and slacker than that of the journal publisher locations. However, many science journals will check your paper for plagiarism before publishing, and, if detected, demand corrections or reject the manuscript. 

Plagiarism is often inadvertent, but some plagiarism is by choice, and this is completely unethical, fraudulent, can be illegal, and detrimental to science as well as one's career as a scientist. Especially the theft of another's ideas - intellectual theft - passed off as one's own - this is the worst type of plagiarism. 

 

Types of Plagiarism:

Direct Plagiarism - The "borrowing" or "copying" of another's words, images, or ideas and representing them as one's own. This may be inadvertent or overt. Copying and pasting text or images from published work and doing so without quotes and/or citations is plagiarism. Small adjustments or paraphrasing while keeping the main content is still considered plagiarism. It is better to over-cite small sections of text you use than not. Keep in mind, however, that copying entire and large sections of text, even with quotations or citations, should be avoided. 

Intellectual Plagiarism - This is the theft of the ideas and works of another without giving credit, and presenting the work falsely as your own. This misrepresentation will yield an immediate rejection by science journals. This dishonesty by the plagiarist is the epitome of theft and fraud. Plagiarizing ideas is unacceptable and destroys the integrity of scientific research.

When writing a manuscript, it is common for authors to copy and paste ideas and sentences from other works with the intention of later rewriting and citing the text. During the process of writing (particularly if several authors are involved), this text can become incorporated into the manuscript unchanged and/or uncited. Whenever copying such text, use different fonts and text colors, and always take the time to note the source so that it is clear to you later and to other authors that this text needs to be rewritten and properly cited.

Replication of research methods from previously published work, without citation - While this is less severe than stealing ideas, it is not necessary as most methods can be rewritten. First, always check with the Instructions to Authors of the journal to which you plan to submit your manuscript. Some journals encourage using previously published text of methods verbatim (provided that you cite the original work).

If you find yourself having difficulty re-writing the methods, start with a new file (blank screen) and write down how the methods were performed as if you were telling them to a colleague or student. Refer to your lab notebook to make sure that the values and parameters are accurate for your experiment. Once done, compare your version with the published version to add any important details. For some well-established methods, you do not need to provide all of the details, just those that allow a reasonably trained scientist to replicate your findings (even if they have to refer to the paper you cited). It is best to cite where the method has been used before, and described in greater detail to allow the reader to check for additional details. 

Self-Plagiarism - Some may think that it is acceptable to re-use one's own work in a new paper as they are not actually stealing, but they may be wrong. Once published, many publishers, and not the authors, own the content of the paper. The copyright of open access articles is sometimes owned by the author, so be sure to check if you own the copyright to any text you choose to repurpose.

Inadvertent Plagiarism - Oftentimes an author will copy and paste language from another paper claiming that it was said better by the original paper. This too is plagiarism.  

We at SciTechEdit International are experts at working with non-native English-speaking scientists, and at providing suggestions for restructuring a common phrase without adding to the complexity or wordiness. 

Most instances of plagiarism of text and image can be avoided by citing the original work.

 

Consquences of Plagiarism:

In this global age of the internet and online plagiarism trackers, plagiarism in a scientific paper will not go unnoticed. 

If the plagiarized work is published, that is not the end of potential trouble for the author. The online site, Retraction Watch, is the watchdog of plagiarized papers, especially for those papers with ideas or methods that have been stolen, faked, or misrepresented. Intellectual dishonesty and faking data will most likely lead to retraction of the paper, the ruined reputation of the author, termination of employment, and the loss of future funding. 

Minor or inadvertent plagiarism will be brought to the attention of the author pre-publication by the journal to be corrected. 

Plagiarism of ideas - intellectual plagiarism - will be rejected outright by the journal with a demand for an explanation. 

Self-Plagiarism - You must check the journal rules on self-plagiarized work under their Author Guidelines or Author Instructions as each journal may have a different philosophy regarding self-plagiarism. Some journals are stricter than others, and if the rules are not followed, can put publication of the author's paper in jeopardy. As an example, here is what Nature journals say about self-plagiarism:

"Duplicate publication, sometimes called self-plagiarism, occurs when an author reuses substantial parts of his or her own published work without providing the appropriate references. This can range from getting an identical paper published in multiple journals, to 'salami-slicing', where authors add small amounts of new data to a previous paper."

"Plagiarism can be said to have clearly occurred when large chunks of text have been cut-and-pasted. Such manuscripts would not be considered for publication in a Nature journal."

 

How to avoid plagiarism:

There are many plagiarism-checking websites available to test your paper for plagiarism before submitting to a journal. Many journals will check your paper for plagiarism as well, whether or not you have had your manuscript checked beforehand, but it is better for the paper to be checked ahead of submission so that you can correct any potential problems, saving both time and embarrassment. Most plagiarism-checking sites provide these services for a fee, but some are free.  It is important to be aware that these free services often miss plagiarism from sources that are not easily accessed, or indicate plagiarism for commonly accepted phrases.

SciTechEdit International offers plagiarism checking for your scientific manuscripts and other documents, utilizing a number of applications and tools to highlight the plagiarized sections or passages, and will recommend corrections and rewording in the case of plagiarized text. In cases of the intellectual plagiarism of ideas, we will also note this for you. Contact us!

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The Best Way to Help Your Research Get Published

STE The best way to help your research get published
  • A good, persuasive cover letter increases your chances of being published.
  • Your cover letter is your sales pitch to journal editors for why they should publish your work.
  • Your cover letter must follow the journal's requirements, and be concise and free of errors.

Your goal of publishing your research is at hand. You've carefully selected the journal for submitting your work (if you haven't selected your journal yet, see The Guide to Choosing the Best Science Journal for Publishing Your Research), you've prepared and formatted your manuscript for the journal, and you are excited at the idea of being published.

For most journals, you must now write the all-important cover letter that gets you in the door to be published. Yes, you must write a cover letter! A cover letter, or pre-submission letter, is the key that entices the editor to agree to review your research. You cannot take the easy way out and simply state "here is my research for you to publish". Why would they care? Why should they care? Sending a carelessly written cover letter shows you don't care and that maybe your research isn't at all worth publishing. Do you really want to give that impression after all your hard work, time, and effort spent performing your research and writing up your findings? Probably not.

With thousands of papers to choose from for publication, science journals have their pick of what to publish and your article may not be chosen. Journal editors are in the driver's seat. 

 

What can make the difference in being published or not? Your sales pitch (or persuasive argument) to the journal. Your cover letter is that sales pitch. 

Now before you are taken aback at the idea of having to present a sales pitch, think about it. You are asking them to publish your work. You are competing with dozens of scientists and you must stand out from the crowd. We are not talking about exaggerated or overstated claims, but a statement that tells the journal 'What's In It For Them' and 'The Benefit' they gain by publishing your work. 

The competition to publish is real and ongoing. There is no resting on your laurels in science publication. A body of work may be lauded, but each piece of work must make its way to the front of the line for publication, and your cover letter is how you gain access to the first step of publication. Without a great cover letter, your research could all be for naught - a wasted effort. 

 

Pay strong attention to your cover letter as it is the mechanism to getting your research read and published. 

Just as a job cover letter is the first impression future employers see of you, the pitch in that letter is what helps them decide to progress to reading your resume. The publication cover letter is your sales pitch to science journals that your manuscript will benefit them and their readers. 

Editors want to know that you understand the focus of their journal, the scope of work they publish, how your work will complement other research they publish, and that your work will relate to their readers, as well as the public and general media. Your cover letter will emphasize why your work is important, useful, and interesting. It is your pitch to get published.

STE rev The cover letter is your sales pitch to science journals

Be persuasive and coherent in your cover letter. Sell the merits of your work to them.  You don't need to exaggerate your findings, you just need to describe why they are important and relevant. 

 

Now that you understand the importance of the WHY of a cover letter, let's move on to the HOW of a cover letter to a science journal. 

First, carefully read the specific Author Requirements and Instructions published in the journal you are targeting. If you don't carefully follow their rules, your manuscript could be immediately rejected. 

Find the name of the editor so you can address your cover letter to this specific person. If you can't locate the name and email address, then use "Dear Editor" in your letter salutation. Under no circumstances should you use "Dear Sir or Madam"! It is archaic, antiquated, and outdated. Also, do not use "To Whom It May Concern" as that shows a lack of interest in the person you wish to have read your letter. If you don't care, they won't either. 

Cover letters, or pre-submission letters, must contain a brief, concise, and clear message. One page only! If you find yours running longer than one page, edit it. 

Know that SciTechEdit International is at your service for composing, editing, proofreading, and polishing your cover letter to achieve its best potential in pitching your research for publication. See more here Cover Letters. Contact us when we may be of assistance to you!

Be human in your letter! Write in plain English and avoid jargon and acronyms. Do not drone on about your paper and bore the reader. Remove passive voice phrases such as "in order to" and "may have potential to", and rewrite in active voice. Respect the editor's time!

Briefly summarize the highlights in a way that non-experts could understand. Tell why your paper will have an impact and on whom: fellow scientists, the public, future research. Editors are not experts in all fields, so make your explanations easily understood. 

Choose a readable typeface such as Arial, Helvetica, or Times New Roman, in a font size between 10 and 12.

Break up large blocks of text as needed to make it easier for the editor to read. 

Be sure that the name you use in your research is the same as what you use in your letter. If you are John L. Smith in your paper, sign your letter in that name, not J. L. Smith. Make it easy for the editor to connect the dots. 

If your target journal allows suggestions for reviewers ("referees"), or for reviewers you wish to avoid, follow the journal directions for how many of these they allow. *Studies show that you can significantly increase the chances of being published by suggesting and/or excluding reviewers in your cover letter. 

Be sure your letter is free of errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting. Don't trust "spell-check" - have a colleague or two (or a science editing company!) review your letter to catch any mistakes. Your cover letter/pre-submission letter is an important document that represents you and your research. If the cover letter is sloppy, the assumption is that your research is, too. Don't miss out on potential publication with a poorly crafted letter!

 In addition to the journal's requirements, include this important information in your pre-submission or cover letter:

  • Short introduction stating your manuscript title, the type of article if the journal has different types of articles, and the specific journal you are referencing for publication.
  • Tell why your research study was important, and what questions it answers. Include why your research was needed and whether it continues or builds on prior research in this field. 
  • Tell why your research would be of interest to the journal audience and/or to the specific field of science that the journal covers. Your goal is to convince the editor that your research fits the scope of the journal and would be of interest to their audience (THIS IS THE KEY PART OF THE PITCH). Without exaggeration, tell why your research is new, relevant, and of keen interest to scientists and readers of the journal. 
  • Tell the editor the highlights of your results and the conclusions you have drawn. Clearly and succinctly explain these results, findings, and conclusions in lay terms, not jargon. 
  • KEY: State that your manuscript has not been published, nor is under consideration by any other journal for publication. 
  • State that all authors have approved the manuscript and submission for publication to the journal.

 

Write short paragraphs for these sections, with special care and emphasis on selling/persuading the journal on why your research will benefit the journal and its readers. 

Details: 

  • Date (spell out the name of the month to avoid confusion)
  • Addressee name, Email address, Journal name
  • Salutation (e.g. Dear Dr. Smith:; Dear Editor:)
  • Body of the letter, your message
  • Closing ("Thank you" gets the best results)
  • Email Signature (Name, email address, phone, facility, department, mailing address, personal website)
  • Enclosure (under signature, if including manuscript)

STE Proofread shorten correct review

Proofread, shorten, correct, review, and rewrite your letter as necessary. The cover letter can open the door to having your research published. Give it the extra care both it, and your research, deserve. 

If all this is mind-boggling or you feel stuck in writing your cover letter, contact the editors at SciTechEdit International (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and we will be happy to guide you through it. We are invested in your success!

If this article has been helpful to you, please share with your fellow scientists. Thank you so much!

 

Author: Michael H. Mesches, PhD

© 2017 SciTechEdit International  

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 * Grimm, D. Suggesting or Excluding Reviewers Can Help Get Your Paper Published. Science 2005:309:1974 doi:10.1126/science.309.5743.1974

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