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When most people think of PLAGIARISM, they usually think of the intentional copying of the words of another and claiming them as one's own. This is one aspect of the problem, but not the only one; plagiarism may be unintentional, and it can also include the author's copying of her or his own previously published material-"self-plagiarism," a form of duplicate publication-without acknowledging the original source and without sufficient paraphrasing or presenting exact wording in quotation marks. It can encompass the legal matter of copyright infringement, as well as the ethical matter of inadequate attribution of data or ideas. It also includes excessive or poor paraphrasing. All such infractions, whether ethical or legal in nature, are forms of "intellectual dishonesty" and are explained below.



The intentional or unintentional copying of the words of another. Whenever an author uses another person's exact words, they must be placed in quotation marks and a citation must be given. The reader of an article in AJN must know which words are the author's and which belong to someone else. Even documents in the public domain, such as government documents, must be attributed to their source.


The author's copying of her or his own previously published material: duplicate publication or "self-plagiarism." If an author has published an article in Journal A, she or he may not send the same article with a few minor adjustments to Journal B. Nor may she or he take verbatim portions of the first article without quotation marks for use in a second article. Each publication should contain fresh writing, even if there is nothing new to report on the topic.


Inadequate attribution of data or ideas. Most writers rely on the ideas and data of others, but doing so without naming the source is a form of plagiarism.


Copyright infringement occurs when an author copies (with or without attribution) significant portions of a published work, including tables and figures, without having obtained the permission of the person or publisher holding the copyright. When this plagiarized "writing" is published, the new publisher is guilty of violating the copyright held by the original publisher. This is a legal matter that can be costly to both the publisher and the author involved.


Excessive or poor paraphrasing. An author may believe that juggling the words of a copied-and-pasted sentence from another article is adequate. It is not. As one of our editors says, "Done correctly, paraphrasing involves thinking for oneself and reframing, not near-parroting." Also, it is not acceptable for an author's work to be made up largely of paraphrased sentences from other published material. And the ordering of information presented in an article must be original and not too closely follow another published work.


AJN's Policy on Plagiarism

The policy is shaped by two desires: to inform authors of acceptable writing practices and to set a very high standard for the publication of peer-reviewed articles.


When plagiarism is detected, by either peer reviewers or staff editors, before or after acceptance, during editing, or at any time before publication, AJN staff will alert the author, asking her or him to rewrite or quote exactly and to cite the original source. If the plagiarism is extensive-that is, if at least 25% of the original submission is plagiarized-the article may be rejected and the author's employer notified of the infraction. If plagiarism is detected after publication, the editors will notify readers of the infraction through an editor's note in the journal, and the author's employer may be notified of the breach.


Resources: Understanding Plagiarism and Citation


1. There are several standard guidelines available for writing and submitting articles for publication in biomedical journals. The Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Writing and Editing for Biomedical Publication, by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, presents clear guidelines on when a citation is necessary. It is available online at


2. Most universities have very strict policies against plagiarism; an author with questions on what constitutes plagiarism may find help in online guidelines such as the following:


* Georgetown University Honor Council. What Is Plagiarism?


* Council of Writing Program Administrators. Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices.


* Purdue University Online Writing Lab. Avoiding Plagiarism.


* Purdue University Online Writing Lab. Paraphrase: Write It in Your Own Words.


3. In recent years, many reputable journals have published articles or editorials on the growing problem of plagiarism in biomedical publishing. The following are some recent and helpful examples.


* Broome ME. Self-plagiarism: oxymoron, fair use, or scientific misconduct? Nurs Outlook 2004;52(6):273-4. (AJN's editor-in-chief responded to this editorial with a letter: Mason DJ. Nurs Outlook 2005;53(4):171-2. [letter].)


* Clamp down on copycats. Plagiarism is on the rise, thanks to the Internet. Universities and journals need to take action. Nature 2005;438(7064):2.


* El-Deiry WS. Plagiarism is not acceptable in science or for Cancer Biology and Therapy. Cancer Biol Ther 2005;4(6):619-20.


* Freda MC, Kearney MH. Ethical issues faced by nursing editors. West J Nurs Res 2005;27(4):487-99.


* Hegyvary ST. Writing that matters. J Nurs Scholarsh 2005;37(3):193-4.


* Logue R. Plagiarism: the Internet makes it easy. Nurs Stand 2004;18(51):40-3.


* Mason, DJ. Stealing words. Am J Nurs 2002;102(7):7.


* Roig M. Re-using text from one's own previously published papers: an exploratory study of potential self-plagiarism. Psychol Rep 2005;97(1):43-9.


* Skandalakis JE, Mirilas P. Plagiarism. Arch Surg 2004;139(9):1022-4.


4. The World Association of Medical Editors' Publication Ethics Policies for Medical Journals provides guidance to journal editors on what constitutes plagiarism, among other relevant matters.