My Words or Your Words? Detecting and Investigating Plagiarism

When I started my editorial career as an associate editor for the online-only journal Science’s STKE in 2000, it was difficult to detect plagiarism. The current online plagiarism-detection tools that are widely available and used by an increasing number of publishers did not exist. Or, if they did exist, I did not have access to them, and the journal did not use them. Even with such tools, editors need to be able to properly investigate and identify cases of suspected plagiarism or self-plagiarism (also known as self-similarity). Here, I describe experiences I had and provide suggestions for how to detect and confirm cases of plagiarism of text. Even without such tools, I identified a clear-cut case of self-plagiarism early in my career as an editor. The article in question was an invited review article. What alerted me was the quality and style of the writing from a nonnative–English speaker with whom I had been corresponding: The writing did not match the writing in the correspondence we had exchanged regarding contributing the review article. To determine if the contributed manuscript was similar to another published article, I started searching for reviews on the same topic. It never occurred to me the plagiarized review I would eventually find might be by the same author. I had never considered self-plagiarism as a possibility. Before I could be sure the published article and the submitted manuscript matched, which from the abstracts of each seemed likely, I had to obtain a copy of the full […]

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