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Writing 101

– 6 min read

What is self-plagiarism and how to avoid it

Jessica Malnik

Jessica Malnik


Did you know that it is possible to plagiarize your own writing?

This mainly happens when you engage in text recycling and don’t use proper attribution. If uncovered, this can damage your reputation and come with serious consequences. 

This ethical issue mainly comes up for professional writers, subject matter experts, academic researchers, students, or anyone who is asked to write about a similar topic a bunch.  

In this post, we cover everything you need to know about self-plagiarizing your own work along with how to avoid it.

What is self-plagiarism?

Self-plagiarism, also known as auto-plagiarism, is the act of repurposing or reusing original work and then publishing it elsewhere without proper attribution. With this type of plagiarism, you could either publish an entire piece in duplicate publications or just parts of it.  

In addition, paraphrasing or misquoting your work also counts as self-plagiarism.


Is self-plagiarism illegal?

While self-plagiarism is not illegal in most cases, it is frowned upon and can cause ethical issues since it is considered to be dishonest and a form of literary theft. 

The biggest problem with self-plagiarism is that you are misleading the audience by trying to pass off an older piece of content into new work.  

In rare cases, plagiarism can fall under the umbrella of copyright infringement. If something you produced in the past is protected by copyright law, then the intellectual property owner owns the rights to distribute or sell the work. They could send you a “Cease and Desist” letter or take other legal action.

Just because you’re unlikely to run into legal issues with auto-plagiarism doesn’t mean that it won’t cause problems for you.

For example, say you’re working as a freelance content writer, and you plagiarize your blog post for Company A to create web page content for Company B. This could have many serious consequences, including:


X Damaging your career and reputation if either company found out.

X Might be in breach of your contract

X Hurt search rankings because it falls under duplicate publication. Google algorithms tend to penalize duplicate text when indexing and ranking web pages.


Why is self-plagiarism a thing?

In most instances, self-plagiarism is taking the easy path. If you’ve already put time, effort, and considerable research into a piece of content, then it’s simply easier to reuse some of that work rather than start from scratch.

It’s not always intentional when people plagiarize. 

With self-plagiarism, it’s not uncommon for people to recycle their work to save time and effort without realizing that what they’re doing is unethical or capable of causing problems down the road.

Keep in mind, there are varying degrees of auto-plagiarism with differing motivations. A student submitting the exact same research paper for two separate classes isn’t in the same situation as a professional writer that just finished a whitepaper and decided to repurpose the same content for a new blog post. The student knows what they’re doing is wrong, while the writer repurposing the white paper is likely unaware that what they’re doing is self-plagiarizing.

What’s the difference between plagiarism and self-plagiarism?

The main difference between plagiarism and self-plagiarism is the person whose work is being copied. The definition of plagiarism means that you steal someone else’s work and try to pass it off as your own. 

For example, plagiarism is more common in academia and academic publishing. You could have a graduate student take a few shortcuts, engage in research misconduct, and try to pass off an academic paper as their own even though they stole the content from elsewhere. This can obviously damage the student’s reputation and raise questions about their academic integrity.


Pro Tip: For academic publishing, requiring students to use services such as Turnitin can help you avoid plagiarized papers.


On the other hand, with self-plagiarism, you’re stealing work from yourself since you are taking your own words from a previous paper you submitted and then resubmitting it again without proper citation.

This is more likely to be accidental. However, this doesn’t make it any less of a serious offense.

How to avoid self-plagiarism

The first step to avoiding plagiarism is to understand what plagiarism is. For example, many people are unaware that paraphrasing an idea without crediting your original source is indeed a form of plagiarism. Even incorrect appropriation can be considered an act of plagiarism. It’s best to educate yourself on what is, and what isn’t, plagiarism, so you’ll be able to naturally recognize when you’re doing it.

The easiest way to avoid self-plagiarism is to not use your previous work to create a new piece. However, sometimes this isn’t a good solution. It’s possible that limited information will overlap when writing about similar topics, and you’re unable to not include some of the same content. In these cases, try to push yourself to explore a different angle or find different information to include. If you do end up having to add something from your first piece, be sure to correctly cite it.

Many issues with plagiarism can be solved by properly crediting the original source. Your earlier work is no different. If you paraphrase or quote a piece you’ve already published, then you need to give it credit. If you’re ever in doubt, you should use plagiarism checking software to double-check your work.

Self-plagiarism examples

It’s important to understand the different ways that self-plagiarism can occur so you can avoid making the same mistakes. 

Here are a few common examples of self-plagiarism:



Remember, self-plagiarism isn’t just copying and pasting words from your past work. It includes using data, quotes, ideas, or paraphrased content. If you do end up needing to repurpose content and it’s ethical to do so, be sure to properly cite your source.


Whether it’s intentional or not, self-plagiarism is unethical and can cause serious problems. Your audience should be able to trust that what they read from you is original and not borrowed from your old work. 

Focus on creating fresh content each time you write and when you do reference your past work, be sure to give it the credit that’s due. When in doubt, use Writer’s free plagiarism checker to make sure your work is original and ready to publish!

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