Self-Plagiarism: A Misunderstood Form of Academic Dishonesty

Self-plagiarism, in which a student copies improperly from the student’s own prior work, is a commonly misunderstood form of academic dishonesty. This page aims to explain what self-plagiarism is, how it can be avoided, and how self-plagiarism violates the academic integrity rules of the University of Missouri.

What Is Self-Plagiarism?

Self-plagiarism, sometimes known as “text recycling,” involves an author reusing the author’s own prior written work. For example, a sophomore might take a paper previously submitted in a freshman-year course, make some small changes to the headings, and submit what is substantially the same paper for a new course. Unlike traditional plagiarism, in which someone steals the work of others (passing it off as one’s own), text recycling does not involve using someone else’s work.

In some situations, reusing one’s own work is proper and sensible. For example, many people use “boilerplate” language in email when responding to similar questions from different people. Sometimes a dissertation will contain significant portions of smaller papers previously submitted for academic credit. And often the ideas expressed in one paper will become the basis for a more advanced future project.

The difference between proper and improper use of one’s own prior words depends on whether the author is deceiving the reader. For example, let us imagine that the sophomore mentioned above told her professor, “Here is a paper I wrote last year. I’m submitting it again for your class.” That would not be academic dishonesty, but chances are the professor would tell the student to write something new. If instead the sophomore submits the old paper without disclosing its prior use, the student is misleading the professor by passing off the assignment as new academic work.

How Can Self-Plagiarism Be Avoided?

If you wish to reuse your own work for a new assignment, ask your instructor if your proposed reuse is allowed. If the instructor knows what you are doing, then you are not deceiving the reader. To avoid committing academic dishonesty, be sure to clearly disclose your use of prior work, with proper citations.

What Do University of Missouri Rules Say about Self-Plagiarism?

In the University’s academic policies, we have an entry for “Academic Dishonesty.” You can find it here:

It states, in part: “Academic honesty is fundamental to the activities and principles of the University. All members of the academic community must be confident that each person’s work has been responsibly and honorably acquired, developed and presented. Any effort to gain an advantage not given to all students is dishonest whether or not the effort is successful.”

Students who commit self-plagiarism are not submitting work that “has been responsibly and honorably acquired, developed and presented.” They are presenting an assignment as new work without acknowledging that it has previously been submitted for another course.

Further, self-plagiarism could be described as an “effort to gain an advantage not given to all students” in that they can submit an assignment without having performed any new work.

In addition, under the University’s Collected Rules, “academic dishonesty” is defined in some depth. You can see the text of the rule here:

The rule prohibits “Academic dishonesty, such as cheating, plagiarism, or sabotage.” The words “such as” allow the University to sanction students for committing academic dishonesty that does not fall squarely into a provided definition of “cheating, plagiarism, or sabotage.” Accordingly, because self-plagiarism violates academic norms and is a form of academic dishonesty, it violates University rules even if not explicitly described elsewhere in the rules.

Also, the term “cheating” is defined to include “dependence upon the aid of sources beyond those authorized by the instructor in writing papers, preparing reports, solving problems, or carrying out other assignments. In most (if not all) classes, the use of a student’s own prior work in lieu of new work is not “authorized by the instructor” for assignments, particularly if the student resubmits prior work without informing the instructor.

Further Resources:

Susanne Hall, Cary Moskovitz and Michael Pemberton, “Understanding Text Recycling: A Guide for Researchers” (June 2021), available at

La Trobe University, “Self-Plagiarism: When Recycling Your own Work Can Get You into Trouble” (April 2022), available at

Marianna Evola, “Self-Plagiarism: Can You Steal From Yourself?,” available at

McGill University, “Reusing Your Own Paper,” available at