Writing for Impact Week: follow-up 3

You ask if there are ethical questions involved in the creation of multiple articles from a single research topic. Self-plagiarism is present definitional challenges because making of the difficulty of deciding on how much of a re-used text constitutes self-plagiarism (Carver et al., 2011). Carver and colleagues (2011) discuss the issue of duplicate publication and point out that this constitutes scientific misconduct on a few ground. Their discipline is medical science, yet many of the core issues may also apply to publication in the social sciences. One aspect of duplicate publication that can impact significantly in social sciences is that a second or subsequent publication “distorts the scientific record” (Carver et al., 2011). Unwitting writers may create the impression of their argument being supported by multiple studies when in fact all of the data stems from a single source. This form of duplication often can bypass plagiarism software systems because what is being copied can be the base technical source data not the words used to present the idea.

It is at this point M’s question takes teeth in social science writing. The separation of the idea from the text allows researchers to use the 3×3 method and generate a full research article, a practitioner article and a policy article from the same idea and base data without needing to use the same language. Is this ethical?

I would argue that not only is doing so ethical, it is an imperative. The reasons I outlined in my opening submission apply here, too. A researcher has the moral obligation to share knowledge before being hit by the proverbial truck (Clapham, 2005). Also, I argue for the necessity in locating appropriate outlets that match the type of knowledge and the best (in the researcher’s mind) use of that knowledge. Skolits, Brockett and Hiemstra’s (2011) 3×3 position is defensible because the location and use of knowledge in itself constitutes new knowledge. This is a Foucaldian notion that defines text as the sum total of aspects found within and out with the printed text itself (Graham, 2011). So long as the original source of any data is acknowledged, the use of that data itself is a research prerogative. In this argument, I draw upon Zins (2007) separation of data from information and knowledge. Carver et al’s (2011) argument founds primarily on the ethical issues surrounding the dissemination of original data in medical science. However, in social science the distinction beyond data and between ideas, information and text is not so clear. This question is a mine-field. Unfortunately, space and my 10-year-old daughter tell me to stop for now.


Carver, J. D., Dellva, B., Emmanuel, P. J., & Parchure, R. (2011). Ethical considerations in scientific writing. Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 32(2), 124–128. http://doi.org/10.4103/0253

Graham, L. J. (2011). The Product of Text and “Other” Statements: Discourse analysis and the critical use of Foucault. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 43(6), 663–674. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-5812.2010.00698.x

Zins, C. (2007). Conceptual approaches for defining data, information and knowledge. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 58(4), 479–493. http://doi.org/10.1002/asi

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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