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Reuse of text

Reusing text from the project in your master thesis

IIK 2020-02-12

There have been questions concerning the reuse of text from project (TTM4502) in the master thesis. Many students put a lot of effort into the project report and find it challenging to provide a well formulated and compact presentation of the motivation, related work and others, that should go into the project report. Hence, they would like to reuse parts of their project work and consider a rewrite to be a “waste of effort”. On the other hand, students are aware that such a reuse of text might be considered as “plagiarism”. There have been no clear guidelines from the department so far on how to deal with this, which has yielded uncertainties. The objective of this short note is to provide such guidelines and some background information.

The short version is that the problem of not being allowed to reuse text from the project report, without risking being accused for plagiarism, is more of a conceived problem than a real one. Reuse of own material is ok as long as it is evident that it is reused.

Background

  • Plagiarism is the process or practice of using another person's ideas or work and pretending that it is your own.
  • "Self-plagiarism" refers to the reuse of own material without explicitly stating that this material is made available, published or used earlier. It is fundamentally different from plagiarism since it does not involve "stealing" from others. but refers to presenting something as new work when it is not. 
  • Self-plagiarism is illegal if there are restrictions on reusing the material, for instance:
    1. The copyright is owned by others than the author. this is the case for most publications authored by scientific staff at the department.
    2. Work done by students to complete a course or degree cannot be reused for a later course or degree (if this is done, it is considered as cheating; § 6-4). 

  • Self-plagiarism in reporting research is considered as unethical, also when it is not illegal. 
  • Keep in mind that plagiarism, including self-plagiarism, is not restricted to the "reuse" of text, it also encompasses the semantics of the content, e.g. lines of reasoning, ideas, results. 

In the master's thesis

  • Relevant text from the project may be reused if it is clearly and explicitly stated that it is adopted from the project work. The best way of doing this is a citation to the project report. See examples below.
  • Self-plagiarism in the MSc thesis of project work, i.e., reuse of material without explicitly stating it, is not acceptable, cf. the study regulations.
  • Tools for similarity check of texts are available. These will not be misused in the sense that a student will be automatically accused of self-plagiarism if a few identical sentences pop up in a (revised) text that contains a substantial amount of new content.

Two additional points

It causes confusion that the concept of plagiarism is used differently in copyright legislation and in research ethics. Rewriting one’s own text may be (and is) used to avoid copyright infringements but if the content is the same, it is still considered as self-plagiarism from a research-ethical perspective. Hence, rewriting well-formulated text in transferring material from project to thesis just to change the wording is a waste of effort. If rewording is done, the original work should still be cited.

Reusing text and unaltered content from the project (with citations) may seem a good way to get started. However, keep in mind that during the work on the thesis, you will most likely get a revised, deeper and/or more extensive insight into the topics that you explored in the project. Hence, it is highly recommended to take a critical look on what is “reused”, and to amend it based on your new insights. In most cases, this will result in such a substantial amount of new content, that you will no longer be committing self-plagiarism in case that the self-citation is omitted. (Be also aware that not amending what you reported in the project may leave an impression of no progress on these subtopics after 20 weeks of work.)

Examples on how self-citations may be stated

Referring to formulation of research questions:

  • Much focus has been on the research questions(s) / objective formulation. If these are kept unaltered after the feedback on the project report and the initial work on the master thesis - cf. the compulsory problem description one month (putting in approximately as much work as in the project) - you may state: "The research questions(s) / objective(s) from the project is/are maintained [Nec19].  <<formulation of the research question(s) / objective(s)>>".

Referring to a reused subsection, e.g. related work:

  • Reuse of a complete subsection may be formulated as: "The state of art and related work were reviewed, and an identification of the relevant background material were carried out in the project preceding this thesis [Nec19]. No relevant new material was found during the work on the thesis. The presentation from the project report is included below. <<Text on related work/SoA/etc.>>". 
  • Reuse of a substantial part of a subsection may be formulated as: "The state of art and related work were reviewed, and an identification of the relevant background material were carried out in the project preceding this thesis [Nec19]. This is amended with discussion of a few papers that have become available (been studied, been published, or...) after the project. <<Text on related work/SoA/etc.>>".

Project report reference:

  • @techreport{Nescio:Title-of-project-report:2019,

         Author = {Nomen Nescio},

         Institution = {Department of Information Security and Communication       Technology, NTNU -- Norwegian University of Science and Technology},

         Month = {Dec.},

         Title = {Title of project report},

         Type = {Project report in {TTM4502}},

         Year = {2019}}

  • [Nec19] Nomen Nescio. Title of project report. Project report in TTM4502, Department of Information Security and Communication Technology, NTNU – Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Dec. 2019.

 

This information is copied from the document published in Blackboard for master students at IIK. 

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