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Recycling text

29 June 2021

Recycling text - new guidelines clarify a thorny issue

I have written elsewhere on this blog about plagiarism. Plagiarism is when you copy text from a source document somebody else has written, and paste it into your own document. You will be aware that plagiarism is not acceptable either for any documents that you hand in at the University or for anything that you want to publish (see blog entry on plagiarism). 

  • But what if the source document that you want to copy from is something that you've written yourself?
  • Does this still count as plagiarism?
  • Or is it text recycling?

In some new guidelines, recently published, Hall et al (2021) help demystify text recycling in its different formats and explain what is permissible when and why.

Text recycling 



Reusing text that you have written but not published, for example in your proposal or thesis.


Use of already published text that becomes more obscure when you attempt to reword it, such as technical settings in your methods.


Using text published in one format on the same subject but for a different audience. For example, using some text published in a paper for a popular article. 


Repeating published text wholesale for intention to publish again for the same audience.

Developmental recyclingis when you are reusing text that you have written for example between your proposal and something you intend for publication or in an ethics application that you also want to use in your thesis. All of this sort of developmental recycling is permitted and actually encouraged. I would further encourage you to use the opportunity of recycling this text to develop it and refine it further, condensing and improving where you can. 

Generative recyclingis where you take pieces of already published text for example from the methods when it does not make sense to change the text or actually makes it more obscure to reword it in order to avoid plagiarism. In my experience this doesn't amount to more than a few sentences describing technical settings on equipment. However this will depend strongly on your own subject area and may amount to larger chunks of text. In my previous advice on generative recycling I suggested that it is usually possible to reword most of the methods sections of papers. I reiterate here that this is the most preferable outcome and that you avoid any text recycling at all. You should really only be generatively recycling material if you cannot avoid it. These are situations where the text becomes more obscure by your attempts to reword it. There are some extra guidelines for generative recycling where you should have been an author preferably the lead author on the original text and that you make it transparent that the text has been recycled to readers (via a citation) and you may also want to declare it in your cover letter if there are no journal guidelines. Also make sure that any co-authors are aware.

Adaptive recyclingis where you are using published text for example for my paper as the basis for content in a popular article online or in a magazine or op-ed. I think that this kind of text recycling is quite unnecessary because you almost certainly need to reword your text for a different audience. There maybe times such as figure legends where you need to reuse text that was already published. If you do find yourself in such a position then check with the copyright owner of the material that you are able to reuse the text that you want without legal issues.

Duplicate recyclingis where large tracts of texts are essentially the same for the same message and audience. This is never likely to be sanctioned as it suggests that you are attempting to publish the same work twice. It will not be legal or ethical.

Read More:

Hall, S, Moskovitz, C, and Pemberton, M (2021) “Understanding text recycling. A Guide for Researchers” Text Recycling Research Project: 

  Lab  Writing

Agamas bite hard

22 June 2021

What is the relationship between bite force, morphology, and diet in southern African agamids?

If you've ever picked up an agama, then you know that they bite hard. Back in January 2017, Nick Tan came to the MeaseyLab on a European Commission Erasmus Mundus Masters Course (International Master in Applied Ecology) to conduct fieldwork for his MSc, submitted in July of the same year.

Nick already published two papers from his thesis (see here), but this latest paper out today in BMC Ecology & Evolution looks at the relationship between bite force, morphology, and diet across a number of agamids in southern Africa. He found that although head morphology and bite force relate to each other, they don't have strong or expected relationships with the ecology of the species. For example, rock agamas that have particularly flat heads for fitting under rocks, actually bite very hard. In general species with greater in-levers for jaw closing have a greater bite force and are associated to an increase of hard prey in the diet.

If you've never conducted any performance work, then it's worth watching this video and seeing how much work goes into getting every datapoint. Especially when the animals bite hard...

The bigger they are - the harder they bite!

This is a video by Nick that shows what happens when Giovanni got bitten. 

Nick's work built on fieldwork done by Anthony Herrel, Bieke Vanhooydonck and the reptile team back in 2008.

Great to see this work being published!

Read Nick's work here:

Tan, W.C., Measey, J., Vanhooydonck, B. & Herrel, A. (2021) The relationship between bite force, morphology, and diet in southern African agamids. BMC Ecol Evo 21,  126.

Tan, W.C., Vanhooydonck, B., Measey, J. & Herrel, A. (2020) Morphology, locomotor performance, and habitat use in southern African agamids Biological Journal of the Linnnean Society PDF

Tan, W.C., Herrel, A. & Measey, J. (2020) Dietary observations of four southern African lizards (Agamidae). Herpetological Conservation and Biology  15(1), 69-78 pdf

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