Worried about the plagiarism check at the journal end? Here's what you need to know...
Plagiarism is considered one of the biggest threats to the integrity of published literature, and the proportion of journal retractions on account of plagiarism have increased over the past few years. As a result, journals have become more vigilant to possible plagiarism in the manuscripts they receive. Plagiarism detection software packages have greatly helped in reducing the possibility of duplicate publication, and they thus enhance the quality of the literature.
Generally, the plagiarism check is conducted soon after submission, during the initial editorial check. If the percentage is similar content is too high, the paper receives a desk rejection. However, if the similarity is not too high, the manuscript might be returned, with a request to revise and resubmit. How much do journal editors rely on plagiarism detection tools when it comes to deciding whether to reject a manuscript because of plagiarism?
Ideally, journals should have zero tolerance for intentionally plagiarized content. However, that said, journal editors know that some similarity with existing literature is sometimes unavoidable, especially for non-native speakers of English, who find it difficult to rewrite content using their own words. Additionally, the automated plagiarism detectors used by journals are not always an accurate means to detect plagiarism, particularly when a manuscript includes highly technical content and terminology. Therefore, most journal editors do not rely completely on plagiarism detection software. They understand the limitations of these tools and in most cases do not reject a manuscript outright based only on the results of the plagiarism detection software unless the percentage of plagiarized content is very high, at least above 30 per cent.
In most cases, editors use their discretion in consultation with the peer reviewers to judge whether a paper should be rejected on account of plagiarism. Journal editors are also aware of the fact that in some cases rewording content would be very difficult, and they tend to make some allowances in such cases. This is particularly true of the Methods section of the manuscript, and generally editors have a more lenient attitude towards content similarity in the Methods section. Similarly, journals generally have a higher tolerance for similar content when it comes to review articles. Although there is no consensus on this, around 15 to 20 per cent similarity might be considered acceptable by most journals.
It is advisable to conduct a plagiarism check of their article before submission to ensure that they clear the plagiarism check at the journal end. There are different plagiarism detection software available online that can be used for this purpose, but the most reliable one is TurnitIn. But remember that more than the overall percentage of similarity, what actually matters is which section of your manuscript has the maximum similarity. If you check the detailed report provided by Turnitin, you will find that the parts where similar content has been detected have been marked. If most of the similar content is in the Methods section, you have nothing to worry about. If the Introduction or Discussion has more of similar content, you should try to reword it as far as possible. If the Results section has similar content, you might be in trouble. You should be very careful to avoid similarity in the Results section.
Based on the results of your plagiarism check, it would be best to paraphrase or reword sections of the manuscript that have a lot of similar content. If you find it difficult to reword the content, you can ask a colleague or a friend who is a native speaker of English to help you or you can consider taking help from a professional editing service. If the major portions of similarity are in the Methods section or because of technical content that absolutely cannot be reworded, you could perhaps explain it in your cover letter. Ensure that all required sources are cited. You could perhaps also write to the journal editor, explaining why certain parts were flagged in the plagiarism check and requesting that the decision be reconsidered. In your letter, don’t forget to reiterate the novel aspects of your study and how it adds value to the existing literature.