Plagiarism in research: a survey of African medical journals

08 Nov 2018

Objectives: To examine whether regional biomedical journals in Africa had policies on plagiarism and procedures to detect it; and to measure the extent of plagiarism in their original research articles and reviews.

Design: Cross sectional survey.

Setting and participants: We selected journals with an editor-in-chief in Africa, a publisher based in a low or middle income country and with author guidelines in English, and systematically searched the African Journals Online database. From each of the 100 journals identified, we randomly selected five original research articles or reviews published in 2016.

Outcomes: For included journals, we examined the presence of plagiarism policies and whether they referred to text matching software. We submitted articles to Turnitin and measured the extent of plagiarism (copying of someone else’s work) or redundancy (copying of one’s own work) against a set of criteria we had developed and piloted.

Results: Of the 100 journals, 26 had a policy on plagiarism and 16 referred to text matching software. Of 495 articles, 313 (63%; 95%CI 58 to 68) had evidence of plagiarism: 17% (83) had at least four linked copied or more than six individual copied sentences; 19% (96) had three to six copied sentences; and the remainder had one or two copied sentences. Plagiarism was more common in the introduction and discussion, and uncommon in the results.

Conclusion: Plagiarism is common in biomedical research articles and reviews published in Africa. While wholesale plagiarism was uncommon, moderate text plagiarism was extensive. This could rapidly be eliminated if journal editors implemente

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