Monday, 1 February 2010

Plagiarism: reusing figures from papers and textbooks in your work

One question I get asked a lot is how to correctly reuse figures from textbooks and papers.

First, you will gain more marks IF your draw you own figures and not just recycle the figures from other sources. However, having said that, it still does not mean you can just redraw a figure you have found without stating from where it came, as that would be plagiarism.

Suppose you found the idea figure for your report/essay in a paper....

Original figure no legend

The figure you want to use...

and the paper in question is:

Mol Syst Biol. 2007;3:139. 2007 Oct 16.
PhosphoPep--a phosphoproteome resource for systems biology research in Drosophila Kc167 cells.
Bodenmiller B, Malmstrom J, Gerrits B, Campbell D, Lam H, Schmidt A, Rinner O, Mueller LN, Shannon PT, Pedrioli PG, Panse C, Lee HK, Schlapbach R, Aebersold R.

If you just used the figure as shown above in figure 1, then that would be plagiarism. However, if you used the above figure and stated - 'Taken from the paper of Bodenmiller et al. 2007' - at the end of the figure legend, and then gave the full reference in the bibliography, then that would not be considered plagiarism. (One possible problem here may be the figure legend. Some members of staff may expect the legend to be re-written in your own words, even though you have stated the figure source, and some members of staff may not. So, to be safe it is a good idea to re-write the legend.)

Therefore the final figure will look like:

Original figure no legend

Fig 1: Text describing the figure, in your own words... Taken from the paper of Bodenmiller et al. 2007.

Now, if you changed the figure in some way, that is, you added something to it (see below where a red circle has been added), but were still using the base figure, then you would still have to state the source of the original figure. For example:

Adapted figure1

Fig 1: Text describing the figure, in your own words... Adapted from the paper of Bodenmiller et al. 2007.

Now, to get the most marks you should draw the figure yourself, add something relevant to it (don't forget to state where you got the information in the legend, that is, give the reference), but again you should still state from where you got the original figure...

Own figure

Fig 1: Text describing the figure, in your own words... Adapted from the paper of Bodenmiller et al. 2007.