Authors face plagiarism charge due to medical writer's unethical actions: A case study
Case: A team of four authors submitted their manuscript to a journal. Since all the authors were non-native speakers of English, they had hired the services of a medical writer. However, the paper was rejected by the journal on the grounds of plagiarism, and the editor expressed his intention to inform the authors’ institutions in case they were unable to provide a satisfactory explanation.
According to the authors, the medical writer had included plagiarized text without their knowledge. They tried to contact the company that provided the medical writing service, but received no response despite sending repeated emails. The authors were uncertain about the right course of action and approached Editage Insights for guidance.
Action: On looking up the medical writing service online, Editage Insights publication experts found that the company was not reputable. We explained to the authors that while the medical writer was at fault for plagiarizing content, as authors, they should have been more careful and chosen a reliable medical writing service.
We helped the authors draft an apology email to the journal editor explaining the medical writer’s unethical behavior. The email stated that the authors were not aware of plagiarism in the paper, and the language barrier had made it impossible for them to detect it during the review. The authors sent this email to the journal editor, providing the correspondence with the medical writer as supporting evidence.
Since the authors had acknowledged writing assistance in the paper, the editor already knew that the manuscript had been written by a medical writer. The authors informed us that on receiving their email, the editor also tried to contact the medical writing company to seek an explanation, but received no response. Hence, it was not too difficult for the editor to understand that the authors had been duped by the company providing the service. The editor was sympathetic and agreed to let the authors submit the paper as a new submission, provided it was revised to remove the plagiarized content.
Summary: Authors should be very careful when selecting medical writing services. They should look up the company’s website and try to get a reference from someone who has used the service. It is always preferable to hire professionals or companies associated with organizations such as The American Medical Writers’ Association (AMWA), European Medical Writers’ Association (EMWA), or International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP).
Additionally, when writing assistance is provided by a medical writer, authors should ensure that they are involved at every stage of the writing process, providing their inputs and reviewing each section of the manuscript carefully. Understandably, this might prove to be difficult for authors who lack fluency in English. Such authors should therefore exercise utmost caution when choosing a medical writing service. They should also personally check with the medical writer to ensure that publication ethics and best practices have been followed throughout the manuscript.
Finally, it is always advisable to conduct a plagiarism check of the completed manuscript before submitting it to a journal. Authors can choose from several options for plagiarism detection software available online, such as iThenticate, PlagAware, PlagScan, etc. Authors should also remember to acknowledge writing and editing assistance in the Acknowledgments section of their manuscript.