Q: My paper has been rejected on the grounds of plagiarism. What should I do?

Detailed Question -

I submitted a paper to a journal and the editor thinks it is similar to another paper that I had published earlier. According to him, it has 20% plagiarized content. He has rejected my paper mentioning that it won’t be possible to appeal against this decision. However, I just copied some case background from the previous publication in the introduction section. I have improved the method, conducted new experiments, and the results and tables and figures are all different. Is this plagiarism? I have come up with three solutions; please advise which course of action I should take. 1. Revise the paper and submit to another journal. But will it leave a negative impression on the first journal editor and affect future submissions? 2. Explain to the editor and see if I can revise and re-submit. But the editor has said I can't appeal against this decision, so will this action irritate him? 3. Respect the editor’s decision and explain I didn't plagiarize, and then submit to another journal. But if the editor changes his mind, I will lose the chance to resubmit.

1 Answer to this question

Plagiarism means using words, sentences, or ideas from another work without clearly acknowledging the source. According to the ORI Policy on Plagiarism "substantial unattributed textual copying of another's work" is considered as plagiarism. This is because copying from another work without acknowledging the source is equivalent to passing off someone else's original work as your own.

I can understand that as a non-native speaker of English, it must be very difficult to rephrase English text in your own words. However, you must remember that using words or sentences from some other work is considered as plagiarism, unless the copied text is clearly identified and the source acknowledged. You should always cite the source when you are borrowing a concept or an idea from another paper, even if you have summarized it in your own words. If you are using the same words as that of the source material, you should always use quotation marks. Remember that even if you are using a concept or idea from one of your own previously published papers, you have to cite the source; else, this will be considered as self-plagiarism.

To avoid falling into the trap of accidental plagiarism, it is always better to take help from a native speaker of English while summarizing or paraphrasing text. Alternatively, you can take help from a professional editing service. 

I think you should go with the third solution that you have come up with. You can explain to the editor that you respect his decision in the matter, but clarify that the plagiarism was not intentional. Since the editor has made it clear that your case will not be reconsidered, it would be best if you submit the paper to another journal.