Finding New Ways To Reuse Old Academic Papers
As much as busy scholars would like to make each piece of text they produce an original creation in every way, this is often not possible. Finding a balance between the need to produce so many kinds of text – articles, teaching materials, online posts, grant applications, administrative briefs and many others – and the lack of time that plagues professionals can be one of the greatest challenges of a scholarly career. It is therefore inevitable that written material will be reused at times, and the scholar who has never cut and pasted information from one document to another is a rare scholar indeed. The key to success is to make each reuse fresh and appropriate for the new context.

For example, let us say a scientist is writing the most recent in a long line of articles and needs to include information presented in one of those earlier articles. The most efficient approach is to open that earlier file, copy the material needed for the new article and paste it into the new document. Far more than that is required, however, and for two reasons. If the earlier article has been published, copying parts of it for publication may be a breach of copyright, so you will need to check into that if you do want a straightforward copy. Secondly, in terms of scholarly reputation and career, it is far better to change the material, at least a little. Rewording your discussion, for instance, while using the facts or data that you cut and paste can be an effective strategy, and that new wording will ideally enable you to adapt the borrowed information to suit the new context.

For scientific and other scholarly articles adopting a new and different focal point can serve as an excellent technique for refreshing old material. Perhaps the article from which you are borrowing some statistics focussed on gathering data through national registries, but the article you are currently drafting focuses on the responses to surveys completed by a selection of participants chosen from those national registries. With relatively little effort the statistics can be presented in a way that fits the new context, and this approach can work for many other kinds of text. The content of instructional materials, for instance, often needs to be repeated for courses year after year, yet the best teachers are engaged in ongoing research that can provide that new focal point for refreshing old material and keeping both the instructor and the students engaged. Online posts, applications for funding, progress reports, advertising documents and other kinds of text that can all too easily grow repetitive will usually benefit from a shift in focal point and the new angle of thought that accompanies such a shift.

Remember when you are reshaping old material for new contexts that the result should be proofread very carefully indeed. Never assume that the text will be error free just because it was correct before, even if the material has been formally edited and published. Even published articles sport errors, after all, and it is very easy indeed to introduce errors while revising text. In addition, when prose is reused aspects of the text that are no longer appropriate can be missed, so if your focus was patients in a registry when you originally used the material, but is survey respondents when you reuse it, that word ‘patients’ just might remain where you do not want it. An extra check for such errors is therefore always necessary.

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