Comparative research design was not plagiarism

TENK received a request for a statement which expressed dissatisfaction with an investigation on an RCR violation conducted by a university. The RCR investigation involved a Master’s thesis approved at the university in 2013. The requestor noted that there were non-cited points in the thesis from his/her own 2011 Master’s thesis. According to the university’s preliminary inquiry, the thesis did not show any signs of misconduct and disregard in relation to the requestor’s thesis, nor was there a need to begin an investigation proper on the matter.

TENK was requested to give an opinion on the similarity of texts in particular depicting the research process in comparison to the requestor’s text. The indisputable fact of the case was that the author of the thesis replicated the research design of the requestor’s thesis in order to obtain comparable results with him/her.

In its statement, TENK noted that comparative research design has led to similarity of language use, particularly in the chapters depicting research design and previous studies. As the purpose was the replication of a previously completed study, this was seen to be understandable. The use of long paraphrasing comprising several sentences without quotation marks can, however, be considered problematic because paraphrasing can easily blur the line between the author’s and the quoted text. The thesis subject to the request for a statement could have made it clearer that not only research design was taken from the requestor’s thesis, but also its depiction.

However, TENK noted that the Master’s thesis did not aim to denigrate the significance of the requestor’s work as its point of departure. On the contrary, its significance was highlighted in quite a proper manner in terms of research integrity. The request for a statement furthermore did not highlight topics which would not have been processed in the previous inquiry. For these reasons, TENK noted that the inquiry showed no such disregard which could have been considered a violation of responsible conduct of research.