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Plagiarism in research: a survey of African medical journals
  1. Anke Rohwer1,
  2. Elizabeth Wager2,3,
  3. Taryn Young1,
  4. Paul Garner4
  1. 1 Centre for Evidence-based Health Care, Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
  2. 2 Sideview, Princes Risborough, UK
  3. 3 School of Medicine, University of Split, Split, Croatia
  4. 4 Department of Clinical Sciences, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Anke Rohwer; arohwer{at}


Objectives To examine whether regional biomedical journals in Africa had policies on plagiarism and procedures to detect it; and to measure the extent of plagiarism in their original research articles and reviews.

Design Cross sectional survey.

Setting and participants We selected journals with an editor-in-chief in Africa, a publisher based in a low or middle income country and with author guidelines in English, and systematically searched the African Journals Online database. From each of the 100 journals identified, we randomly selected five original research articles or reviews published in 2016.

Outcomes For included journals, we examined the presence of plagiarism policies and whether they referred to text matching software. We submitted articles to Turnitin and measured the extent of plagiarism (copying of someone else’s work) or redundancy (copying of one’s own work) against a set of criteria we had developed and piloted.

Results Of the 100 journals, 26 had a policy on plagiarism and 16 referred to text matching software. Of 495 articles, 313 (63%; 95% CI 58 to 68) had evidence of plagiarism: 17% (83) had at least four linked copied or more than six individual copied sentences; 19% (96) had three to six copied sentences; and the remainder had one or two copied sentences. Plagiarism was more common in the introduction and discussion, and uncommon in the results.

Conclusion Plagiarism is common in biomedical research articles and reviews published in Africa. While wholesale plagiarism was uncommon, moderate text plagiarism was extensive. This could rapidly be eliminated if journal editors implemented screening strategies, including text matching software.

  • plagiarism
  • text-matching software
  • journal policies
  • regional journals

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  • Contributors All authors contributed to the design of the study and the development of the plagiarism framework. AR collected and analysed the data from journals and articles with input from TY, PG and EW. AR reviewed all manuscripts using the plagiarism framework and EW independently reviewed 10% of the included articles. AR drafted the manuscript. TY, PG and EW critically engaged with the manuscript and provided input. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding All authors are supported by the Effective Health Care Research Consortium. This Consortium is funded by UK aid from the UK Government for the benefit of developing countries (grant: 5242).

  • Disclaimer The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect UK government policy.

  • Competing interests PG is part of Cochrane, an organisation that routinely uses Turnitin. EW has given workshops on plagiarism and spoken at a conference funded by Turnitin.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Unpublished data from the study are available upon request from AR.

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