5 tragic research mistakes

(and how to avoid them)

Associate Professor Inger Mewburn

Director of Research Training

ANU university

Why are we here?

Talk to your neighbours about what a “tragic research mistake” might be.

Make a list of at least 3 tragic research mistakes to share with the rest of the group.

Mistake one:

Lose your job 10 years after your finish your PhD after someone runs your thesis through ‘Turnitin’ and accuses you of plagiarism...

What is authorship? ANU says:

Authorship criteria should be based on ‘substantial contributions’ in combinations of:

• conception and design of the project

• analysis and interpretation of research data

• drafting significant parts of the work or critically revising it so as to contribute to the interpretation.


Pressure to change name order

Adding names to papers to boost CVs

Adding ‘names’ to papers to ease it through peer review

Submitting what is basically the same paper more than once

Paying for articles to be published in dodgy publishing outfits

Plagiarism (including second language translations)

Use of ‘shadow scholar’ services

Normalised poor practice

Career limiting

Career ending

How to plagiarise “by mistake”

  • Focus only on writing your thesis, not on learning about how academic publishing works.

Don’t make yourself aware of rules.

Don’t come to workshops like this.

Don’t seek advice on grey areas.

Warning signs.

2. Don’t spend enough time finding out where ideas have come from and how they have changed over time.

Some ideas become a bit ‘worn out’ though use and the original source might become obscure.

Ask your supervisor

Use a reference manager

Seek help from a librarian

Get help!

3. Don’t manage quotes properly. Some rules...

Take charge of the literature! Only use a direct quote if you really can’t say it better yourself, for example:

“Novelists and poets are the landscape artists and portrait painters; academic writers are the people with big paint sprayers who repaint your basement”

Silva, P. J. (2007). How to write a lot: A practical guide to productive academic writing. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Society.

Created with the Citation Machine

Readers tend to skip over block quotations, especially if they are in itals. Assume they don’t read them. Avoid more than three lines of text. If you can’t, create a good ‘lead in and lead out’ which frames the text. If you don’t do this lead in and out the reader might be ‘thrown out’ of the flow of the text and have to backtrack. This can be annoying to an examiner, which you probably want to avoid

Be careful with block quotes:

Better to paraphrase with some bridging text instead.

3. Use poor note taking practices

Collect notes, not articles (Peg Boyle Single)

Explore other techniques, such as the Cornell note taking template.

Be kind to future self, always use quotation marks when you copy directly

Your phone is your friend!

What you have always done, might not work at this scale...

Mistake two:

Can’t hand in your thesis to be published in the online repository because you forgot to get copyright approval for images you downloaded from the internet.

No longer ‘fair use’

What does ANU say about IP?

“Where necessary to enter into contractual relationships or undertake defined projects, the University may seek agreement from a Research Student to assign IP created by the Research Student (including that jointly developed with Staff) to the University, but the University will seek to ensure that such assignments do not include assignment of copyright in the Research Student’s thesis or Scholarly and Creative Works, except where agreements with external parties make this essential.” ANU Policy on intellectual property section 4

What this means: The University does not routinely assert ownership of IP created by Research Students, but it can in some special cases.

5. If the University acquires ownership of a Research Student’s IP and the IP is Commercialised by the University the Research Student will be deemed a Creator for the purposes of the IP Protection, Commercialisation and Sharing of Income Procedure.

6. Research Students who are Creators of Education Materials grant to the University the licence as set out in section 2.

7. Where a Staff member is also a Student, then section 1 takes precedence over section 4 if the IP is created in the course of employment or the University otherwise materially contributes to the creation of the Student’s IP through provision of funding or other resources or support not usually provided to a Student.

The university lawyers to not work for you

Talk to your PARSA representative if you need advice

What does ANU say about copyright?

Copyright is the protection of a person’s expression of a creative skill or idea. The idea itself is not protected, rather the form in which it is expressed. For example, a musical composition, a book, a drawing, a video, software. In Australia, copyright exists by virtue of the Copyright Act 1968 and subsequent decisions of Australian courts.

ANU respects the rights of copyright holders and users.


A thesis is no longer ‘fair use’ because it is widely available on the web.

Need to know!

  • Use material, whether print or electronic copies, in accordance with the fair dealing provisions of Copyright Act*.
  • If your use does not fall under this category, seek permission in writing.
  • Keep good records, if you don’t get a response to repeated requests you can declare it ‘orphan copyright’
  • Remember that if you change copyrighted material you still need to seek permission for the change before you use it.
  • Journals will ask you to sign over the copyright to your work, this might mean you can’t use it in your thesis without permission. Check clauses before you sign!
  • Make sure you have permissions in place before you hand in your thesis to avoid delays in publishing.

*A thesis placed in an online repository is no longer considered ‘fair use’.

How to write seeking copyright permission:

Dear [insert name of copyright holder],

I am writing to seek permission to use your image of baby badgers published [named location] in my PhD thesis.

The picture will be included in chapter 2 of my thesis, where I discuss how cute and furry they are. I will slightly alter the picture by cropping out the dam behind the badgers (see attached image). The PhD thesis will be published in the ANU repository [insert web address] where it can be viewed and downloaded by anyone in the world.

Could you please let me know, by return email, if you agree to this use of your photo?

Mistake three:

‘Accidentally’ destroy data you need to defend yourself in a research misconduct investigation

What ANU says about data

Refer to ANU policy on research conduct, but some points to note:

“Research data, records and primary materials generated by ANU researchers are the property of ANU unless other arrangements are agreed.”

“Not destroy records, data, primary materials, or related documents and sources that may be relevant to allegations of misconduct, or challenged research results.”

“Maintain confidential or private data in secure locations and for electronic records, provide suitable encryption or password protection.”

1. If you leave, you must leave behind your data

2. You can’t know this in advance, so keep everything

3. This means don’t use drop box or google drive, but you can use a laptop. Be careful with USB sticks and back up media

5 simple strategies for managing your data:

Use US date format so files appear in order

Latest version should be a simple name

Previous versions: simple name + date

Avoid deep folder structures

Where possible, use cloud services, BUT make sure these are named in your ethics application.

All cloud

Mistake four:

Be ignorant of ethics procedures and have a supervisor who is ignorant of ethics procedures. Do a whole lot of work you can’t go on to use in your thesis

This happened to me...

This won’t happen because you came today, but many of your colleagues did not. Share the love!

By the way, all images in this presentation come from morguefile.com and are free to use without attribution. Cool right?

Academia is one of the most trusted professions in the world.

With trust comes POWER

The government requires universities to have ethics approval in place before they will fund research.

Any questions?

Three last things:

  • Remember to do your compulsory online research integrity training.
  • Find out who manages research integrity issues in your school.
  • Always ask for advice early - problems only get harder to solve.
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