I have started to build my personal phrase bank since I’m a non-native speaker and struggling to build my arguments and sentences correctly. So I decided to mimic the structure of native authors who write in academia in general. To make it clear, I will provide an example:

An established phrase from others’ work:

In recent years, it has become obvious that informal housing and land markets are not just the domain of the poor but that they are also important for...

My use of this phrase in my context:

In recent years, it has become popular that the idea of both big data and open data are important for the development discourse and not just as tools of the government.

I’m actually concerned whether this similarity in the sentence structure might be considered plagiarism.

  • 12
    I think you are much better off reading 2 or 3 classic novels. It will be more interesting, and you will get a much better feel for the flow of English than you ever could get from a phrase bank. Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 2:05
  • Don't say "I'm a writer, not a reader!"
    – Leon Meier
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 3:21
  • 5
    Agree with @AlexanderWoo, a phrase bank is not likely to achieve your goal of producing good English sentences - for instance, your example sounds very odd!
    – nengel
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 5:14
  • @AlexanderWoo "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a university in possession of a good fortune must be in want of grant applications."
    – G_B
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 2:05

4 Answers 4


I wouldn't immediately call it plagiarism, but there is something you are overlooking.

Writing is not as formulaic as you think. Yes there are standard grammar structure, syntax, and punctuation, but when you put sentences together into a paragraph, the meaning changes. So when you put words in a phrase bank together, the end-meaning might not reflect what you intended.

So when you put words in a phrase bank together, the end-meaning might not reflect what you intended. Yes there are standard grammar structure, syntax, and punctuation, but when you put sentences together into a paragraph, the meaning changes. Writing is not as formulaic as you think.

In your mind, 1+2=3 and 2+1=3, but in the case of reading comprehension, the sequence and order of which you read the sentences change the meaning. At the same time, not all "1" share the same meaning either so from time to time you would have phrases that seem out of place. As Alexander woo suggested, the best way to learn is to read, write, and practice.

  • Thank you Frank FYC for your comment, really appreciate your help.
    – Mahran
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 14:14

No, this is not plagiarism. You are claiming novelty of your research, not sentence structure. Academic writing is very formulaic on every level of abstractions. Including, but not limited to, what sentences are being used in what situations. Building a "phrase bank" is a good idea. I had been encouraged to do so independently by several researchers, who do the same (maybe not necessarily building a bank of phrases ready to use but using sentences from other papers).

Academic writing books often have sections containing useful phrases ready to be used, therefore even writing pro's think this is a good idea. That being said, having set of phrases is not enough to make you a good at writing academic papers, but it is still better than reading classic novels.

  • Thank you, User for your comment. I agree with you that ready phrases might help many researchers to build an argument, especially those who are non-native.
    – Mahran
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 19:50
  • 1
    I would uggest that reading classic novels is a much more effective way of improving your reading, writing and comprehension skils than copying a set of phrases... but this question would, perhaps, be better served on the English stack...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 10:54
  • @SolarMike It is nice, but most novels have completely different language. Essays and non-fiction is better to read for that purpose, but they are not an ultimate tool neither. Just like in any other phases of language learning, it makes sense to collect phrases, expressions, even full sentences
    – Greg
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 17:31
  • @Greg As is pointed out above, taking existing sentences and expecting them to clearly carry your meaning does not always work, as a sentence that has been carefully crafted will not neccesarily carry the same nuances when changing one word.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 17:43

It is not plagiarism. Some people have actively studied and devised models of academic writing, this is what (some) academic writing courses teach). For example, many introductions in papers use particular signal words in a particular order and the overall structure has a particular shape that we come to expect. Writing according to these expectations helps the reader.

I think rather than devising your own phrase-bank, which essentially aims to reach the same results, it would be much quicker for you to read a book on academic writing. This is the one used where I did my PhD:


But there are many others. The key point to make is that the book (and others) tell you what words to use and when, such as during the introduction of the topic, moving onto the problem statement, and so on.

  • Thank you, Thomas, for your suggestion, I will try to look at it in someday.
    – Mahran
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 19:52

The Academic Phrasebank (http://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/) might be what you are looking for. This is a collection of general resources for academic writers, providing curated examples of "phraseological 'nuts and bolts' of writing".

On the issue of plagiarism, the author John Morley states that

In most cases, a certain amount of creativity and adaptation will be necessary when a phrase is used. The items in the Academic Phrasebank are mostly content neutral and generic in nature; in using them, therefore, you are not stealing other people's ideas and this does not constitute plagiarism.

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