I am writing a detailed literature review of some twenty papers available on a newer topic of interest, which form the core of the topic. I am extensively using data from all of those twenty papers.

I want to know whether there is any limit to the amount of data that can be taken from a research paper (with proper citations and referencing) for writing a review paper. Will the excessive use of data (methodology, experimental results, author's proposed and unverified hypothesis etc.) from a research paper be called plagiarism?

  • @henning I have edited the question. I am doing this 'excessive' use of data from all those 20 papers available in the field of my interest.
    – Deepak
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 18:48
  • I would suggest that the greater part of your paper should be your original analysis, not just a repetition of others results.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 19:40
  • 2
    Note also that facts are not subject to copyright (as opposed to the rendering of figures and/or tables). If you produce your own tables and figures from the facts (numbers) in the papers, you need to cite your source (as usual) but no permission is needed to reuse the plain facts reported in the paper.
    – cbeleites
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 16:57

4 Answers 4


Plagiarism, according to Marriam-Webster, quoted here:

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
  • to use (another's production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

From your description, it seems you are not committing any of these offenses. Review papers necessarily report large amounts of work and results from other researchers and are therefore, in a sense, derivative. This isn't plagiarism, as long as the sources are painstakingly referenced and acknowledged (as you do). The originality of a review consists in synthesising the existing body of work, identifying different strands in it, examining present shortcomings as well as best practices, and suggesting further research at the cutting edge.


As noted, you are not talking about plagiarism. But you may be talking about copyright violation: even if "facts" cannot be copyrighted a particular list of experimental results can.

On the other hand, a certain amount of a copyrighted work can be quoted in a review. This is the doctrine of "fair use". If you need legal advice, consult a lawyer. Perhaps your own institution has lawyers on staff (or as consultants) that you can consult.

  • It should be noted that "fair use" is particular to US copyright law, although many countries have similar (but usually more limited) provisions for educational or scientific use. Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 9:21

Writing a review article is not plagiarism as long as you cite all sources correctly. If you don't, it's plagiarism.

Besides this, there are, at least in STM, limits regarding the amount of data that can be taken from a research paper due to copyright and permission handling, see the guidelines of the STM Association.

use up to three figures (including tables) from a journal article or book chapter, but:

  • not more than five figures from a whole book or journal issue/edition;
  • not more than six figures from an annual journal volume; and
  • not more than three figures from works published by a single publisher for an article, and not more than three figures from works published by a single publisher for a book chapter (and in total not more than thirty figures from a single publisher for re-publication in a book, including a multi-volume book, with different authors per chapter)

use single text extracts of less than 400 words from a journal article or book chapter, but

  • not more than a total of 800 words from a whole book or journal issue/edition

Note, that in most cases you have to ask for permission or at least notify the publisher about the re-use of the material.

If you want to use more, you defenitely have to ask for permission and might be charged. But this is a copyright an not a plagiarism issue.

  • looking into the linked document, your quote appears rather misleading: the guidelines state that their purpose is reduction of adminstrative work: up to those limits permission to reproduce should be given without charging a fee between publishers that are members of that STM publisher's association. So those limits may have practical consequences in the procedure and possible fees to obtain the permission, but they don't have anything to do with the question of plagiarism. Note that most of the publishers still require notification (i.e. you get the permission automatically by asking).
    – cbeleites
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 16:54
  • @cbeleites It's absolutely correct that the mentioned amount of data that can be taken from a research paper has nothing to do with plagiarism as clearly stated in my first paragraph: Plagiarism is about not citing correctly. But one of the initial questions was very general asking whether there are any limits. I wanted to address this. Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 17:01
  • @cbeleites I edited my answer to clarify the difference between plagiarism and copyright. Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 17:50

There are three closely related things that your question seems to conflate. Most of the existing answers mention plagiarism and copyright, but in academic publication, originality is also important:

  • Plagiarism: As long as you properly cite your sources, there is absolutely no concern about plagiarism. You could literally copy and paste an entire book; as long as you clearly cite the author and you clearly say that your work is a copy-and-paste, there is no problem with plagiarism. (Obviously, that extreme example would have a serious problem with the following two items.)

  • Copyright violation: If the works you are borrowing from are copyrighted, then you need to be careful not to copy-and-paste too much from them, even if you properly cite your source and explicitly mention that it is a copy-and-paste. How much is too much is a subjective question, but a widely accepted standard is that up to 10% of an article or chapter is acceptable, especially for purposes of research and education. However, note that I say "copy-and-paste": copyright does not protect ideas; it only protects the expression of those ideas, that is, the exact words used to express the ideas. So,if you merely borrow the same ideas and completely rewrite them in your own words (beyond mere paraphrasing), then there is absolutely no concern with copyright violation. Moreover, in many jurisdictions, databases (that is, unoriginal facts compiled as a table) are not copyrightable; you can freely copy them without concern for copyright violation (as long as the facts are truly unoriginal; if a lot of originality went into those tables, then it gets sticky and varies by jurisdiction).

  • Originality: Regardlenss of moral issues of plagiarism and legal issues of copyright, when publishing academic work, you must also be concerned about originality: most publishers require that your work be truly original in some way; that is, it is not a mere rehashing of ideas that have already been published. So, merely copying other people's work and citing it might not be sufficient to be published. That said, what you describe should have no problem meeting this standard: combining multiple published works almost always creates a new, original work. The question of how original is enough is a very subjective question that depends on the editors.

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