I have a specific question. I am working on my academic paper.

I came across this unpublished paper online written by a PhD student. Although, his topic is different, some parts of his paper relates to the background section of mine. For my background section, I am using three different books as source material. This person, let's call him Jack, has also used the same books.

Question: If my sentences are similar to Jack's (i.e. I reworded parts of his sentences) is it considered plagiarism, given, I cite the original source (that we both used): the books?

Example (made up):

  • Jack: According to Greene (2001), the program was implemented in 1991 to ensure a more efficient organization of the workers and, subsequently, to facilitate their unionization.
  • Me: The Unity program was created in 1991 to efficiently organize the labour force and, subsequently, to help workers join the labour union (Greene, 2001)

Some terms are hard to replace with alternatives without fully changing the meaning or using too many words.

I have read the book, the main source material, and have cited it in my sentence. But, my sentence is very similar to Jack's. Would this be considered plagiarism even though the idea is not Jack's?

I have no problem referencing Jack's paper in my Reference section at the end, but I don't want to use intext citation citing Jack's paper.

  • Hi, welcome to SE Academia. Can you please rephrase your question to make it more objective, highlighting the specific question while removing any unnecessary information? It reads confusing as it is.
    – Scientist
    Sep 3, 2018 at 12:54
  • Possible duplicate of Getting secondary citations right. (It sounds like you are using Jack's summary of Greene, which is intellectual content, so you should cite Jack as well as Greene.)
    – ff524
    Sep 3, 2018 at 20:40

3 Answers 3


Plagiarism is the act of passing off another work/writing as your own.

If I read the question right, you are saying something like the following: you wrote a background section about about works [1], [2] and [3]. Jack also independently and prior to you wrote a summary about works [1], [2] and [3]. And some of your sentences happen to be similar. This is not plagiarism. This is normal, because you're talking about the same things, and because both of your descriptions are influenced by the original sources [1], [2] and [3].

What would be plagiarism is if you were to copy large chunks of text into your paper without marking it off as a quotation. In my field (pure math) it's common that different papers have whole sentences which are virtually identical. (There must be hundreds of papers with the sentence "Let G be a group.")

I also don't think it's necessarily necessary to cite Jack's work just to say they summarize [1], [2] and [3] also. If you think looking at Jack's presentation also will help the reader, or you used aspects of Jack's presentation, then you should cite Jack.


TLDR: When you paraphrase someone, you should cite them.

I agree with the spirit of the answer by @Kimball, but I come to a different conclusion based on the specifics of your case. You say:

I reworded parts of his sentences

If you take someone else's writing and paraphrase it, you should probably be citing them. Otherwise you risk committing what Harvard's Honor Council calls uncited paraphrase, which is a form of plagiarism:

The rule of thumb here is simple: Whenever you use ideas that you did not think up yourself, you need to give credit to the source in which you found them, whether you quote directly from that material or provide a responsible paraphrase. (Harvard Honor Council: What Constitutes Plagiarism)

If you had simply read the same works and happened by chance to write a similar summary of them, then you would not need to cite the other author. But if you read the other author's summary and then paraphrased them, as your question seems to state, then you are relying on their work and should cite them.

Note: If you meant that your sentences could merely be interpreted as re-wording the other author's writing, but that you wrote them before you read the other version, then @Kimball's answer applies (though you may still wish to cite the other author for the sake of completeness). If that's the situation, then it might be helpful to re-word your question to make this clear.


It is hard to know from the detail you give what the correct response is. In general if you use someone's words or even ideas you should cite them. That is true even if the citation is to an unpublished manuscript (which you can describe as such).

It is also possible to paraphrase things you cite rather than simply quote them. Jack says in [1] that mumble mumble.

But taking sentences and rewording them (your description) seems a bit odd. If Jack hasn't expressed himself well, then a fresh paraphrase would seem to be more appropriate.

The big deal is don't give the impression that the words are yours.

But the citation should be given, even for an unpublished work. If you got it from Jack himself, you can also describe the "source" as a "private communication".

To be more clear, citing the joint source for yourself and Jack isn't enough if you use Jack's words even if paraphrased. But perhaps it isn't necessary to use his words at all, given that you can refer directly to the sources of the idea.

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