As I understand about writing a research project report or master thesis report, it must be complete, self-sufficient. The readers can understand the report/book by reading it thoroughly without the need to consult other sources.

I can think these two ways:

  1. just stated that "the complete mechanism is discussed in [1]."

    But this options make the report not self-sufficient.

  2. paraphrase and cite the original source

    This is what I am doing. But I worry that the paraphrase is so similar to the original writing because what I am trying to explain is a physics mechanism which I think it is hard to explain it in another way, especially the structure of the explanation.

I really appreciate any suggestion.

  • Can this mechanism be summarized in an equation?
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 18:11
  • Your option 1 is very common in articles as well as thesis cause there is not much space to discuss every piece of details of a mechanism from scratch so you cannot argue about these kind of referring such as: "For complete description of mechanism readers are referred to [1] ". Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 18:12
  • @BryanKrause, no equation in the original source for this mechanism. Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 18:19
  • @AloneProgrammer, how about the completeness of a report? Even though I know it cannot be 100% complete since it is not possible to paraphrase all the reference we use. I also worry if the supervisor think I am to lazy to think other way. other consequence is it make the report thinner. Yes, I need to fulfill a minimum number of pages. sorry if someone feels offended by this reason. Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 18:19

2 Answers 2


You can quote (within reason) and/or paraphrase quite freely as long as you cite the source. For some things there are only a very limited number of ways to state something accurately so "using the same words" is not an absolute prohibition in certain fields. There are scales of measurement here. But in those situations in which you need the exact words (such as, perhaps, definitions), quote and cite.

Plagiarism is when you try to represent another's work as your own. You aren't doing that here. Copyright infringement is when you copy another's words without permission or other justification. Normally, academics expect that short phrases may be quoted from their work. For longer passages, however, it is wise to seek permission from the copyright holder, of course.

However, there may be another way in some circumstances. Sometimes it is possible to take older work and summarize it in a way that loses almost nothing. Rephrasing work in a simpler form may help both you and your reader to understand it better than the original sources. It isn't always possible, but may be worth the effort. This takes insight, which is worth cultivating.

  • Distinguishing plagiarism from copyright infringement is a very good point. Plagiarism is unethical, while copyright infringement may not be, given how copyright law diverges from ethical and scientific purposes. Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 18:53

You should ask your supervisor.

It's hard for us to know how deeply you need to describe this mechanism for your manuscript to be "complete." I think most likely you are misinterpreting the requirement for a thesis to be complete/self-sufficient with an unnecessary level of detail from already published work.

In some ways, citing previous work does make something complete because the reader can go to that source for more information, all you need to do is properly convey what the general idea is (summary) and where to find the information (citation). In some contexts, reproducing the identical language from that prior work may be appropriate with proper citation: sometimes there is just really one way to write something (such as an equation or terminology; you would not be serving anyone in your field anything if you switch some variable conventions around or if you substitute synonyms into a brief phrase in an attempt to not "plagiarize").

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