In the literature review when I have many definitions from the literature can I paraphrase them or do I have to put them in quotes as they are?

  • 1
    Somehow related question academia.stackexchange.com/questions/5471/…
    – seteropere
    Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 15:43
  • 3
    What is your academic field? In mathematics and theoretical computer science, definitions are (almost) never put in quotes.
    – Yury
    Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 16:40
  • In business, both ways are common.
    – earthling
    Commented Sep 4, 2013 at 3:08

2 Answers 2


If you use another source's definitions verbatim, then they must be placed in quotes; otherwise that's plagiarism. However, it should be pointed out that general facts and definitions—one that would be reasonably obvious to anyone who has, for instance, an undergraduate background in your field—need not be cited, so long as you are not literally quoting someone else. For instance, saying "Newton's second law states F = m × a" does not require a citation; saying

The second law states that the net force on an object is equal to the rate of change (that is, the derivative) of its linear momentum p in an inertial reference frame [Wikipedia].

requires a citation to Wikipedia.

  • For example: if Author A say"Earth is ver nice place to leave in and interact with people" and I said Author A declared that living in earth is a good way to interact with people. Then this cosidered plagiarism? Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 15:50
  • 1
    No, it is a misinterpretation of the original statement.
    – fedja
    Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 23:31

Let me add a bit to the answer of Aeismail.

If something is "common knowledge" then it doesn't need to be cited and can be paraphrased. But if you do "quote" a source literally, then it must be cited, even if it is common knowledge.

But even if something isn't common knowledge then it can be paraphrased, but must be cited to avoid plagiarism. Paraphrasing is sometimes needed, in fact, to avoid copyright issues, independent of plagiarism.

And note that "quoting" doesn't necessarily imply "quote marks" which are only one way to indicate that something is a literal copy of someone else's words. There are other conventions that might be used. The answer of Aeismail shows one such convention, in fact.

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