I am aware of a professor, who wrote two published books that had to be corrected. On the publisher's website it states that these two books had been corrected due to "inadequate referencing". Is inadequate referencing essentially a euphemism for plagiarism? Or is it possible that inadequate referencing can really be a lesser sort of offence?

  • It could be a matter of taste for the editor. I've had one editor tell me every single sentence should cite to some sort of support, and another that hated "Id" and "Ibid" and insisted those be left out. In my opinion, the sweet spot is in between. Mar 18, 2019 at 21:15

3 Answers 3


I think that's a rather unkind interpretation of what happened here. Books aren't the same as research articles - especially for text books, it is par for the course that large swaths (most?) of the book are not actually about the author's own ideas.

Further, extremely detailed referencing can easily reduce the readability of the book, so oftentimes book authors are given a bit more leeway than what would be acceptable in a research article.

What I assumed happened here is that either some references are simply missing (as Solar Mike said), or that it has been later on determined that some parts of the book should really reference more explicitly where the respective content came from (either because the original author complained or because the book author decided that some more references would help a reader find additional information). I would not assume this to mean that the book author blatantly copied material from somewhere (this, presumably, would not lead to a correction but to withdrawing the entire book, because it also sounds like a copyright nightmare for the publisher).

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    Good point about providing the reader with more information - I came across an astonishing unreferenced assertion in an MA-level textbook a while back and still haven't been able to track down any information about where it comes from or what evidence exists that it's true. Mar 18, 2019 at 13:15
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    I'm not sure I agree, here. The word "inadequate" implies that something was actually wrong before; if I wanted to describe a situation in which the author had woken up one morning and thought, "Hey, the referencing in chapter 6 is OK but it could use some extra references to help the reader along", I'd use words like "improved referencing". Mar 18, 2019 at 15:39
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    I have to say, I am aware that the Professor was known to have a few problems with regards to sloppiness in citation practice. I'm not sure I buy the argument that in a textbook, it's kind of ok to be sloppy with citiations Mar 18, 2019 at 18:00

Perhaps the professor had included an incomplete bibliography in the first submitted version, so inline text references were there but not in the biblio...

Annoying for the professor, embarrassing possibly, but easily corrected, however, what it was I don't know.

  • What you're describing is a simple clerical error. I doubt they'd use a term like "inadequate" to describe something like that. Mar 18, 2019 at 18:24

I'm guessing it's a euphemism for dubious content, rather than plagiarism.

While books should cite their sources, it is not necessary to cite every single fact. The book's author (who is an expert on the topic) will justify or prove most facts in the course of the discussion. It's good practice to include a bibliography showing relevant primary sources (e.g., for further reading); however, merely summarizing a published paper in a textbook does not necessarily require a citation (e.g., we do not cite Newton's papers in introductory physics books). Citations are really only needed when facts are asserted without being proven or justified through the narrative.

In this case, the word "inadequate" does make it seem that there was a problem. This could be a euphemism for plagiarism: word-for-word copying, or not meeting the publisher's standards in terms of referencing relevant work. Or, it could be that the author stated a lot of facts without justification or citation, and some of them turned out to be dubious or even wrong. That's my guess.

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