I'm a PhD student in Mathematics. Recently, I proved something the main idea of which I got from another paper. To be honest, I don't like my proof, because I used the proof of the paper, changed it a bit and proved a new result. When I showed that result to my supervisor he really liked it. I told him that I used the idea from another paper. In fact, 90% of proof is the same, but he said, it's okay, if someone didn't do the same before.

Since that's my first paper, it is very important for me. I don't know what I can do. Is my result substantial enough for a new publication? Is it possible that a referee will reject my paper?

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    Why do you think it would be OK to make such extensive use of someone else's paper without citing it?
    – user109454
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 23:44
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    Is it possible that the 90% common part between your proof and the earlier paper is (or could be made into) a proof of a more general theorem, of which both your theorem and the one in the paper are corollaries? If you can prove such a theorem, that would make a stronger paper, perhaps with very little additional work. (But if you can't, then follow your supervisors advice about publishing what you've got.) Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 3:54
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    @Ben Linowitz : No, no. I think you misunderstood my question. For sure, I cite the paper. My question : Is my result good? Is it possible referees reject my paper?
    – Adam
    Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 10:47
  • @Andreas Blass : Thank for your advise. In fact, what I did. I read the proof of earlier paper which was for a special case. Then, I found out that I can prove by the idea of proof other paper for more general case.
    – Adam
    Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 11:04
  • Also, in my observation, probably 90% of nearly every paper is already visible in other papers. That is the fact of generally incremental progress in "research". Sure, also often, beginners do not realize the commonality, thus failing to appropriately connect to the literature... or are dismayed to find out that that's the reality. :) Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 20:38

1 Answer 1


Since it's your first paper, you can in general assume that your supervisor knows better than you if it is worthwhile publishing. There are many publications out there - in math and other fields - that takes an idea or formalism from one paper, and applies it to a slightly different area. This is how progress in research works.

And yes, you should definitely cite the other paper. The fact that you've been inspired by something else does not disqualify your paper. In fact, quite the opposite can be the case, if it is not obvious that the idea from the other paper can be applied to a new area.

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    Good advice, but I'd strengthen it a bit. You must cite the other paper. Otherwise you could be accused of plagiarism. The referees at a journal or conference will decide if your paper is "novel" enough to be published.
    – Buffy
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 22:07
  • @nabla Thanks for your comment. For sure, I'll cite it. Even, I'm going to write that I inspired from the paper. My problem is exactly the sentence you mentioned '' if it's not obvious ''. I think that's obvious that we can use this idea. I have stupid problem, I don't know what is obvious in Mathematic. I saw some paper that have obvious idea, but it published good journal.
    – Adam
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 22:08
  • @Buffy what you mean '' I'd strengthen it a bit''. I'll put other results in paper too, but my main result is it.
    – Adam
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 22:11
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    The writer of the answer said "should definitely". I didn't want you to get the impression that it isn't an absolute requirement. Not to strengthen the paper, though that is good too. Strengthen the advice to cite. But I see that you recognize that from the above comment.
    – Buffy
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 22:21
  • @RR You are an expert on your result, so it seems obvious to you. It might or might not feel obvious to others, who have not thought as much about the thing. The way to find out is to prepare the paper, submit the preprint, maybe ask for opinions, and submit to a journal.
    – Tommi
    Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 7:19

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