I've posted this first one the Cryptography SE but was advised to move it here due to the very nature of the question.

Anyway, for my college thesis I've decided to do a full stack project on SHA-256. I've read and researched the FIPS PUB 180-4 top to bottom, made a very inclusive code in Python for demonstration purposes (step-by-step printing on every transformation, conversion, compression etc.) and now the time has come to put it all into a final paper. My issue is in the understanding of the rules on proper quoting and referencing. The FIPS PUB is written so straightforward and simple that it is almost impossible to paraphrase anything, or, "write it in your own words", especially the math there. And it doesn't make sense to quote literally everything. This is my first paper where I am basing everything on math. With any other subject, it was mostly a combination, and it wasn't an issue.

So, to summarize, my questions are as followed:

  1. Can I just make a note on the abstract or somewhere that most of the writings are translated references and definitions from the official FIPS PUB document? And if not, how can I do this by the book?
  2. Since the FIPS PUB is an official publicly available document, where does the law stand on using it's information in papers and research such as mine?

Also, there is no official translation for this Standard in my language, so I am the one who is directly translating it.

Just to note, this is not a thesis nor a college major in the sense of the public recognition like a doctorate or similar. It's a thesis paper with which I complete one class. I am not sure if I am translating these terms correctly though (I am not from the U.S.).

1 Answer 1


The document you reference is "public information" according to NIST: https://www.nist.gov/oism/copyrights. As such, you can quote from it freely. There is no need to paraphrase and paraphrasing doesn't free you from other obligations.

There are multiple things that a scholar needs to consider when using the work of others; even public domain materials.

One is copyright, which doesn't apply here since this document, like most things produced by the US government are public domain. Other things that are "common knowledge" are similarly unbound by copyright.

Another, however, is giving credit where it is due. So, anything you use from this document needs some form of citation.

The latter (giving credit) saves you from any charge of plagiarism. So, whatever you use from that (or any other) document needs to be cited.

But the form of citation is less important than the fact of it. You have to be clear in some way that some of what you use comes from another source. Perhaps you can manage that with an overall citation covering several quotes but perhaps you need to separately cite each quoted sentence/paragraph/...

It is unfortunate in some ways that scientific/academic work can't be made to read as smoothly as a novel, but when one work needs a lot of things from another, there is no way to avoid the citation references.

Since this is a school work you would be wise to treat the rules seriously both as practice in how scholars write and to save yourself grief from your professor.

If you use it quote it and cite it. Make it clear. Carefully distinguish what is yours in the paper and what is from another source. Perhaps you can use old forms like "ibid." and "op. cit." to make the citations short within the text.

Note also that paraphrasing can actually make it harder to properly cite than straight quotation does.

  • Excellent reply, thanks. Of course, I am noting and quoting. I am mostly worrying about the visual aspect since 90% of the introductory part of my paper is literal translation of the FIPS document. I am noting the pages used, and referencing in the text i.e. " _ ...as it is explained in the Standard, the hash... _ ", I am just hoping it's not um...overused I guess.
    – Petar
    Jan 31, 2022 at 8:07

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