I am writing up an essay, like a sort of project. It is not an academic paper, but it will be read and judged by some fellows.

I am trying to document or base my statements on a topic by including some proper references, and I am really in a bit of a hurry, so I do not have much time to search for 'the best' references.

Recently, I found one book (at Google Books) which seemed appropriate to me. I was somewhat suspicious because both the author and the publisher were unknown to me. I performed some additional searches at Google Books and at Google in general, and I found another book from the same publisher (and different author) which had overlapping paragraphs with the first book. And I also found some paragraphs of the first book in several websites, even Wikipedia.

I have not been able to determine whether there is an initial source or a mix of original sources.

So, this is the situation. My question: I would like to use the 'plagiarist' book as a reference. Is it appropriate to do so? Do you think I should add a sort of footnote stating that the reference is valid despite it seems to be plagiarising from other sources?


Regarding the authorship, it seems pretty convenient to me that, in the copyright page of these two books (which happen to be included among the preview-available pages at Google Books), you can find the copyright symbol before the publisher, but not before the name of the respective authors.

On the website of the publisher, you can read a short bio for each author, but you cannot figure out which university or company they work for. They seem made-up texts to me. So, maybe, the authors are totally fake!

  • 7
    As a comment not an answer: Do you have enough time and access to run the problem past a research librarian? They may be able to help you find references quickly and in parallel.
    – user137975
    Aug 15, 2022 at 15:55
  • 1
    @AnonymousM I had not thought about that, but I can do it, I think.
    – Vicent
    Aug 15, 2022 at 16:13
  • 3
    @AnonymousM Librarians are the best! :-)
    – Peter K.
    Aug 15, 2022 at 17:32

2 Answers 2


It’s pretty common to encounter weird issues in the academic literature (whether it’s plagiarism, incomplete material, sources that are unavailable or only partially available, sources that contradict each other, etc) when one is reading up on a research topic. The general principles that govern how to deal with this sort of situation in your own writing are:

  1. Do not hide information that you found in your search because of fear of embarrassment or because you believe this information will make you look bad.

That means that if you want to cite a source that in your view suffers from credibility issues, you must explain what those issues are, and also explain why you still find the source appropriate to use despite those issues. Not doing so could be seen as dishonest. Adding the explanation in a footnote sounds appropriate.

  1. Do not think you have a responsibility to completely sort out every weird issue you run into.

My understanding is that there are two sources and it appears that one of them plagiarized from the other, but you can’t be sure exactly of the extent of the plagiarism of or who copied from whom. Well, don’t worry about it too much. It’s not your job to sort it out and would seriously distract you from the actual topic you are writing about if you had to start digging deep into the issue and solve this mystery.

So basically, if you think the two references together provide the information your essay’s readers will need, cite them both, and as I said, include a note explaining the possible plagiarism issue. Lay out the facts, but don’t jump to conclusions you are not sure about. (E.g., for all you know, the two references could even be by the same author, who is a person who changed their name at some point.)

  1. It’s okay not to have time to do a perfect job.

There are best practices for academic writing, and for example in an ideal situation you might not want to cite a source that you weren’t able to obtain a copy of and look at in full instead of just snippets on Google Books. However, if you are in a situation where time constraints are preventing you from following such ideals, that’s another thing that it’s appropriate to be transparent about. E.g., you can write in a footnote that you didn’t have time to obtain a copy of the second source but still found it credible based on the parts that were available online. I am sure your professor and other readers would not find this at all shocking or surprising or think that such an admission reflects poorly on you, assuming that in other respects your essay looks like a thoughtfully written piece that you invested the appropriate amount of time writing.

  • 2
    Yes. Basically, "be honest", and, although a serious, good-faith effort is always required, perfection is impossible. Aug 15, 2022 at 22:43
  • Thank you for your very complete answer!
    – Vicent
    Aug 16, 2022 at 14:13

The thing you maybe encountering here is the practice of bundling a bunch of Wikipedia content and "publish" it as a print-on-demand book without much (or any editing). This typically doesn't violate Wikipedia's licensing condition, as it allows commercial use of their content as long as attribution is given. For this reason you will often find a very minimal "source: Wikipedia" somewhere in the book. (Whether that really is sufficient attribution for the licensing standard as somewhat questionable, it certainly isn't enough for academic plagiarism standards.)

If this is the case, it is probably better to stay away from this source, as you have no way of judging the reliability of this source. Even citing the Wikipedia page might be better (there at least you have access to the version history).

  • I think you might be right, since I found some of the paragraphs of these books at Wikipedia (but I thought that they were copied from elsewhere; I mean, I still thought that there was an original source to be found). Concerning the authorship, I am adding extra info in my question.
    – Vicent
    Aug 16, 2022 at 14:07
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    The original source could very well be Wikipedia. The real fun starts, when someone adds these types of sources as references for the statements found on Wikipedia.
    – TimRias
    Aug 16, 2022 at 14:12
  • @TimRias citogenesis en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:List_of_citogenesis_incidents
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 17, 2022 at 15:06

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