I have a question about a mistake I made in an article that I recently published.

In the field I am in, we often discuss ancient texts in other languages. Ancient texts often have chapters with title names that we then need to use an English translation for.

In the article, I mention the titles of two chapters from a well-known ancient text. When researching, I had looked to see how others translated these titles and followed the translations from a published English translation. I had forgotten this during the time I was writing and forgot to reference the book from which the translations of these two chapter titles appear. I do not cite any other material from the book (if I had used translated text this wouldn't have slipped my mind), and thus the book is not in the references.

However, I feel that I made a pretty big error. It was an honest mistake on my part, but I am feeling pretty guilty about it. I am wondering if I should contact the journal and let them know. Advice?

1 Answer 1


I think we are in the realm of speculation a bit here, but I'd think your infraction is minor at worst.

It is clear that the idea expressed in the chapter title is not your own if it is stated to be a translation. I also doubt that any translation, if intended to be literal, adds any idea to the mix that would bring in plagiarism as an issue. Part of this is that there are only a limited number of ways to say certain things. That affects both plagiarism and copyright.

It would be different if the translation was highly creative and added ideas not in the original text. It might also be different if it were copying longer passages from a translation without noting the translator.

You might ask the editor whether they think a notation should be made of the specific wording of the translation. In any case, I think it is a judgement call.

  • Thank you for your reply. If I had quoted parts of the translation of the text I would not have forgotten to cite the source. I think when doing chapter titles, I had seen a standard translation, used it, and later forgot about it. Just like if I mentioned the translation of a title of an ancient text, it would be weird to then put in a footnote and say "I used so and so's English translation of the title of this ancient work." But I'm still feeling like it was a mistake on my part, so I will think of contacting the editor. Just wondering, could this mistake have long-term repercussions?
    – Weilan
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 18:22
  • @Weilan, this is somehow related, and the answers there might help to reduce your apparent fear of mistakes: Are there small citation mistakes in published papers and how serious are they? How often are they spotted? Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 21:42

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