I am writing my thesis for political science in a Masters programme. I found another thesis that is extremely similar to mine, where I could literally use its literature review.

So, I wanted to ask if that would be considered plagiarism: if I followed and cited the same references the author mentioned, but of course with my own words through paraphrasing, would that be admissable?

As it is the literature review, and I am going to refer to all the papers he mentioned, would that be considered plagiarism? I aim to follow the same structure for the literature review as well.


4 Answers 4


For purposes of plagiarism, the work and effort of collecting and presenting other sources counts as an intellectual effort. That compilation constitutes an idea; the structure also constitutes an idea. Review articles are basically just an extended literature review, and these are publishable papers in their own right.

Therefore, if you want to reuse that compilation of sources, you would need to cite both the secondary source that compiled the work as well as the original papers to not be credibly accused of plagiarism. That doesn't mean you need to seek out and cite every other paper that has cited some combination of original work that you use, but if you use a secondary source to identify what other sources to cite, it should be cited.

Now, as for assessing your thesis, even if you do not plagiarize (because you cite properly), your thesis may not be deemed sufficiently original if you derive such an important part of it entirely from someone else. Basically you have not shown that you can competently arrange this information yourself, so you may not be seen as having "passed" the thesis assignment.

I'd recommend changing your viewpoint on the importance of literature review; you seem to consider it a boring secondary task but it's actually a central part of research.

  • 3
    Also, you might be robbing yourself of the chance to discover something interesting
    – user153715
    Commented Apr 30, 2023 at 16:27
  • 2
    @Gantendo Indeed, borrowing/stealing a literature review is a shortsighted approach that devalues the rest of the work done.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Apr 30, 2023 at 16:36

You should definitely cite the previous thesis, and credit as appropriate the pieces of literature review you use. But you need to do your own work, get the original sources cited, check if anything newer has been published, if other points of view were left out. The purpose of doing a literature review is to check what has been done, what problems are open, learn applicable (or not) techniques to approach the problem.

You are left to either dig deeper than the other work or veer into a (slightly) different direction to make overlap less. Perhaps try a new approach to the same basic data, collect more data and see if the original approach still fits, see if the same approach is applicable in other, similar, cases.


If you're merely using the lit review to identify sources, which you then independently read and analyze, then that's not plagiarism.

But if you're using the lit review's description of the sources, or analysis of them, or decision on how to organize them (e.g., which one to discuss first, which one to use second), or which ones to give more attention to vs. which ones to mention only in passing- in short, if you're taking from the lit review anything that represents thought by the lit review's author- then you absolutely need to cite the lit review. If you don't, it's plagiarism, full stop.

You shouldn't think of this in terms of "can I get away with not citing?" You should think in terms of "Did the lit review's author do ANYTHING original, including the choice of how to organize the material? And if so, how can I make sure that person gets the credit they deserve?".


Not everyone agrees with me on this, but I don't care: literature reviews can be kind of silly artifacts that we hang on to in many disciplines. I generally think they can be wastes of space, when a few will placed and described citations with relevant discussion will usually do. When I'm refereeing for top journals, I don't really care who you cite, I'm reading for the methods, coherence of the paper, discussion, and other things.

To be clear, I'm not saying you should never cite work related to your own. It's just not usually necessary to dedicate an entire section of your paper to do this. Where am I going with this?

Make your lit review short. You and another thesis did very similar work? Okay great! Cite their thesis if you'd wish, and discuss the relevant work from the citations you (likely) were going to use anyways. And then?

Move on to better things. The more important things. My thesis had a very very very short lit review, also for political science incidentally. Why was it short? I had other and more important things to discuss than what previous papers hypothesized, and anything beyond what I put would simply have been a waste of space.

My advice to you, is to hit the high points. Talk about only the literature that is quintessential to your question, methods, or subject. That way, you'll be more concise, you won't simply repeat another person who summarized the information well, and then you can get to what you should be doing anyways: talk about why your paper is unique, interesting, or of relevant to the broader field. That's what you should be focusing on, why your own original work matters. Other work may be necessary to this, but it won't be enough to convince them why your work pushes the proverbial envelope.

  • 2
    Hmmm. The advisor might have something to say about this. A literature review serves more than one purpose for a novice.
    – Buffy
    Commented Apr 30, 2023 at 20:03
  • Yeah I'm not saying they're never useful, and I know it'll matter at different levels. I see some utility in them. I still use them in my work if I feel they're necessary for why my new stats method matters or if there's genuinely a lot of literature that actually warrants discussion. But that isn't always true. Commented Apr 30, 2023 at 20:22
  • I don't think this answer is helpful advice for a masters dissertation (indeed, it may be harmful to the student)
    – Flyto
    Commented May 1, 2023 at 11:11
  • That's fine. I said not everyone agrees with me on this, and that's okay.There are peer reviewed articles in top stats/econometrics journals that just don't have lit review sections. My point is that lit reviews are not laws of nature, and they can be useful or not depending on context (I write systematic reviews, so again, I'm not against reviews in principle) and that they're not the life or death of your paper. Anyways, what is wrong with what I said? Why is it bad? Commented May 1, 2023 at 12:02

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