Is it plagiarism if I copy several paragraphs from another's source (let's say a CS paper) into my work and then footnote Source: ..., for example, as background information?

  • 10
    It may be appropriate to use a block quote, surrounding the text with quotes inside an indented block, then also citing the reference.
    – user479
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 3:52
  • 14
    As others have pointed out, it's not clear why you need to copy several paragraphs from a paper into your work. Is it background motivation, or a proof, or a long argument chain, or.... ?
    – Suresh
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 7:08
  • 9
    Don't. Just don't.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 11:13
  • 1
    @Suresh As a way to save time when giving background information. Commented May 6, 2014 at 1:24
  • 7
    I don't think that's a reasonable argument for copying large swathes of material.
    – Suresh
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 4:47

5 Answers 5


If you copy something verbatim, you are required to put quotations mark around it, and also cite where the quotation came from. Anything less could be construed as plagiarism.

  • 8
    Also it is bad form/ style to use quotes excessively. Quotes should support your arguments/findings not be the body of the work/section. You might put in a large quote if it is necessary [to give the reader full context], so that you can make a pointed rebuttal (etc). But it would probably be better style, to just paraphrase (accurately and fairly), with the occasional direct quote: and rebut(etc) that. You want the text to be easy to follow. And obviously: always put in correct references; so the original can be found and compared. Commented May 5, 2014 at 23:20

So long as it is obvious that it is another's work then it is not plagarism. However, depending on the amount copied and a lot of other factors, it may be a copyright violation, and it may break other rules of your school/journal/whatever. Or simply be marked down by your examiners/reviewers, unless there's a good reason for such extensive quotation.

  • 10
    +1 A cited large block quote may generally not be plagiarism, but often it will still not be appreciated at all by teachers or reviewers (for different reasons).
    – xLeitix
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 7:08
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    @xLeitix The classic absurd example of copying an entire other paper and quoting it is not plagarism. But it will get you zero credit..
    – Cruncher
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 18:58
  • I would be surprised if this caused a copyright issue, as I think this would almost always fall under fair use. The shortest example I know of a quote for which a court rejected fair use as it was "too substantial" was from Ford's biography, and that was over 600 words. Commented May 6, 2014 at 2:01
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    @alex becker : you're being US-centric. :-) But also, while I don't know much about fair use, I imagine it may depend not just in the length but the purpose & context of the quoting? Hence the "lot of other factors" that I mentioned.
    – Flyto
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 6:57
  • One should never rely on the obvious. What's "obvious" to you may not be obvious to somebody else. Call me Ishmael is "obviously" from the book "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville. It's not obvious to someone who hasn't read the book and is not from an English-speaking country.
    – user10433
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 7:01

The original author owns two things:

  1. the ideas in their work, and
  2. the language they used to convey those ideas.

Plagiarism occurs when you use either without proper attribution. If you paraphrase another author's ideas in your own words (i.e., use #1 only) then you need a citation. If you copy verbatim another author's words (i.e., use #1 and #2) then you need to put the copied text in quotes and include a citation.

Generally if you are quoting the original author's language then the way that the author communicated their ideas is part of the argument you are making in your article. If this is not the case then it is better to paraphrase, since your reader will be expecting some discussion of the original author's language and changes in tone can be distracting to the reader.

In your specific case, it sounds like paraphrasing would be more appropriate.


Another thing to consider, even if you correctly quote and cite the source, it may still be considered a form of plagiarism if

1) A signification portion of the paper is made up of quotes (especially 1 quote).

2) There is no original research presented in the paper.

3) If the quote itself provides significant argument towards your point, and you fail to add your own supporting arguments.

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    I would not call it plagiarism in that case, since there is no intention to deceive (just a very poor quality paper and a possible copyright violation). Commented May 5, 2014 at 20:24
  • I agree with @Peter. Merriam-Webster defines plagiarism as "to use the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own words or ideas." Clearly, if someone correctly quotes and cites the source, anyone considering this any form of plagiarism is redefining the word.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 4:11

Copying verbatim a paragraph or more of research is considered plagiarism. When more than two words in a row are used from the source that is considered plagiarism. It probably would be better to change it up by extensively paraphrasing through synonyms, etc.

  • 2
    The "more than two words in a row" rule is a myth. And paraphrasing does not cure plagiarism; a citation is still required to acknowledge the source of the ideas.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 5:10

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