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This topic has already been described to some extent, e.g. here:

Is verbatim copying several paragraphs of text with citation considered plagiarism?

But I do no think that it has been completely discussed, especially in the context of related work and abstracts.

When I am writing the section about related work in my papers, I tend to describe the work of each other related researcher in a few sentences with my own words and referencing their papers. However, in a current paper that I am writing I have realised that the abstracts of more than a few papers that I want to mention are so well written and are so concise that I cannot do any better. Writing my description would be just a waste of time, and result in a less concise text.

So I am thinking about copy-pasting two or three sentences from the abstract of each referenced paper. And possibly adding, removing, or changing a word or two that may not be relevant in the context of the paper that I am writing, so it's not really a plain copy paste.

I have read that it may be a good idea to put quotes, but I find quotes, especially their immoderate use, as bad style.

Can I get in trouble for this? I would not go that far in considering anything of this as plagiarism, as the work is referenced and I am not taking credit for someone else's work.

Personally if one would do the same with my work, I would not be concerned at all, on the contrary, as long as not more than a few sentences are taken and the work is properly referenced, but you might have a different view.

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    The purpose of related work is to compare, taxonomize, etc not simply describe some papers on similar subjects. If your related work can be composed of parts of abstracts of papers you cite, you're probably doing it wrong. – ff524 May 7 '14 at 12:34
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    I find quotes, especially their immoderate use, as bad style. I find copying and pasting large blocks of text from other sources with quotes as bad style. I find copying and pasting large blocks of text from other sources without quotes as plagiarism. – ff524 May 7 '14 at 12:37
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    so well written and are so concise that I cannot do any better — So do worse. – JeffE May 7 '14 at 13:04
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So I am thinking about copy-pasting two or three sentences from the abstract of each referenced paper.

This seems absolutely appropriate, as long as you quote them correctly. Which brings us to:

I have read that it may be a good idea to put quotes, but I find quotes, especially their immoderate use, as bad style.

It is not only a good idea to do that, it is required. You need to make explicit that those are verbatim copies. The semantics of copying text from a paper and summarizing the key points yourself are different for a reader, and you need to make this difference explicit by demarking which parts you have taken in verbatim.

Can I get in trouble for this?

Yes.

I would not go that far in considering anything of this as plagiarism, as the work is referenced and I am not taking credit for someone else's work. Personally if one would do the same with my work, I would not be concerned at all, on the contrary, as long as not more than a few sentences are taken and the work is properly referenced, but you may have a different view.

This reminds me a bit of a few high-profile cases of plagiarisms that were going around lately in the german-speaking areas. Often, the excuses presented by the accused authors were similar ("hey, the text I copied wasn't really that important - it was just the introduction after all!", "I cited it anyway, I just did not make clear that the text is actually copied from there", etc.). These excuses never fly. Be rigorous with your handling of sources. Everything else is just playing with fire.

  • What if the paper I am citing/quoting is my own paper? For instance, I'm revising the description of a technical set up of a model that I have already used in another paper (already published by myself and the same co-authors, not in the same order tho). In an earlier submission of this manuscript, I just remanded the reader to the published reference, but one of the reviewers wants the description also here (including the equations). How can I rephrase my own description of a model structure? should I quote it in an annex? Would this be acceptable? – Nemesi Jan 15 at 14:17
  • @Nemesi, that's a great question, but it is not a comment on this question. Please ask your questions separately. I repeat that it is a great question. – Tripartio Jun 9 at 19:30
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I cannot see that there is any exception to using quotes and providing the full, correct citation. It is honest and correct, anything less just doesn't cut it.

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You can quote of course, but if you copy-paste without making clear this is a citation, then not appropriate. The smallest copyright unit is normally a sentence that must be rephrased.

  • The problem is (not only) copyright but plagiarism and for that even rephrasing doesn't help. You have to cite your source. – DSVA Apr 18 '18 at 13:06

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