I'm writing a research paper in my native language, Serbian, on a specific electrical engineering and applied mathematics topic. Moreover, there are two published papers in English that hold much of the information I need.

Now, the topic itself is quite new and is unknown in Serbia, and consequently at my university. My plan is to sum up the results of the two papers, further expand on the theory behind it (which is only arbitrarily mentioned in the English papers), and finally encapsulate the whole idea.

So, strictly speaking, I won't be doing any original research, in terms of experiments or mathematical breakthroughs, but rather synopsize and provide a desired perspective on a modern topic that is novel to my national academic environment.

Q: If I reference the two English papers and their authors at the end of the paper, do I commit plagiarism?

For example, if I see a nice sentence in one of the papers, and I translate it into my paper, are the references at the end enough for crediting the author?

Finally, is using the pictures from the two papers (with referencing them naturally) accepted practice? Or do I need to get the authors' permission to use them?

Furthermore, does my paper still hold some kind of value, even though it doesn't provide original results? At the very least, it introduces a new, and very interesting topic to my faculty, and is generally a field I'm interested in researching, and eventually achieving some real and relevant results.

  • 2
    From Wikipedia, a main aspect of plagiarism is the absence of credit given to your source. If you correctly cite your reference in your paper, I believe it should be fine regarding your plagiarism issue.
    – PatW
    Jun 4, 2014 at 10:27
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    I was wondering when this topic is going to come up. From what I hear, it's common ethics debate point in academia here.
    – AndrejaKo
    Jun 4, 2014 at 11:39
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    While I cannot tell to what extent you are actually doing that in your paper without reading it, in general "further expand[ing] on [a] theory" and "encapsulating [an] idea" to "provide a [new?] perspective on a [known] topic" is original research, isn't it? Maybe not the most original one, but it sure sounds like you are doing more than just repeating what was already published before in the same fashion. Jun 4, 2014 at 15:36
  • It's also worthwhile to (with approval of authors, etc.) to prepare and publish translations. Not everyone reads the original languages, so there is a call for it. You might consider looking for a venue for that. You can publish commentary on it too. Jun 4, 2014 at 20:22

2 Answers 2


Referencing the papers at the end is not sufficient.

Generally, the litmus test whether or not something is plagariasm is whether the reader is given an adequate impression of how much of the text is other peoples work. Readers don't always read entire papers, and in particular may not make it to the end.

In your case, I would suggest to state at the beginning what your two main sources are, and give some indication of how heavily you are drawing from them. Then, throughout the paper reference each bit you've taken from elsewhere by where it is coming from.


Your paper lies somewhere between

  • a true translation, much like how a book in one language might be translated into another. In such a case, the article is usually credited to the original authors, with a note mentioning who did the translation

  • a review article that surveys some fragment of the literature, possibly adding a larger perspective to the material being presented.

In my view, your work is closer to the latter than the former, especially if what you're trying to transmit in Serbian are the ideas in the papers, and not the literal words.

What might therefore be your best option is to convey the ideas in the works, clearly marked (for example a section header, or even some introductory text saying what you're doing), but without any need to cite specific translations (unless the occasional turn of phrase is so useful that you might as well put it in quotes).

In this case, you're clearly not plagiarizing, since credit is being given clearly and copiously.

I'm not sure about the copyright issues involved in reproducing pictures. Fair use should cover use of a few pictures (but IANAL). In any case, it's the copyright holder who needs to be asked (and this might be the authors, or the publisher: the paper should have a note about this).

Does such a document have value ? Well based on the context you describe, sure ! If it helps an audience gain access to material they'd otherwise be unfamiliar with or unable to read, definitely. This is no different from other review articles in other disciplines, and has the added bonus of language translation.

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    There is no such thing as "fair use" outside the United States of America.
    – Sumurai8
    Jun 4, 2014 at 16:48
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    Generally speaking the publisher of a paper holds the copyright over the figures. Most publishers have some means in place for contacting them to request permission to reuse material. I have no idea how likely such a request is to be granted, particularly if you would like to reuse more than one figure from a paper (anything that could be redrawn should be, but of course results are different). It will however be journal and field specific.
    – Chris H
    Jun 4, 2014 at 17:01
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    @Sumurai8 well, of course the US law that implements fair use has no force outside the US, but some other countries do have an analogous legal provision that makes it legal to copy a portion of a copyrighted work under certain circumstances.
    – David Z
    Jun 4, 2014 at 17:05
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    The term "fair use" is specific to the USA, but under the Berne Convention, copyright is fairly similar around most of the world, @Sumurai8.
    – TRiG
    Jun 4, 2014 at 22:34

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