I am writing a paper on a topic closely related to previous literature (but in a different study population). As such, the statistical analysis is very similar to a previous publication and I really like the way the previous authors (which I have cited in the literature review) have structured a particular table.

Would essentially copying this structure, but putting in my own results, be a form of plagiarism?

  • 1
    Why can't you add to the footnote saying the structure of the table is modified upon the work of so and so with a citation? Jun 24 '14 at 19:31
  • Hi @Penguin_Knight, I can do that. I'm afraid that it would seem overly fastidious, particularly since it seems debatable whether or not the structure of a table is the intellectual property of the author (which is essentially my question). If so, it seems we would see many more such citations (I've never seen any). In this particular case, the table displays the output of a multinomial regression model and uses a clever device to denote whether levels are different from each other (and not just different from the reference level).
    – Homer
    Jun 24 '14 at 19:38
  • Like "estimates sharing the same superscript are not significant different from the other?" Jun 24 '14 at 19:50
  • @Penguin_Knight-- Yes, something like that. I am very familiar with models like this, but have not seen them reported frequently in publications. Is this device commonplace? If so, does that indicate to you that this can be taken without reference?
    – Homer
    Jun 24 '14 at 19:53
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    If it's close to what I described then it's a pretty common practice used by statisticians when reporting results of analysis of variance. However, if the author did inspire you, I don't see citing the work as fastidious, rather I would take that as a tribute. But anyway, you should be clear of plagiarism. Jun 24 '14 at 19:54

I doubt anyone would consider a table format as plagiarized when used to show new data. It would be akin to saying use of Tukey's box-and-whisker type plots would be plagiarism. The question is understandable, however, since someone could arguably claim some such structure as intellectual property. I think the key here lies in what is being copied. You are copying the structure but not the content. To protect the form would be quite pointless since no-one would buy the rights and it would be simple to make sufficient variations to argue it is not the same form. I am sure this could be discussed at length by lawyers.

Although, not within the scope of your question, most author's will be happy to see something they produce becoming reused and maybe even a standard. I had a figure in a paper that was picked up by IPCC and used to show something different than my original but still unequivocally based on my design.

So in the end, as suggested in comments to your question. you can pay homage to the original by acknowledging the idea of the table in your acknowledgement or by citing the paper and stating the table is based on their table. Which makes most sense, will depend on circumstances in your paper.


I think that we - myself included - tend to think of citations primarily as a defence against accusations of plagiarism, but don't they also provide the reader with an account of how the thinking behind the paper emerged? In which case citing here seems like an opportunity for a possibly quite valuable aside.

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    we...tend to think of citations primarily as a defence against accusations of plagiarism — Nooooo, citations are primarily a way to properly credit people for their words and ideas.
    – JeffE
    Jun 25 '14 at 15:45
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    ... and to tell readers where to look up the details. Jun 25 '14 at 17:54

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