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There is a PhD thesis which is inline with my MSc thesis topic.

The author has collected and classified a huge number of references for the background. While I am writing the background section, if I use the references he used, but not the sentences and organization, is it still plagiarism?

I am talking about 50-60 references out of 250. They are very well classified and right-to-the-point.

I also cited his thesis. However, referring to one thesis for 40 references is silly.

What should I do?

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    What do you mean by "use the references"? Are you saying you're going to use his summary of other works without actually looking at the works he cited? – BrenBarn Nov 19 '14 at 21:48
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    It does not matter how you found the possibly relevant papers. Read them, and if you find them really relevant for your purposes, write about them and cite them. – Jukka Suomela Nov 19 '14 at 21:49
  • @BrenBarn I will use most of the bibliography he has used, not his sentences or summary of his work. – padawan Nov 19 '14 at 21:59
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    I'm slightly concerned that your title talks about not using "the exact same sentences" as if using rather similar sentences might be OK, as long as they're not exaaaactly the same. – David Richerby Nov 19 '14 at 22:49
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    It is perfectly fine to use the bibliography items. Given how helpful the other author's background section is in this regard, maybe an acknowledgement to this effect is warranted? – Klaus Draeger Nov 20 '14 at 12:01
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Working from a bibliography in another paper is not plagiarism. It's actually a good research technique. As you read those papers, check their bibliographies, too, and so on. Pretty soon you will have thorough coverage of the subject.

Do note that you cannot just plop those 50-60 or so references into your own bibliography but do nothing else, nor paraphrase what someone else has said about them, but without reading them. That's called reference padding and is academic misconduct. You have to actually read the papers. When you do that, you may find that some of them don't fit your needs as well as you may have at first thought. You will also find it easy to write your own thoughts about those papers, and so will not have to worry about paraphrasing another author.

15

Using references that someone else used is not plagiarism.

That said, if you made significant use of the thesis text itself (not just its bibliography) in understanding what the references were and how they might be relevant, it's worth citing the thesis as a source for more information. For instance, if you got some ideas by looking at a chapter in the thesis titled "Cake-baking", reading its summary of different cake-baking techniques, and then looking up the references in the bibliography to get more detail, then you didn't just use the bibliography, you used the textual explication/summary of the cited material. It's common in articles to see a discussion of previous research with various citations, and then something like "See Jones (2000) for an overview of relevant research in this area."

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    +1 for ... if you made significant use of the thesis text itself (not just its bibliography) in understanding what the references were and how they might be relevant, it's worth citing the thesis as a source for more information ... – Name Nov 20 '14 at 11:05
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No. Taking someone else's bibliography, reading those papers, and writing some words of your own about those papers is not plagiarism.

Don't restrict yourself to just those papers, though. In all likelihood, the thesis writer won't have cited every resource that is useful or relevant to your work. If there has been a recent review published on the topic, that's usually the best place to start your own literature survey.

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The author have collected and classified huge number of references for background. While I am writing the background section, if I use the references he used, but not the sentences and organization, is it still plagiarism?

It's not clear to me what you mean. If you just mean you learned a lot of references from the thesis and then cited those references when they seemed appropriate in your own writing, then there's nothing wrong with it. On the other hand, it's less appropriate if you are repeatedly imitating someone else's nontrivial choices about which papers to cite. I'm not sure where to draw the line between plagiarism and other inappropriate behavior, but you should avoid it in any case.

For example, suppose someone has carefully chosen ten representative references for each of six topics and made these citations when introducing these topics. If your background section includes different paragraphs describing the topics (so there's no copying of text) but offers exactly the same citations, then you're taking unfair advantage of that person's work by giving the impression that you chose and organized these references yourself. It's arguably not as bad as copying chunks of text, but it at least doesn't seem like good manners. (I'd be annoyed if I noticed that someone else's background section cited the exact same sixty papers as mine without giving me any credit.)

If this is the sort of thing you're talking about, then you should give credit by explaining the source. For example, you could write something like "For further background material, see [that thesis], from which I took many of the citations in this section."

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