I have been reading a few Q/A about plagiarism, but I still have a doubt about the use of books and papers to explain the method I am applying in my thesis.

I mixed up the infos I found in a book and in a paper to explain the method (because some parts where better explained in the book and some others in the paper), of course I cited them at the beginning and I put them in the bibliography. Is this considered plagiarism since I am not using "my words" to explain it?

EDIT to be clearer: I am not doing copying and paste: I am following the same flow of ideas to present the method, some parts where omitted in the paper, therefore I had to rely on the book to take care of every aspect

And at the beginning I wrote:"the method is fully explained here [1][2] and it is here reported for completeness

  • Yes, of course it is plagiarism. – Jukka Suomela Jan 29 '15 at 16:26
  • Well, but if I learned about that mathematical method reading the theory on that book and that paper (which were not the inventor of the method) how could explain it differently? – Rhei Jan 29 '15 at 16:29
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    Explain it in your own words. Here is a very simple way to do it: Read about it, preferably from various sources. Understand it. Then put the sources away, and think how it would be easiest to explain to the reader. And then start writing (without looking at the original sources). — In general, if you can't explain it in your own words, you haven't really understood it yet. :) – Jukka Suomela Jan 29 '15 at 17:15

The short answer is "you have to be careful"; as with everything, style matters, and there might be style restrictions about how you cite that your discipline imposes.

For maximum protection, one thing to keep in mind is that, because you've interleaved text from two different sources, it's a bad idea to copy those things verbatim since each part would need to be directly quoted and cited, and that interrupts the flow. Instead, paraphrase or reword the blending. You'll still need to cite, but how you do it would depend on the size of the text.

Absent any other direction, I'd recommend the following.

  • If you have a paragraph of now-blended text, at the end of that paragraph make your citations for the two different sources.
  • If you have, say, half a page or more of now-blended text, then introduce it in the beginning of that text as "The following approach comes from [1] and [2]:". (Replace [1] and [2] with whatever the citations are supposed to look like.)

In any case, always make clear what didn't come out of your head.

  • Yes, I did make it clear. I wrote: "the method is fully explained in here [1][2] and it is here reported for completeness" – Rhei Jan 29 '15 at 16:38
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    This is simply wrong. You can't just take text from various sources, blend them together with some edits, and add citations. This is plagiarism (even worse, it looks like you tried to hide the fact that you are plagiarising). – Jukka Suomela Jan 29 '15 at 17:16
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    I have no idea what you're talking about. The citations directly inform the reader that the text and/or idea did not come from the author, which is the exact opposite intention from what you describe. In order for something to be plagiarism, the author must represent another's work as his/her own. The use of citations and suitable introductory words makes it clear such a representation is not the case. – Ken Jan 29 '15 at 17:25
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    @Ken The citations inform the reader that the material comes from another source. If the words come from another source, they need to both have a citation and be in a quotation or block quotation. – jakebeal Jan 29 '15 at 18:24
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    @Ken: If you mean to say that the OP should rewrite the whole thing in their own words, then I absolutely agree. Please edit your answer so that your meaning is clear. – Jukka Suomela Jan 29 '15 at 19:29

If you are using somebody else's words, you need to make this fact clear and explicit via quotation/block quotation; to do otherwise is clearly plagiarism, even if you are splicing together multiple different sources into some sort of Frankenparagraph.

If you are making a complex remix of two sources, proper quotation may feel very choppy and incoherent, however, so you are probably better off paraphrasing into your own words instead.

  • Well, I am not copying blindly...just following the same flow to explain the concept, and since it is mainly made of equations it is hard to find my own version – Rhei Jan 29 '15 at 16:33
  • D'oh, you snuck this in while I was writing! Mods: feel free to delete my answer if it is felt it overlaps too much. – Ken Jan 29 '15 at 16:36
  • @Rhei Equations are not subject to copyright. The text explaining them is both subject to copyright and vital for understanding the equations, so that is the important part to focus on. – jakebeal Jan 29 '15 at 16:40
  • @Ken Don't worry about it: the whole point of the SE Q&A model is it's OK to have multiple answers, and that the voting of others will help bubble whichever is best to the top. – jakebeal Jan 29 '15 at 16:41
  • @jakebeal Plagiarism and copyright are completely orthogonal issues. – JeffE Jan 29 '15 at 22:44

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