I'm currently writing a paper on a certain topic for which a review article was recently published. Of course, I want to contrast my new approach to existing techniques. For that purpose, I have identified the relevant prior work with the help of the above-mentioned review article.

However, in my current version, I simply reuse the whole block of citations from the review article with no change at all. I have consulted each reference individually and they do seem appropriate for citation.

  • Is taking a pre-existing block of citations and using it in my own manuscript considered plagiarism?

4 Answers 4


You must cite your source every time you use someone else's intellectual contributions.

A review article contributes curation of sources (among other things) as its intellectual content. If you use that intellectual content, you must cite the review paper (in addition to the individual sources). Otherwise you are misleading the reader into believing that you've done all that work (reading very broadly in the literature, identifying the most relevant and useful sources) yourself.

  • 19
    Yeah. Needed to say, it also common to write something like: For a wider context, we refer the reader to [ReviewPaper] and the references therein. Of course, you still also cite the most important ones yourself.
    – yo'
    Mar 26, 2015 at 16:07
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    +1 for "Otherwise you are misleading the reader into believing that you've done all that work" Mar 26, 2015 at 22:53
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    Where exactly is the dividing line between a contentless citation and a contentful agglomeration of citations? If I read a review article A, and that cites another paper B as having a result of interest to me, I'm certainly going to cite B but not A when I quote B's result.
    – user4512
    Mar 26, 2015 at 23:58
  • @ChrisWhite it's somewhere between what's described in this post and what's described in this other one. Like most things having to do with plagiarism and theft of ideas, the exact bounds of the line can be pretty fuzzy.
    – ff524
    Mar 27, 2015 at 3:43

I do not see why that would be plagiarism at all. Taking references from other papers, reading them, and citing them in your own paper is a regular process. If you copy & paste the sentences that refer to those citations along with the references, then it would be considered plagiarism, but no, not in your case.

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    Indeed as long as you read them. This is called the snowball method of literature research Mar 26, 2015 at 17:18
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    "Taking a whole block of citations" from somebody else's paper is using their work (the compilation of a comprehensive bibliography for a review paper), which requires acknowledgment in the form of a citation. It is just as intellectually dishonest to use the excuse "Oh, I could have compiled that list myself" to justify copying a bibliography as it would be to use the excuse "Oh, I could have written that paragraph myself" to justify copying text. Mar 26, 2015 at 17:29
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    @David Richerby: I can't see that this is any more intellectually dishonest - assuming you actually read the papers! - than using Google Scholar to find relevant papers, then automatically capturing the citation information in BibTeX format.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 26, 2015 at 17:39
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    Then just do the google scholar search. The fact that you found the review succumbs useful is because it involved scholarly work.
    – RoboKaren
    Mar 26, 2015 at 18:48
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    Mmm, in retro spec, I do have to agree with David a bit. Acknowledging the review, also as a starting point for the lit review, would be good practice. Mar 26, 2015 at 20:28

I've noticed many papers deal with this problem by doing:

time-travel has long been known to be possible [17, 18, 4].

Where 17 is an older research paper, 18 is a recent paper with more comprehensive results, and 4 is the review which may or may not have pointed the authors to 17 and 18 in the first place.

I suppose this way, you both cite the original source (which you have to do) and credit the review (so as to not be plagiarizing their collection of sources). Perhaps you could argue that this does not explicitly indicate that the first two are taken from the review, but it does deal with the matter using the fewest characters.

  • 1
    I'm sure this is field-dependent, but to me that sticks out as an example of sloppy editing. (Not much of an issue in a preprint, but in a published paper that has presumably gone through proofreading, that'd be a different story.) Based on my experience I'd expect simultaneous citations to be ordered by number. And this is the first I've heard of any convention that assigns meaning to the order in which multiple papers are cited. So I guess what I'm saying is, know your audience and their expectations before you decide to do this.
    – David Z
    Mar 27, 2015 at 5:23
  • @DavidZ I didn't mean to say that there's a formal convention. I just noticed that this is how others seem to deal with it. Re: Order - I think citations are usually numbered by order of first appearance. In this case, [4] could have been cited elsewhere, in the beginning of the paper.
    – Superbest
    Mar 27, 2015 at 22:36
  • Sure, I understood that you didn't mean there's a formal convention, but someone else reading this answer might think so, or at least might apply your advice to a context in which it doesn't hold. I thought it would be useful to clarify that for other readers.
    – David Z
    Mar 28, 2015 at 4:20

Perhaps your choice of the word "steal" to describe the inclusions of block citations reveals your feelings on the matter.

If you are copying text verbatim, and I assume it is by saying "block of citations," then you should provide a citation to the source. That is my take.

However, by altering your conundrum slightly, does it lead you to a difficult question or an unknown? As in, had you found these papers 12 months ago and the question of copying the citation block wasn't applicable, would you have cited the paper in which you discovered these additional sources?

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