I have to write the definition for a term in my Paper. I find the best definition for the term in a particular paper, say paper1. I would like to quote the definition as it is in my paper. I believe this is not wrong and is not plagiarism, as I am quoting the definition with proper references. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Now, the author of paper1 in her paper cites a paper for the definition, say paper2. But in paper2 I cannot find the exact wordings which I would like to quote, or else I could have quoted from paper2.

Now how do I quote this term definition. Do I need to cite both the papers or shall I put the quote with citation of paper2 as it is from paper1, and then cite paper1.

Please advise me what is the proper convention that is followed.

  • I'd cite both papers and I might include an explanation along the lines of: Definition X was first proposed by Author of Paper 2. That definition was developed by Author of Paper 2.
    – user2768
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 14:07

4 Answers 4


In general, citing the original source is the way to go. As long as you cite correctly there is no need to worry about plagiarism.

Consequently, you should cite paper2. Since you cannot find the exact wording of the quote in paper1, I would suggest you paraphrase the quote and cite the original source with your own words.

This would be much better than citing the already referenced quote in paper1.

  • By citing the original source, the author of paper 1 doesn't get any credit. Yet, it seems the author of paper 1 deserves credit. In particular, the author of paper 1 reworked the original definition into a form that is more usable. So, I'd cite both papers.
    – user2768
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 14:09

If you can't find the exact term in paper 2, another approach might be to explain it in the body of your paper:

Author 1 describes [term] as 'insert definition'(Author 1 citation), referencing the work of Author 2.(Author 2 citation)


Just to be clear, the important things are:

  1. Cite the paper containing the definition you end up quoting;
  2. If you quote something (putting in "in quotes") and attribute it, that isn't plagiarism.

If the definition is particularly lengthy, you might want to simply cite the source:

"I do not consider this to be plagiarism (as defined by mwormser 2016)"

In your case it sounds like paper1 misquoted the definition in paper2. In this case, if the two are effectively identical, it would be best to use the wording in paper2 and cite that, but if you use the wording in paper1 you must cite that. If the altered definition in paper1 actually changes the meaning, then if it was me I'd still cite paper2 but as long as you use the correct words and cite the correct source you could use either.


But in paper2 I cannot find the exact wordings which I would like to quote

Has the paper1 author put the definition (supposedly taken from paper2) in quotes? If she has, then I think you may take the quoted definition from paper1, and put in footnote to the effect that "paper1 author says that this definition is from paper2, but I could not find the exact words in paper2, hence quoting as is, rather than paraphrasing".

Others more knowledgeable on this may advise.

Edit: Advice of @rhm to put the information in the body of the paper is also very sound - especially for those cases where footnotes/endnotes are frowned upon.

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