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I am writing a project report for my master degree in STEM (U.S.). I have to cite a large paragraph of others' work. This paragraph describes some basic stuff (For example, a duck has two eyes and two legs). I did not change a word in that paragraph.

I have already cited this paper at the end of my report. Is there anything else I can do to avoid plagiarism?

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When you use someone else's words verbatim, you must either

  • put it in quotation marks, or
  • indent the paragraph (make it a block quote)

to indicate that those words are not your own. (Most style guides recommend block quotes for long quotations.)

You must also indicate somewhere near the paragraph (e.g. in a footnote, parenthetical reference, or other kind of inline citation depending on what citation style you use) which source in your reference list it comes from. (You must do this - indicate what source it comes from - any time you use someone else's ideas or material you found in a reference, even if you summarize or paraphrase it in your own words.)

In general, a rule of thumb for avoiding plagiarism:

  • For any idea or information that isn't your own work, clearly indicate where it comes from. (Excluding facts that are "common knowledge".)
  • Additionally, make it clear any time you use words or images that you didn't write/create yourself. (For example, with quotation marks, block quote formatting, or image credits in the caption.)
  • My question. If this paragraph is the "common knowledge" <in this field>, should I use the quotation marks or indent? I have never seen any researcher done so, if they are using the same paragraph. However, I am not sure if the convention is not the same for students. – John Hass Jan 10 '17 at 19:07
  • @JohnHass Yes, any time you use someone else's words, you must put it in quotes or indent. "I have never seen any researcher done so" - (good) researchers usually do not use other people's words to such an extent - instead, they internalize ideas and information well enough to write it in their own words. This is especially true when writing about "common knowledge". (It is not a matter of plagiarism - if you correctly attribute the paragraph and put it in a block quote, it isn't plagiarism - but it is bad style/bad scholarship to quote extensively and unnecessarily.) – ff524 Jan 10 '17 at 19:18
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Although rules tend to be more lax in Master Theses (at least the ones I've come across), what you did was indeed plagiarism.

Just adding the citation is not generally enough when you copy a text verbatim, as you might have a conflict with the copyright of the original source.

In order to avoid plagiarism, you should take the information and re-write them in your own words, i.e. the way you understand them and the way they contribute to your subject.
Then you must add the citation right after the text or as a footnote. You should also have it in the bibliography section (as you have done).

Edit: I propose you go to the wiki page on plagiarism and the subsection "Common forms of student plagiarism" and try to avoid all these forms of plagiarism. Case 8 is what you did.

  • 1
    There are several errors in this answer. It conflates copyright and plagarism, which are separate concerns. Quoting one paragraph of a longer work is not copyright infringement. Also, it is not required to paraphrase in order to avoid plagiarism; direct quotation is permissible, as long as there's correct attribution (including quotation marks or block quote formatting). – ff524 Jan 10 '17 at 8:30
  • @ff524 I can link to the wiki page where it says: "Plagiarism is not in itself a crime, but can constitute copyright infringement. In academia and industry, it is a serious ethical offense". So they are not separate concerns. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagiarism – BioGeo Jan 10 '17 at 9:00
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    And the rest of that paragraph explains how they are different: "Plagiarism and copyright infringement overlap to a considerable extent, but they are not equivalent concepts, and many types of plagiarism do not constitute copyright infringement, which is defined by copyright law and may be adjudicated by courts. Plagiarism is not defined or punished by law, but rather by institutions (including professional associations, educational institutions, and commercial entities, such as publishing companies)." (There is no copyright issue in the scenario the OP describes.) – ff524 Jan 10 '17 at 9:04
  • @ff524 It doesn't explain how they are different. It explains that they are different and handled differently by the authorities. It also says they overlap. I added a link to the section of the common forms of student plagiarism, where it has exactly the form of plagiarism the OP describes. And since copyright is a court to decide, I change the "you have a conflict" to "you might have a conflict" – BioGeo Jan 10 '17 at 9:10

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