I recently had to make a questionnaire for my research. For this questionnaire, I tried taking some ideas from other examples for the questions. Another student was working on the same topic and did her questionnaire before mine, but didn't publish any results yet. After comparing my questionnaire with hers, it was clear that some questions are a remarkably similar, due to covering the same topic, same country, same society and same climate. The other student made a complaint that I have copied some of the questions from her questionnaire.

Could anyone please help me know whether did I commit plagiarism? How should I deal with the present situation?

  • You should ask your advisor or department about this. They'll also be able to help you with next steps.
    – Kathy
    Jun 12, 2017 at 15:28
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    I am not clear what you mean by "by accident" and "some ideas from other examples". I think you need to add more details for us to provide constructive answers.
    – krammer
    Jun 12, 2017 at 15:30

2 Answers 2


tried to obtain some ideas from other examples for the questions

That has the hallmark signs of plagiarism, although without seeing the original sources and your questionnaire it is hard to give a definitive answer. It is okay to look at other sources for ideas. Paraphrasing is okay also. Copying, or even changing a few words, is not okay without proper attribution. In general it is okay, and often desirable, to reuse an existing questionnaire, or parts of an existing questionnaire, in a new study, but you need to provide attribution to the original questionnaire.

As to the similarity between you and the other student, this depends on if you used her questionnaire for ideas. If you never saw her questionnaire, then you clearly did not plagiarize from her. It is possible that both of you got ideas from the same source, in which case you both plagiarized someone else.

You need to determine if you plagiarized and if you did plagiarize, who you plagiarized from. If you plagiarized from the student, you need to tell her and your supervisor. If you plagiarized from a third party, you need to tell your supervisor. You should also inform the student that your questionnaire contains plagiarism, but that you did not plagiarize her. You should also tell her that you are telling your supervisor.

  • i saw her questionnaire months ago, i did citation of her questionnaire in my work but not in the questionnaire i distributed. similarities are in standard questions like number of floors of the building, number of family members, average monthly income, assessment of internal thermal comfort.the questions are more or less standard questions but the other student did ask the same questions. i did tell my supervisor as he got the complain from the other side. but i don't know yet if i am wrong and what might happen!
    – mays q
    Jun 13, 2017 at 12:32
  • what is the point of telling her after she complained and told my supervisor that i made a questionnaire similar to hers, which she didn't yet publish ?
    – mays q
    Jun 13, 2017 at 12:44
  • @maysq the point of telling her is she has accused you of academic misconduct. By talking to her you can work towards a solution/understanding without getting more of the bureaucracy involved. The fact that she hasn't published her results is irrelevant.
    – StrongBad
    Jun 13, 2017 at 12:49

It is perfectly correct to use questions from previously validated and published surveys in your own questionnaire. These questions would not be cited in the survey instrument, but should be cited and discussed in your documentation and paper. If you and the other student both sourced questions from the same survey (perhaps a well-known national survey on your topic exists), then you will have similar questions.

When I create a survey, I work to find existing questions that would apply to my survey context. There are many benefits to this approach. First, it may allow you to compare your (possibly small) sample to a more representative one. Second, the previous survey may have done the hard work of validating questions, and you may be able to rely on their work. Finally, you may have an easier time publishing your results, as reviewers may not have as many quibbles with your wording.

It sounds like you may have made the mistake of not documenting your sources. This would be considered plagiarism, and you should immediately dig through your notes/the internet to find the original question sources and cite them in your writeup. In the future, I recommend you create an annotated version of your survey as you write, noting where each question comes from.

  • thank you very much, actually the questionnaire the other student did is not published yet, so i couldn't find results to rely on for my research. as i created my own questionnaire and distributed it, the other student could get it since it was web-based, this student complained that i plagiarised some questions from her questionnaire. i didn't finish my work yet and i am citing all resources honestly in my work. my doubt was if asking questions that where asked before in a questionnaire that is nit being published yet. and if i have had to cite the questions form her questionnaire in my own.
    – mays q
    Jun 13, 2017 at 12:28
  • If you did not look at her questionnaire you should not cite her questionnaire. However you must cite other studies you looked at for ideas and examples if you used the ideas and examples. For instance, if you got questions from your country's census, or major health surveys, etc.
    – Dawn
    Jun 13, 2017 at 12:36
  • i mean cite them in the questionnaire form i created !
    – mays q
    Jun 13, 2017 at 12:38
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    Do what StrongBad said. Tell your supervisor, get a meeting with your supervisor, and then do what he or she instructs you to do. It is best to have the supervisor on your side, since they know about your research process. Part of the next steps may also be connecting with the department person who is in charge of the Masters' program.
    – Dawn
    Jun 13, 2017 at 12:52
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    I would also make an annotated version of your survey for your supervisor where you cite the sources of inspiration for each question.
    – Dawn
    Jun 13, 2017 at 12:53

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