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I'm currently writing the State of The Art chapter of my thesis. To my advantage, there are many good surveys in my field. My views are not equal to other surveying authors, so the structure is not the same, nor the way the existing work is addressed. So far so good.

The problem is that eventually, one comes to the part of describing existing work and obviously some papers are so important that they must be present in any Survey of a given field.

I'm specifically worried about situations in which a surveying author AAAA describes the work of a third author like: "Algorithm AWESOME improves performance by statistical methods" and I'm saying something like: "Smith presented AWESOME, which uses statistics to reduce execution times". So, I'm somehow forced to paraphrase author AAAA, because AWESOME does that one thing and that's it.

So the question is: Is this somehow forced paraphrasing of a surveying author plagiarism?

  • Are you citing the survey(s) (in addition to the original papers)? – ff524 Sep 1 '17 at 22:11
  • Should I? This is my first SOA. Anyway, don't you agree it feels awkward to say, AAA says that BBB does such and such? – El Marce Sep 1 '17 at 22:22
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    No, I didn't mean that you should cite the survey when talking about the original paper; I was wondering if you cite the existing surveys elsewhere in your work (e.g. "AAA reviews the state of X through 2014 and finds that..."). Not because you happen to independently arrive at a similar description of BBB (if indeed you arrive at it independently). Just because it's a good idea to show that you are aware of, and have considered (and attributed) the ideas presented in these other surveys. That can help alleviate plagiarism concerns. – ff524 Sep 1 '17 at 22:49
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I would just comment, but I can't. Building on ff524's question (in comment) "Are you citing the survey(s) (in addition to the original papers)?", I would simply say "algorithm AWESOME does this and that (AUTHOR OF ALGORITHM OR ANYONE ELSE RELEVANT, 1908; AUTHOR OF THAT GREAT REVIEW YOU THINK READERS SHOULD ALSO READ OR CHECK, 2043)", as "(BURGUER, 1908; FRIES, 2043)" for example (or format it in the same standard you're using). This gives due credit without overcredit nor plagiarism.

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    Right! It is not about "awkward" writing to include the reference, but about informing your READERS about important surveys they need to know if they are interested in this Awesome Algorithm. – Debora Weber-Wulff Sep 2 '17 at 9:45
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First, let's be clear about one thing: plagiarism only occurs when you copy someone's work (perhaps with only minor modifications) without clearly citing the original source. If, however, you clearly cite the original source and you make it clear that you are copying or modifying the original citation, then there is no question of plagiarism. So, I really don't consider the situation that you are describing to be an issue of plagiarism, otherwise, you wouldn't even be posting this question--you're not trying to hide anything.

That said, I have heard of the idea of so-called "paraphrase plagiarism" where some people consider it to be plagiarism if you modify an original source but somehow "not enough" so that they consider it plagiarism. I personally think that's silly, as long as you made it quite clear that you are citing another source. At worst, that could be called sloppy paraphrase or sloppy citation, but I think the serious and strong word "plagiarism" should be reserved for deliberate attempts to deceive or mislead. In any case, even if it is silly, you don't want people to accuse you of plagiarism when you have no intention to do such a thing. Anyway, this is a controversial point, so, I'll drop back and now get back to directly addressing your explicit question.

In general, when discussing or describing a primary article in a literature review, you should directly cite the original primary articles, not other literature reviews that mentioned the primary articles (even if these other literature reviews are how you found out about the primary articles). Ideally, you should read (either entirely or partially) the primary articles, and so you should be able to write an original summary in your own words of the primary article. As long as you don't look at the literature review's summary while you are writing your own original summary, there should be no concern about plagiarism because you are not plagiarizing: you are writing your own original summary. Of course your summary will resemble that of the literature review, since you are both describing the same original source, but that similarity is due to two independent descriptions of the same thing; it is not because you plagiarized anything. (Again, this assumes that you did NOT look at the other literature review's summary while writing your own; if you do look at it, then you might unconsciously or semi-consciously copy its wording and structure--so, don't look at it.)

That said, even though you should cite the primary article directly, if you learnt about the primary article through the literature review, it is good to cite the literature review as well as a general source, both so that your readers recognize that you are aware of it and as a courtesy to acknowledge how it helped you to identify relevant literature.

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