Borrowing Extensively from a Source But Only Acknowledging a Small Portion of What is Borrowed

Table of Contents | Previous | Next

When we write a review of the literature in the biological and social sciences we often summarize the ideas or data of each source we consult. Such summaries can range from one or more sentences to perhaps to two or more paragraphs. Of course, we must also include citations within these summaries to alert the reader as to the source of the material we are presenting. Thus, a typical review of the literature is sprinkled with many citations. There are instances, however, when an author might need to draw heavily from a single source. In these cases, acknowledging the source of the material can be challenging for some inexperienced writers. For example, in some cases inexperienced writers will add the same citation liberally in several places within the summarized text to ensure that the material is properly credited. However, this technique looks awkward, which is why readers will typically not see the same reference appear every few sentences throughout the paragraph or paragraphs in which the same work is being discussed. Experienced writers avoid the overuse of the same citation by providing only one or two citations strategically placed throughout the portion of text derived from that single source, and by carefully crafting the writing to indicate to the reader that the ideas expressed are not the author’s. For example, one can name the authors (e.g., “According to so-and-so...”; “These authors also suggest...”; “Their study also revealed …”). Some authors, however, are not as consistently conscientious about crediting their sources and will sometimes inadvertently intersperse their ideas with those of the secondary source. The result is that the reader is uncertain where the contributions of the source end and those of the manuscript’s author begin (see Iverson, et al., 2007, p. 158). In the event that the resulting text leads the reader to identify the borrowed ideas as belonging to the manuscript’s author, the author faces the risk of being accused of plagiarism.

GUIDELINE 20: When borrowing heavily from a source, authors should always craft their writing in a way that makes clear to readers which ideas/data are their own and which are derived from sources being consulted.

Source URL: https://ori.hhs.gov/plagiarism-26