Q: Is it plagiarism if I use the same words as the original text but cite the source?

Detailed Question -

I will cite the source, but just present the original text with a few minor changes. Would that be considered as plagiarism although I have mentioned a reference number (2) that proves it’s been cited. Here's the original text: In our study, the volume (as a percent of the initial volume) of the remaining cysts that were followed up in the first 4 months after sclerotherapy using acetic acid was one-half that of the ethanol group (Fig. 1). The number of cysts that regressed to under 10% of the initial volume in the acetic acid group was greater than in the ethanol group. Here's what I plan to write in my paper: In their study, the volume of the remaining cysts that were followed up 4 months after sclerotherapy using acetic acid was one-half that of the ethanol group and the number of cysts that regressed to under 10% of the initial volume in the acetic acid group was greater than in the ethanol group (2). I know that direct citations without any paraphrasing are not acceptable. However, in this case, can I get into trouble if I cite as mentioned above? I don’t want to get involved in any issues. In a lecture I attended sometime ago, it was mentioned that if 5 words are repeated, it is plagiarism for sure. However, my colleagues say they have not experienced any such thing. I just want to know the actual guidelines on this. Also, I have one more question. Would it be alright if my manuscript has passed plagiarism check from this website eTBLAST? It would be nice if you can let me know clear differences between CrossCheck and eTBLAST and which is more trustworthy.

2 Answers to this question

The original text and your version of the text look very similar. Although it is clear that you are citing the source, it might be considered as plagiarism. You should either use quotes if you want to cite the text as is or paraphrase it to make it look different from the original. I have paraphrased the text below:

In the study, the cysts that remained were examined 4 months after sclerotherapy using acetic acid. The volume of these cysts was found to be one-half that of the ethanol group. Additionally, the acetic acid group had a larger number of cysts that had regressed to less than 10% of the initial volume than the ethanol group.

Note that although most of the technical words are the same, this version looks slightly different from the original. Always try to paraphrase text that you are citing to avoid allegations of plagiarism. This video provides some tips on how to paraphrase English text.

I am not sure if repetition of 5 words is considered plagiarism, but some software might be programmed that way. The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) provides a set of 26 guidelines on avoiding plagiarism. Here are some of the guidelines:

Guideline 1: An ethical writer ALWAYS acknowledges the contributions of others and the source of his/her ideas.

Guideline 2: Any verbatim text taken from another author must be enclosed in quotation marks.

Guideline 3: We must always acknowledge every source that we use in our writing; whether we paraphrase it, summarize it, or enclose it quotations.

Guideline 4: When we summarize, we condense, in our own words, a substantial amount of material into a short paragraph or perhaps even into a sentence.

Guideline 5: Whether we are paraphrasing or summarizing we must always identify the source of the information.

Guideline 6: When paraphrasing and/or summarizing others’ work we must reproduce the exact meaning of the other author’s ideas or facts using our words and sentence structure.

Guideline 7: In order to make substantial modifications to the original text that result in a proper paraphrase, the author must have a thorough understanding of the ideas and terminology being used.

Guideline 8: A responsible writer has an ethical responsibility to readers, and to the author/s from whom s/he is borrowing, to respect others’ ideas and words, to credit those from whom we borrow, and whenever possible, to use one’s own words when paraphrasing.

Both CrossCheck by iThenticate and eTBLAST are reputed plagiarism checking tools. While both are considered very good, Cross Check I think has a better and more long standing reputation. If your paper has passed the eTBLAST plagiarism check, you should be in a fairly good position. However, you can never be 100% sure with software. The reviewers might notice a few things that the software hasn’t detected. But I would still say that a paper that has passed eBLAST has a high chance of clearing plagiarism check at the journal end.

Related reading - The complete guide to writing a brilliant research paper

Related course - How to avoid retractions and publish ethically


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