Giving Credit


23 August 2014

Amazon reviews of a certain book on research methodology contain a cross-fire between the author and someone who claims the author plagiarized his work. The author's defense might be summed up this way:

  • A fellow researcher "gave me the information" I used in that section.
  • That fellow researcher had used it in a lecture.
  • That fellow researcher told me I could use it also.
  • That fellow researcher assured me s/he personally wrote it.
  • Therefore, I had no way of knowing it was written by the complainant.

Shades of Alex Haley's "defense" against Hal Courlander's lawsuit! (To sum it up: He never saw Courlander's novel. All those passages lifted from Courlander's work came from "scraps of paper handed to him" by teaching assistants or admirers at some of his many lectures.)

We may try to cloak ourselves in innocence, but there's a sin here no researcher or writer should commit. Ever. If people "give" us something they say they personally wrote and tell us we can use it, we cannot add it to our own written work without (a) quotation marks, and (b) identifying the person who actually wrote those words.

If we don't, we're plagiarists. Whether we plagiarize Person A or Person B makes us no less a plagiarist.

If you'd like more guidance on this subject, QuickLesson 15: "Five 'Copywrongs' of Historical Writing" specifically targets the difficulties we face as researchers and writers of history.


Photo credit: "Open hand raised, Stop Plagiarism sign painted," CanStockPhoto ( : downloaded 4 August 2014), used under license.