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Is this plagiarism? (1 Viewer)



Self publishng guru Dan Poynter says that when writing a nonfiction book you can use other sources without citing as long as you do not copy more than three words in a row. He says it is not plagiarism but research.

Also I have noticed that many of the massmarket nonfiction how-to books don't have notes or citations in the text or at the end of the book. I am perplexed as I am sure most of the authors did not write these books entirely off the top of their head.

I am confused, because I thought that you have to cite any idea that you borrow from others. Is this true only in the academic world? Is Dan Poynter incorrect?


If you copy an individual person's idea/analysis, it's plagiarism. But, if you're using a more commonly known fact/idea, you're not really 'copying' it. If, say, you're writing a paper on the Dred Scott case and consult a few sources that have the same basic information, and generally summarize the case, you're not really plagairising. However, if you copy full sentances out of one of those sources or 'steal' a unique idea of theirs, it is.

Sorry if I didn't explain that well, but basically... it depends on how much and what you're using.


Senior Member
yes, it does depend on how much and what... lauren did a pretty good job of explaining the diff between plagiarizing and researching... to get the official skinny on the subject, don't go to any self-labeled 'guru' who's touting self-publishing, but to the governing body itself!



Senior Member
Lauren said:
If you copy an individual person's idea/analysis, it's plagiarism.
...without sourcing..

With sourcing, then it's ok. I don't know about the "with or without" permission consensus. Most stuff that's before the 1920's is in the public domain. You've still got to source it, however.

But, if you're using a more commonly known fact/idea, you're not really 'copying' it. If, say, you're writing a paper on the Dred Scott case and consult a few sources that have the same basic information, and generally summarize the case, you're not really plagairising.
Dred Scott.. Sounds familiar..

Hmm. A historical court case.

Common sense is not so common. I like to say that common sense applies only to the context of your writing situation. If each person in the class has the same course materials, and those course materials state the same thing about Dred Scott, then you can assume its common sense. Common sense within the boundary that the class should know it--and the teacher, too. My philosophical understanding of common sense is that common sense can only be defined by the context it's in. If you take something that's not-so-common out of context, place it within a different context, then you'll obtain different results: I don't know who Dred Scott is.

Yet any external source you use (materials from a library, person, teacher, etc.) should be sourced.

In full reality, were I to write an academic paper at this moment, then I'd source anything that was not an insight or judgement of mine. I'd even source the course book. It's a good idea to source of things, anyway: You can keep track of where you obtained the materials and what materials you used.

At least that's my take on the "common sense" rule.

My logic is this: Ask the professor if the book is common sense. If not, then source it. I personally believe in sourcing everything.

The only thing that that pisses me off about plagiarism is the "it's already been done" ideaology. It's obvious that most are not born with the knowledge of the world and universe. Yet to say one thing intelligent means it came from somewhere. The preceding sentence was "intelligent" but from no place other than my understanding of the English language. If you've got something that is factual, intelligent, and came from somewhere, then source it.

If you know something that is factual, intelligent, and not in the course material, then source it. At least try to source it. If you fail to source it, then you have no way to prove to your reader that it is factual. Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Heh. Perfect example. No! They have aluminum centrifuges to create atomic bombs. They have the research equipment for weapons of mass destruction. Duh.

But how do I know that? Hmm? I'd have to source it. It sounds neat and intelligent. But I'd be just as much a fool as whomever states that. If I sourced it, however, it'd look more intelligent and factual. Or, at least, you'll have a source; but the source must be reliable.

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Senior Member
Umm, in any academic paper you expect to receive a passing grade on you'll need to "copy" more than three words in a row of someone else's work. See, there are these punctuation marks called "quotation marks" (you can see them around those two words!), and when you use them you're either overemphasizing a point for effect (like sarcasm) or you're showing that it's someone else's text. In an academic paper you should not be overtly sarcastic. Then, and this is the clincher, you tell us where the quote came from! If you do all that it's not plagiarism.
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Senior Member
The "three word thing" was getting me, too. If something were three words, I'd assume it'd relate to terminology. But it'd be sourced because it's someone's idea.

I use "expedient intergallatic transmigration" to get from one place in the galaxy to the other.

Here's a good question: Did Dan Poynter source that three word fact?
If not, then I'd dismiss that piece of information; but if it's sourced, you can always research it.
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Mike C

WF Veterans
The point of research is that it carries no weight without a source. The 'three word thing' works if it has context (as it has here) but if I was writing a book and referred to the 'three word thing' it would be meaningless unless I gave an explanation, and cited the source.