My work experience has mostly been in academia. Recently I began work in a startup software company.

One of my team members has the task of developing documentation.

My concern is the prepared documentation is highly plagiarised from various sources that have either not been cited or if cited then in the incorrect format.

How do I handle this situation? Do I just keep quiet? Or do I speak to this person and inform them of this issue?

  • 1
    @joeqwerty for the opinion. I think if a person is assigned a task and when the person completes it, then inadvertently the notion of credit/no-credit is applicable to the complete task. And this thinking leads me to question the quality of complete task, which in this case is plagiarized. Correct me if I'm wrong.
    – mnm
    Sep 5, 2019 at 2:46
  • Did he use Harvard Style Referencing tho..?
    – solarflare
    Sep 5, 2019 at 3:14
  • @joeqwerty this is internal documentation.. . Something on the lines of companies core policies.
    – mnm
    Sep 5, 2019 at 3:22
  • @solarflare there are no in-text citation nor any references in the documentation.
    – mnm
    Sep 5, 2019 at 3:22

4 Answers 4


Academic style citations in internal company documents are unheard of in any organisation I've ever worked at (startups, government departments, enterprise level companies).

Links to other useful documents would be normal, but in my opinion there's nothing to handle here - your colleague is not preparing an academic paper, so there's no expectation that they should need to follow academic standards.

  • 7
    If I understand the issue, what happened is pretty much standard practice. And yeah, I've NEVER see "citations" in an internal document. Sep 5, 2019 at 3:51
  • Depending on what it is, I will occasionally cite historical things. For documentation of a set of special-purpose circular buffer utilities some years back, I cited some VERY old CDC 6600 operating system documentation, because it contained a VERY clear description of an essentially identical design. (Hey, I only steal from the very best!) Mar 20, 2021 at 6:50

In the workplace, you want the best documentation possible, and it doesn’t matter one bit where the information comes from. You will be held responsible for correct contents, that’s it. If you stole a co-worker’s work, that would be a problem, but apart from that any source is fine.

Copyright infringement is a problem if caught, but plagiarism just isn’t.

@Roger Lipscombe: This is workplace.stackexchange, not law.stackexchange. On this website, taking credit for a co-worker's work is stealing it. And then there are countries like Germany, where only the author of a work is allowed to claim they are the author of the work. The company is not allowed to claim that the company, or some other person, was the author. Or take patent law, where the person who makes an invention is the inventor, not the company employing them.

  • 12
    "If you stole a co-worker’s work..." You can't "steal" a co-worker's work. The work already belongs to the company. You can, however, take credit for their work. That would be a dickish thing to do, but still not illegal in any sense. Sep 5, 2019 at 10:56
  • 1
    +1 because you at least mention copyright
    – Christian
    Sep 5, 2019 at 12:50
  • This seems like poor advice. Just because it isn't a paper written for academia, does not mean people like it when people plagiarise other people. Personally, anyone within my office that had to plagiarise another person's content, would make me second guess their capabilities.
    – Donald
    Sep 6, 2019 at 4:36
  • @Donald "If you stole a co-worker's work, that would be a problem".
    – gnasher729
    Sep 6, 2019 at 21:30

Plagiarism refers to lying, not citations

In academia, plagiarism does not happen when you copy & paste lots of uncited material in a paper. It happens when (and only when) you sign your name on that paper and misrepresent that this is fully authored by you - as being the sole author(s) is explicitly required by the submission requirements both for academic publications and university thesis or homework, "simply submitting" also implicitly makes this false claim of authorship.

However, in industry internal documentation, there's no assumption that the document is their individual, original work - even if a page somewhere in that document says "Bob made that document", it doesn't assert that Bob is the sole creator of all the ideas and text in it. It doesn't make a false representation, and thus is not plagiarism.

However, copyright still would apply and could pose some restrictions - but that's more a question for the law stackexchange.


If you ever want to publish your documentation outside of your organization, then plagiarism can potentially lead to copyright lawsuits. So if there is a chance that this might happen someday, then it is a good idea to mark those sections you didn't write yourself or even better to avoid such copyright violations in the first place by paraphrasing the information.

But if the document is ever only used internally, then it's not a problem at all if it isn't completely plagiarism-free.

Linking to your sources is always a good idea, because such links offer a way for the reader to obtain more information. But there is little benefit in insisting on a standardized format.

But there is also a more practical concern you might want to look out for: If your documentation is largely copy&pasted from other sources: Is it actually useful documentation? If most of the text in your documentation wasn't written specifically for your product, does it even help to understand your product? If your "documentation" doesn't so much explain what you made but rather explains the products and services used to make it, then it might be less work and more benefit to simply create a collection of original documents and links.

  • +1 for your bolded question. Honestly, that's the only standard that internal documentation in a private environment need live up to.
    – dwizum
    Sep 5, 2019 at 15:05
  • 2
    I'd say collection of links and copy paste. You never know when external websites will change their content or close down altogether. Unless it's a common topic, then those links are easily replaceable.
    – jaskij
    Sep 5, 2019 at 18:39
  • @Philipp +1 for the bolded question.. And thank you for taking the time to answer.
    – mnm
    Sep 6, 2019 at 2:24
  • 1
    No, plagiarism won't lead to lawsuits. Copyright infringement can. They are totally different things.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 6, 2019 at 21:31

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