In a Non-Fiction Book can you mention a story told by someone else?

I'm in the process of writing a non-fiction book. The intro of one of my chapters is a story I got from Malcolm Gladwell. It was about Howard Moskowitz and how in the process of finding out the best spaghetti sauce he discovered something interesting. The story fits my point pretty well. So the question is, can I mention the story in my book? Would I have to mention Malcom Gladwell told this story in a speech? Or can I just mention the story to make my point? What's the best way to approach this?


Hi There -
I'm a development editor and literary agent with over ten years experience in the industry. Saw your question and thought I'd chime in.

You can mention the story in your book, yes, but you do need to reference Malcom Gladwell's speech or whomever said it and wherever it came from. It doesn't have to be formal, but something like, "When Malcom Gladwell was speaking at xxx, he told a story about ....." Then after that you'd connect the story to the point you're making or it's possible the story serves to support a claim you made beforehand.

If you're interested in hopping on the phone feel free to reach out.

All the best,

Answered 8 years ago

I think it would be fair to reference the source, wouldn't you?

Were you told the story individually, or at an event?

Is the story well-known? Can you find multiple sources of it? Maybe if it's a broadly known story, retold many times and without a specific source, ie. (the imaginary, since I just made him up) Jim Bennings who was Howard's dorm mate and part time foodie journalist...then you could pretend you came up with it yourself.

Otherwise, and I don't see the downside in doing so, especially as Malcolm is a recognized author, reference the source.

Answered 8 years ago

The best way to go about this is to research plagiarism laws. According to LegalZoom, plagiarism would entail:

"If you use another person's work and do not attribute that work to the author, including copying text verbatim, paraphrasing a phrase or summarizing an idea, you are essentially committing plagiarism. Plagiarism usually occurs when a writer fails to:
-cite quotes or ideas written by another author;
-enclose direct text in quotes; or
-put summaries and/or paraphrases in his or her own words."

According to Ithenticate, "Copyright laws are absolute. One cannot use another person’s material without citation and reference" and "In the case where an author sues a plagiarist, the author may be granted monetary restitution."

I would absolutely attribute the story to Gladwell and perhaps even cite the speech in your bibliography, as well, just to be safe.

Answered 8 years ago

It's best to be transparent about your sources. More information is better. But you can still make the citation conversational and informal, so it doesn't distract from your message. Good luck!

Answered 8 years ago

I agree with Jason, you should definitely give credit to Gladwell. He popularized Moskowitz's story.

There's no downside to citing Gladwell as the person who brought Moskowitz's story to the mainstream. There's potentially a substantial downside for not citing it, as some will likely perceive that you're claiming this as original research.

Answered 8 years ago

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Answered 8 years ago

Yes. It's as simple as, "When I read the story about Howard Moskowitz in Malcolm Gladwell's bestselling book, xxx, it made me realize ...." Just be sure to retell/explain in your own words. Good luck!

Answered 8 years ago

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