Are you plagiarizing, or is it just research?

Q: “I am authoring several elementary school English workbooks for a small press, and I want to make sure that I use vocabulary words that are proper to each grade. I have at my disposal several published workbooks, and I want to know if I can use, for instance, the vocabulary in a published Grade 4 workbook to write my own exercises for my own Grade 4 workbook. Is this just research, or am I plagiarizing the efforts of the companies that have compiled these words as appropriate for this grade?”

A: Jay Black, ethicist:

“I applaud your sensitivity in recognizing the potential for plagiarizing someone else’s work. Your instincts are good. It strikes me that if you can refer to this and several other sources (see any fourth grade-level textbooks) to get the general gist of appropriate language, rather than rely on a single source, you’d be on far safer ground. Even if you do ‘revise’ the work of another and incorporate it into your own text, you’re probably relying much too heavily on the other author’s intellectual efforts. You’ll have more satisfaction from creating your own stuff from scratch, or from a multitude of sources, won’t you?”