Accidental Plagiarism: How It Happens and How to Avoid It  | Quetext Blog (2023)

Writing is not an easy job, whether it’s done for school, work, or simply personal enrichment. When an author does research and creates an original work, the most devastating thing would be theft of that work. That’s exactly what plagiarism is – but what if it’s not done on purpose? Is there such a thing as accidental plagiarism?

Accidental Plagiarism

Plagiarism, or stealing another author’s ideas or words without crediting them, is one of the most salient issues in writing. Whether in academia or the workplace, the consequences of plagiarism can have dire repercussions. There are many common types of plagiarism, and all of them are punishable, even without malintent.

Plagiarism involves stealing someone else’s intellectual property. While it might not affect the person physically or monetarily, plagiarism isacademic dishonestyand theft. Therefore, it’s essential to create original content that builds off thework of otherswithout taking credit for it or copying andpastingsomeone else’s ideas.

However, there are billions of sources, articles, essays, and papers out there, not to mention a plethora of common knowledge. Sometimes it seems impossible that the same sequence of words has not been strung together by someone before. So what about accidental plagiarism? What differentiates it from intentional types of plagiarism, and do the same stringent punishments apply?

What isAccidental Plagiarism?

Accidental plagiarism is basically just what it sounds like — when a writer commits some form of plagiarism without meaning to in any way. Typically, this happens through silly, avoidable mistakes such as using quotes without quotation marks, improperly citing sources (AKA source-based plagiarism), or doesn’t adequately paraphrase another’s idea.

However, just because someone presented unoriginal work by accident doesn’t mean they’re in the clear. The writer must ensure that every source and every quote is cited correctly so that credit is given where it’s due, and this applies in both the classroom and the professional world.

In academic writing, most assignments call for including other people’s intellectual work and ideas. Generally, a college essay requires several outside sources to back up an argument and provide evidence. The same concept applies to copywriters in the professional world—but in this case, their jobs completely depend on their ability to avoid plagiarism of all kinds. There is nothing wrong with using someone else’s work as long as it’s done correctly.

How to AvoidAccidental Plagiarism

There are several strategies you can use to avoid plagiarism of any kind. Of course, the easiest way to prevent plagiarism is to write original content, but it’s not too often that a piece of content is based entirely on your own ideas.

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Accidental plagiarism most commonly occurs when an author doesn’t have proper attribution, and their ideas are unintentionally passed off as someone else’s. However, there are simple ways of avoiding this and fixing it to prevent intellectual theft and the consequences that follow.

Develop a Writing Strategy

The most common form ofaccidental plagiarismcomes from an improper writing strategy. Students accidentally copy someone else’s work because they haven’t put enough thought or effort into their argument. When writing original essays orresearch papers, ensure that you’re putting enough distance between yourself and your sources with a writing strategy.

The most effective writing strategies to avoid plagiarism have several steps: taking notes, creating an outline, writing a draft, editing that draft, andproofreading. Each of these steps adds a layer of originality to yourwriting styleand reduces the chances ofaccidental plagiarism.

Taking notes is a vital part of writing an essay. If you are writing directly after looking at the source material, you increase your odds of accidentally plagiarising their words or ideas. When you take notes, mark the source on your notes. This will make it easier to find and cite the source later.

An outline will help form your ideas and give your paper form. Once you’ve written an outline, it’s much easier to draft and edit yourown words– you have the bones of your paper already. Another benefit of the outline is that you’ll be able to see the structure of the essay and make sure your work will be original. Drafting, editing, andproofreadingdo the same.

Cite Your Sources

The most common method ofaccidental plagiarismis not citing sources, whether in a paper or at the end. Therefore, every time you write an academic paper, make sure that you correctly cite your sources. The method of this depends on thecitation styleof your essay.

A common mistake students make is citing sources after a quote but not afterparaphrasinganother author’s ideas. Whenever a source backs up a claim within an essay, it’s essential to cite that source (unless it’s widely consideredcommon knowledge). It may seem excessive, but plagiarism is not just stealing direct quotes – it’s also stealing ideas without giving proper credit.

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Even if you are not writing an academic paper, in-text citationsare vital. You can use footnotes or links (depending on the professional style of a paper). However, if you don’t cite the ideas and quotes in your essay or article, you will be committing plagiarism.

Use aPlagiarism Checker

If you’ve worked hard and are sure it’s yourown workbut don’t want to plagiarize unintentionally, try an onlineplagiarism checker. Many universities employ these for online submissions. However, you can check your paper before submitting it on a website likeQuetext.

Several websites, including Quetext, will compare your paper to thousands of online articles and sources. You will get a full report of all similarities, intentional or accidental. If you findunintentional plagiarism, Quetext also offers citations. Thus, you’ll be able to cite that source and give it proper credit.

IsAccidental PlagiarismAcademic Misconduct?

Plagiarism is a big deal, especially in higher education. Many universities have a no-tolerance policy, meaning that a student caught plagiarizing can receivedisciplinary actionranging from an automatic zero to expulsion from the college. However, doesaccidental plagiarismhave the same severe consequences?

Academic misconduct can lead to failing a paper, a class, or even dropping out of college for theplagiarist. The particular policy on plagiarism, accidental or not, depends on the professor and the school. However, plagiarism is academic misconduct, whether it is intentional or not.

What are the Consequences ofAccidental Plagiarism?

Even though it is accidental, this kind of plagiarism is still considered academic misconduct. The consequence for plagiarizing varies depending on the school, the amount of plagiarism, and the individual teacher. However, it can be challenging to convince a professor that your work wasn’t deliberate plagiarism, especially if it’s most of the paper.

If you think you might have accidentally plagiarised, talk to your teacher first. A professor that knows yourprevious workethic and honesty is more likely to listen to you than a higher-up authority you’ve never met. In addition, professors have a goal to help their students succeed, and most are willing to work with you to correct plagiarism.

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Examples ofAccidental Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a serious offense but often occurs accidentally. It’s easy to do it unintentionally. Here are some of the most common examples ofaccidental plagiarismfound in papers, essays, and articles:

  • Not citing a source properly

  • Misattributing an idea from a source

  • Not citing an idea orparaphrasein the paper

  • Reusing asentence structureand only changing a few words

  • Using a quote or thought with no citation

  • Patchwriting, or taking specific phrases from another author without realizing it

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  • Accidentally using the exact phrase or sentence as another paper

  • Using the same arguments and form as a source

  • Not usingquotation marksaround quotes

  • Paraphrasingan idea without citations

Most of these are easily avoidable–with proper note-taking and citation skills, a student can avoidaccidental plagiarism. In addition, an onlineplagiarism checkerlike Quetext can help ensure that no ideas or quotes get stolen.

Final Thoughts

Plagiarism is a serious offense, so it’s vital to avoid even the most incidental forms. Students, teachers, and writers alike need to know the importance of giving credit to an author’s intellectual property and how to avoid unintentionalacademic dishonesty.


How does accidental plagiarism happen? ›

Accidental plagiarism occurs when a person neglects to cite their sources, or misquotes their sources, or unintentionally paraphrases a source by using similar words, groups of words, and/or sentence structure without attribution.

How can you avoid accidental plagiarism? ›

Five Easy Ways to Avoid Accidental Plagiarism
  1. Scrupulously acknowledge prior relevant work. ...
  2. Use quotation marks for direct quotes. ...
  3. Use your own words when paraphrasing the ideas of others. ...
  4. When taking notes, clearly indicate direct quotations. ...
  5. Provide citations even for commonly known facts.

How do you deal with accidental plagiarism? ›

Apologize. Tell your teacher (and also mean it) that you are sorry you plagiarized your paper, albeit unintentionally. Inform your teacher that you know that plagiarism is wrong, that you are really an honest student, and that you didn't mean to plagiarize.

What is plagiarism Why should you avoid it and how can you avoid it? ›

Plagiarism means using someone else's words or ideas without properly crediting the original author. Sometimes plagiarism involves deliberately stealing someone's work, but more often it happens accidentally, through carelessness or forgetfulness.

What is an example of accidental plagiarism? ›

Examples of Unintentional Plagiarism: Failure to cite a source that is not common knowledge. Failure to "quote" or block quote author's exact words, even if cited. Failure to put a paraphrase in your own words, even if cited.

Why do students accidentally plagiarize? ›

The most common form of accidental plagiarism comes from an improper writing strategy. Students accidentally copy someone else's work because they haven't put enough thought or effort into their argument.

What are 5 ways to avoid plagiarism? ›

5 Ways to Avoid Plagiarism
  • Use direct quotes - or don't quote at all. Sometimes in your research you will come across a passage that makes a point so eloquently that you can't imagine saying it any other way. ...
  • Paraphrase with care. ...
  • Give credit where credit is due. ...
  • Beware of cutting and pasting. ...
  • Footnote as you go.
Dec 3, 2015

How common is accidental plagiarism? ›

Accidental plagiarism is one of the most common examples of plagiarism. Perhaps you forgot to cite a source, or paraphrased something a bit too closely. Maybe you can't remember where you got an idea from, and aren't totally sure if it's original or not.

How can you avoid unintentional plagiarism when revising? ›

The first step to avoiding plagiarism is taking good notes. Be sure to write down your information sources. When you jot down a quote, write down who said it. This way, when it comes time to write a paper, you won't need to go searching for where you got your information, and you'll know exactly which source said what.

How many students accidentally plagiarize? ›

According to the McCabe study, the percentage of cheaters in high school is very high. 95% of respondents (of which there were around 70,000) admitted to breaking the honor code of their institution. 64% of them confessed to cheating during tests and 58% admitted to committing plagiarism.

What is plagiarism and how do you avoid them explain and give examples? ›

Plagiarism means using someone else's words or ideas without properly crediting the original author. Some common examples of plagiarism include: Paraphrasing a source too closely. Including a direct quote without quotation marks.

What are the 6 ways to avoid plagiarism? ›

Here are some ways to avoid plagiarism.
  • Allow ample time for writing and revision. ...
  • Use quotation marks and give the source. ...
  • Paraphrase the original text in your words and cite the source. ...
  • Read widely on many topics and read good writers. ...
  • Record the bibliographic details of sources accurately.
Aug 6, 2021

What is plagiarism and how can you avoid it quizlet? ›

uses someone else's work and tries to pass it as their own without giving appropriate credit. What is one way someone can avoid plagiarism? 1. Never copy or use someone else's work without creditation.

Is Accidental plagiarism is a crime? ›

Even if they know the rules, they may fail to notice some minor sentence or data that is copied or they may fail to understand the text and express it in their own words. The problem is that even when plagiarism is not deliberate, it is considered to be a crime and may lead you towards failure.

What are two types of plagiarism and how can you avoid them? ›

4 Types of Plagiarism and How to Avoid Them
  • Copying and pasting. This is the most obvious form of plagiarism. ...
  • Collaborating too closely with classmates. Be really careful on this one. ...
  • Using a source without attributing it correctly. ...
  • Copying someone's idea without citation.
May 9, 2016

Why plagiarism should be avoided? ›

Firstly, it is unethical because it is a form of theft. By taking the ideas and words of others and pretending they are your own, you are stealing someone else's intellectual property. Secondly, it is unethical because the plagiariser subsequently benefits from this theft.

What is plagiarism What are different types of it how can it be avoided? ›

Plagiarism refers to the act of intellectual theft. In simple words, copying and using someone's ideas and work as their own without referring to or crediting the source is Plagiarism. If you are taking credit for the work done by another author, then know that you are going to face ethical and legal consequences.

What is the most common reason a student unintentionally commit plagiarism? ›

Collectively, the most frequently stated reasons students choose to plagiarize or cheat include: Desire to get a good grade. Fear of failing. Procrastination or poor time management.

Can you avoid plagiarism by changing a few words? ›

Consider the following examples of paraphrasing guidelines: “Don't plagiarize. Express your own thoughts in your own words…. Note, too, that simply changing a few words here and there, or changing the order of a few words in a sentence or paragraph, is still plagiarism.

What kind of mistake often leads to accidental plagiarism? ›

Unintentional Plagiarism

Some of the most common mistakes include: Quoting something verbatim but not including a citation. Paraphrasing or summarizing another text but not including a citation. Paraphrasing poorly by rearranging sentences and simply replacing certain words.

What is one of the most common reasons for unintentional plagiarism? ›

There are various reasons why people can accidentally commit plagiarism. For the most part, it's not because they want to steal someone else's idea and take credit for it themselves. Instead, accidental plagiarism is an after-effect of carelessness and lack of attention to detail.

Is unintentional plagiarism common? ›

Indeed, based on a recent study, the common reason given by plagiarist is usually accidental event or unintentional event.

Why is it easy to commit plagiarism by accident? ›

Being confused or disorganized can easily lead to accidental plagiarism. For example, not knowing or understanding how to paraphrase or use quotations properly, how to cite and reference sources, what the rules are for a specific citation style, and so on, means that you can easily make a mistake.

How students can commit unintentional plagiarism? ›

Unintentional plagiarism may occur when quotation marks are placed around part of a quote but not all of it, when several sentences are copied and pasted with a citation added but without using quotation marks, when paraphrasing (which is restating someone else's words and ideas) is done incorrectly, and when there is ...


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