Accidental Plagiarism: What You Need to Know to Avoid (2023)

In this article, we describe what is accidental plagiarism, situations when it can occur, and some effective ways to detect it and avoid it in your future writings.

Accidental Plagiarism: What You Need to Know to Avoid (1)

If you’re someone who does a lot of writing, accidental plagiarism is something you’ve surely crossed paths with already. Nowadays, unintentional plagiarism becomes more and more widespread. With so many texts already published and a number of them going live every day, it’s almost impossible to create a unique work from the first try.

Dealing with plagiarism all the time can be time-consuming, exhausting, and frustrating. Luckily, there’s a solution to this issue. Thanks to several useful tips and tricks, you can significantly decrease the amount of plagiarized content in your text. Specifically designed detectors and online tools can further ensure your work is 100% original.

Check out this article to find out how!

What is Accidental Plagiarism?

First things first, it’s essential to know what it means when you use someone’s words accidentally.

If you’re in the writing world, you’re surely familiar with what plagiarism means. To put it simply, it’s an act of copying or stealing someone else’s words and using them as your own without acknowledging or giving credit to the original author. As an act of fraud, copying is a serious issue that can seriously harm your education, career, and reputation in general.

Still, plagiarism isn’t that simple, and a lot more goes into what makes it a delicate and complex topic. Although the act of copying other author’s words and ideas seems to be clearly defined, what happens if a copying act is done without any intention? In other words, what is accidental plagiarism?

As human beings, we can’t eliminate the factor of making mistakes. No matter how hard we work and how much time we dedicate to a text, making a mistake every so often is completely natural and expected. This includes unintentional plagiarism as well.

Namely, there is a lot of content circling the internet. A countless number of published books, blogs, and articles isn’t helping either. With so much information available online, it’s more challenging to create an original article than to accidentally plagiarize content that already exists.

This is especially common among inexperienced writers who aren’t aware of the basic writing rules or how to follow them. Accidental plagiarism can also be a result of inaccurate citations and improper proofreading.

So, if you happen to copy someone else’s words but you forget to insert quotation marks, that could be defined as accidental plagiarism. But, since it’s next to impossible to determine whether someone made a mistake on accident or purpose, it’s that much harder to come up with the ideal accidental plagiarism definition that covers all its aspects.

Effects of Accidental Plagiarism

One way of gaining a deeper understanding of unintentional plagiarism is to say more about its effects. Even though it constitutes as accidental, this kind of borrowing can have serious consequences too, academically, legally, and professionally.

  • Academic

Most individuals first become aware of borrowed text during their education. Because of that, accidental plagiarism can have a significant toll on someone’s academic success. This is also when most students first become familiar with the negative effects of copying, whether it’s accidental or not.

As inexperienced writers who don’t understand how serious and harmful plagiarism can be, students often use someone else’s words without giving them the proper credit. Although the same students learn about the importance of creating original work during higher education, it’s still possible to accidentally plagiarize the content by failing to use the proper formatting methods.

While these are all academic mistakes that are corrected throughout education, there still are some academic consequences. For instance, students typically face lower grades and various disciplinary actions. In more serious cases, accidental plagiarism can even lead to suspension.

  • Legal

Every published work requires a lot of effort, time, knowledge, and skill, not only from the author but also from the entire publishing team. Therefore, all published material is copyrighted. By copyrighting the publications, authors prevent their original content from being stolen.

People using someone else’s work for their purposes must give credit where credit is due. Otherwise, they could face serious legal consequences. As copyrighted material that belongs to someone else, plagiarizing can be understood as an act of theft.

While most unintentional plagiarism cases face monetary compensation for their writers’ negligence and lack of attention to detail, some more serious cases can even lead to judicial trials.

  • Professional

Finally, accidental plagiarism can also have a significant effect on someone’s career and professional life. Professionals who are caught copying someone’s work without giving them the much-needed credit tend to face strict professional consequences.

Being dismissed from the project and getting fired are just the first steps. People who plagiarize content even unintentionally can ruin their reputation and significantly reduce their future job opportunities.

With so many cases of professionals getting caught plagiarizing and ultimately ruining their careers, it’s crucial to be aware of all the possible consequences before turning in your final version of a written project.

Examples of Unintentional Plagiarism

In addition to various types of plagiarism already existing, accidental copying can take multiple shapes and forms. Here you can find the most common examples of unintentional plagiarism. Use them as pointers of where you need to pay extra attention when proofreading all your future works.

  • Ineffective paraphrasing

When you’re working on a project, the key to writing an original work is effective paraphrasing. This means you’ll take the necessary time to understand the material, grasp the main idea, and explain it using your own words.

If you don’t understand the topic or don’t dedicate enough time to it, it’s most likely you’ll end up with ineffective paraphrasing. You’ll try to shorten the text, but you’ll end up using the same language and identical phrases. As a result, your work will be an example of plagiarism.

  • Lack of sources

Sources have several important tasks, and one of them is to protect writers and their original works. If you fail to include a list of sources you used or referred to, your original work can also be seen as an example of plagiarism.

Because most writers simply forget to mention the list of sources at the end of their work, this is often seen as a form of accidental plagiarism.

  • Improper citing

Improper citing is probably the most common form of unintentional plagiarism. If you don’t proofread your written work or pay close attention to details, you’ll easily miss the improper citing techniques present in your work.

Due to tight deadlines and other professional obligations, this is something many writers deal with even daily.

How to Avoid Accidental Plagiarism

Now, since you know more about unintentional copying, let’s mention some of the best strategies to resolve this recurring issue. In this part, you can learn to avoid accidental plagiarism by implementing several valuable tips and tricks into your writing routine.

  • Cite sources

Even though you think you’ll remember where each paragraph belongs, you’ll quickly get lost in the pool of different books and sources of information. So, once you decide on using a particular part of the text from a different author, make sure to include a source immediately. That way, you won’t mix up your sources or forget to cite them.

  • Use quotation marks

Quotation marks can make or break the quality of your work and your entire professional reputation. When you’re copying parts of text from the source and pasting them in your document, you should put those quotation marks straight away. This will eliminate any chance of improper quotation and forgetting to quote the original text. Your proofreading part will be much easier too.

  • Paraphrase

When you’re working on a project, it’s crucial to understand what you’re writing about. This is the only way you’ll be able to find the best word choices and sentence structures that’ll say the same thing, just in a different way. Effective paraphrasing skills require some practice, so don’t give up!

  • Use plagiarism checker

Even if you implement all of the abovementioned strategies, using a plagiarism checker is your safe ticket to creating plagiarism-free writings.

Even when you’re confident your work is entirely original, there’s no harm in running your text through a plagiarism checker and ensuring everything’s in order before your text goes public. This step will eliminate even the accidental plagiarism examples you probably weren’t aware of.

Detect plagiarism and grammar mistakes in your text


While you can work hard to remove any signs of plagiarism in your texts, some examples of accidental plagiarism will show up occasionally. Because they can have academic, legal, and professional consequences, it’s best to implement various methods to eliminate them.

By using a plagiarism checker, you’ll detect any unintentional plagiarism occurrences on time, which will allow you to fix the mistakes and make your text look flawless before it reaches other people.


What can you do to 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.

Which of the following is the most effective strategy you can use to avoid accidental plagiarism? ›

The best way to avoid the misconduct of plagiarism is by self-checking your documents using plagiarism checker tools. Any words or ideas that are not your own but taken from another paper need to be cited. Cite Your Own Material—If you are using content from your previous paper, you must cite yourself.

What's a good way to avoid accidentally plagiarizing when you're trying to paraphrase? ›

To avoid plagiarism when summarizing an article or other source, follow these two rules:
  1. Write the summary entirely in your own words by paraphrasing the author's ideas.
  2. Cite the source with an in-text citation and a full reference so your reader can easily find the original text.
Oct 10, 2021

What is considered accidental plagiarism? ›

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 easy is it to accidentally plagiarize? ›

Believe it or not, it's not hard to mistakenly plagiarize. Accidental plagiarism is usually the result of being rushed, unorganized, or uninformed about the citation and research process. Whether it's an accident or an intentional act of plagiarism, the consequences are essentially the same.

What is one of the major factors in unintentional plagiarism? ›

Confusion of citation styles

This is probably one of the major reasons why unintentional plagiarism happens. This is simply due to the human factor, where a student doesn't know how to properly cite sources in a particular style or has confused one citation guideline with another.

What is the main cause of accidental plagiarism? ›

Accidental plagiarism means plagiarizing the content unintentionally. It commonly occurs due to lack of proper citations or wrong citations, forgetting or neglecting to quote, or accidentally using the same phrases or similar combinations of words as given in the original.

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 suggestions would eliminate both inadvertent and deliberate plagiarism? ›

  • showing that you are not just copying other ideas but are processing and adding to them,
  • lending outside support to the ideas that are completely yours, and.
  • highlighting the originality of your ideas by making clear distinctions between them and ideas you have gotten elsewhere.
Jun 9, 2021

Is it plagiarism if you accidentally use someone's word? ›

Unintentional plagiarism is not giving proper credit for someone else's ideas, research, or words, even if it was not intentional to present them as your own. Even if it was not intentional, it is still plagiarism and not acceptable. Accidentally failing to cite your sources correctly.

Is Accidental plagiarism wrong? ›

If a person did commit plagiarism accidentally, are they really at fault? The short answer is yes, it is possible. So many people, especially inexperienced writers, accidentally commit plagiarism by not writing their content properly or not citing their sources accurately.

How do you address 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 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.

How do you apologize for accidental plagiarism? ›

I understand that my behavior has disappointed you and caused you grief, once again, I am sorry for that. I deeply regret my actions. What I did was wrong and there is no excuse for it. I should have better cited my sources and put forth more effort into creating original work.

What are the 5 easy steps to avoiding plagiarism? ›

5 Ways to Avoid Plagiarism
  1. 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. ...
  2. Paraphrase with care. ...
  3. Give credit where credit is due. ...
  4. Beware of cutting and pasting. ...
  5. Footnote as you go.
Dec 3, 2015

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

What is the best way to avoid plagiarism quizlet? ›

Of the following, which is the best way to avoid plagiarism: Paraphrase the ideas into your own words of understanding and cite the original source.

How can you easily avoid unintended plagiarism quizlet? ›

How to avoid plagiarism: Never copy anything directly, print directly, or copy someone else's work. Cite sources, and use quotation marks. Putting gathered info into your own words.


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