How to Avoid Accidental and Unintentional Plagiarism (2023)

Every researcher, student, or writer has probably experienced a creative block. No matter what you do or how much you read, the words never seem to come as easy as they usually do. Before you know it, you’ve probably been staring at your screen for hours, with only your cursor blinking back at you.

It must have crossed your mind once or twice — what would happen if you were found to copy someone else’s work and claim it as your own? The truth is, most people only have a vague idea of what plagiarism is, and they seldom understand the consequences of copying someone else’s work or idea. Understanding why this is wrong is simple enough, but the question is this: why do so many people never get tired of doing it?

What you need to know about plagiarism

How to Avoid Accidental and Unintentional Plagiarism (1)

When people think of plagiarism, the first thing that would come to mind is copying or borrowing someone else’s writing word for word and not giving credit to where it is due. However, while that idea may be correct, it doesn’t exactly cover the whole scope of the term. The words “borrowing” or “copying” reduces the impact of what plagiarism actually is — literary theft.

It is essential to understand that when you plagiarize something, you are technically committing an act of fraud. Not only are you claiming credit for something you did not originally make, but you took it from someone as well without any type of notice or consent.

Just like anything else, words and ideas can be stolen. In fact, these are considered to be intellectual property under the laws of the United States. As long as they are recorded in any way (in writing or digitally), then they fall under the copyright protection law.

There are different ways to commit plagiarism, and you may even do it accidentally or unintentionally if you are not careful enough. The idea of unknowingly committing fraud can be intimidating. In order for you to avoid plagiarism altogether, it would be helpful to get a full primer of the many ways you can commit this type of fraud.

3 common ways people commit plagiarism

As mentioned, plagiarism is more than just copying or borrowing someone else’s work and claiming it as your own. There are a lot of ways people commit plagiarism, and not all are due to ill intent. Sometimes, carelessness causes plagiarism, which is why you need to be aware of what you need to look out for to avoid plagiarism.

Here are some of the most common ways people commit plagiarism (whether intentionally or accidentally):

Submitting somebody else’s writing as your own

This is one of the most common types of plagiarism, and it’s quite interesting how some people think that they could get away with this. Submitting a full body of work is incredibly apparent, especially if the writing style or thought process you usually use is different from what you’ve sent.

Failure to use quotation marks

Quotation marks may seem like insignificant symbols to some, but using these signs mean that the words you are using are not exactly your own. By failing to use a quotation mark, it immediately gives the impression that you stole someone else’s work word for word. To indicate that you got the words you included in your writing from others, enclosing the statement in quotation marks and citing the source would be helpful.

Not giving credit to the author when you use their words or ideas

Apart from copying the exact words of the original author, failing to mention their names in your work in the form of a citation is also a common type of plagiarism. It is crucial that you give credit to the author if you want to avoid committing plagiarism.

Apart from the ways mentioned above, there are other ways you can commit plagiarism intentionally or accidentally. You can copy the whole sentence structure and just change the words in the sentence, give false or incorrect information about the source of the words, ideas, or information, or copy a bulk of ideas from a single source in your body of work such that it is mainly composed of that work alone. It would be ideal for you to study plagiarism in detail to avoid committing it altogether.

How can plagiarism be accidental or unintentional?

This is where things can get confusing — can you really commit plagiarism if you unintentionally or accidentally did it? Isn’t intent a key factor when performing an act of fraud? 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. Simply put, if the reader can assume that you wrote the words because of improper citation or paraphrasing, then it can be considered plagiarism.

Therefore, it is imperative that the reader understands who is speaking when they are reading your work. They should be able to recognize when you are expressing your own ideas, if you are discussing and analyzing others’ ideas, or if you’re directly quoting someone’s words to explain your point further.

Resolving unintentional or accidental plagiarism

How to Avoid Accidental and Unintentional Plagiarism (2)

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.

People who do accidental plagiarism would fall under any of these categories:

  • They do not know how to cite resources properly
  • They do not know that their way of writing falls under the umbrella of plagiarism
  • Due to rushing their work, they failed to properly quote their sources
  • They accidentally wrote down the idea from a source they read without crediting it properly

If you accidentally plagiarized someone’s work and you want to resolve it immediately, here are some things you can do:

Fix your citations and credit the author properly

If you weren’t able to fully cite your source or you failed to credit the author altogether, then you should rectify that by learning the correct ways to do citations. There are templates online that show several ways to cite authors, depending on the type of content you’re copying from them. Revise your references or bibliography area and include proper markers in your work to show that you got the idea from someone else.

Learn how to paraphrase properly

Some people think that paraphrasing is as simple as changing a few words in a sentence and calling it a day. However, you should know that using synonyms and changing the words in a sentence still counts as plagiarism. To paraphrase an idea correctly, you should also change the structure of the sentence and paragraph completely while still crediting the original source.

Citing too many sources

Don’t get us wrong — it is not wrong to mention your sources if your work needs those ideas to take flight. However, if you cite too much of others’ works that it seems like your whole paper is made up of citations and quotations, then it can suggest that your work is just a repetition of others’ combined work. For safety, try to limit your use of quoted material to a maximum of 10% overall.

Clearly separate your ideas from others’ in your work

When reading your work, one must be able to easily understand where your ideas end and where others’ ideas begin. Simply put, they must be able to comprehend if the words they’re reading are your original ideas, or if those are someone you got information or inspiration from.

Consequences of plagiarism

Regardless if you’re a student or an experienced researcher, committing plagiarism has its consequences. Of course, the penalties may differ depending on the extent of plagiarism you’ve done. For intentional plagiarism, the stakes are higher compared to when you’ve just carelessly and accidentally plagiarized someone’s work.

Since it can be challenging to prove that you’ve only committed plagiarism unintentionally, it would be better if you avoid committing it altogether. Here are some of the penalties you may face when you commit plagiarism:

  • Failing marks in the subject or being dropped from your course
  • Expulsion from the educational institution
  • Damaged reputation in the academe, affecting even some of your original work
  • Fines, penalties, and even lawsuits from original authors

To prevent facing these consequences, avoid plagiarism as much as you can. If you’ve noticed that you may have committed plagiarism, resolve it as early as you can.

Do not let carelessness get in the way of your work. Learn to cite sources properly.

May it be accidental or intentional, plagiarism is still plagiarism. It should never be an option if you want to establish yourself as a credible writer and author. To prevent facing the consequences of plagiarism, you should learn how to properly cite your sources and give credit to where it is due.


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 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

What are the 3 things to avoid to keep from plagiarizing? ›

You can avoid plagiarism by:

Keeping track of the sources you consult in your research. Paraphrasing or quoting from your sources (and adding your own ideas) Crediting the original author in an in-text citation and in your reference list.

What is accidental plagiarism examples? ›

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.

What causes 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 causes unintentional plagiarism? ›

Unintentional plagiarism (misuse of sources)

Misuse of sources might include a lack of understanding of paraphrasing, not being clear about the parameters of common knowledge, and/or the statute of limitations on the attribution of ideas.

What are the 7 ways you can avoid plagiarism? ›

Best Practices for Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Don't procrastinate with your research and assignments. Good research takes time. ...
  • Commit to doing your own work. If you don't understand an assignment, talk with your professor. ...
  • Be 100% scrupulous in your note taking. ...
  • Cite your sources scrupulously. ...
  • Understand good paraphrasing.

What is the golden rule for avoiding plagiarism? ›

As a “Golden Rule” you should always remember to give credit where credit is due. In other words, if the idea is not completely your own, you must cite the source (journal, magazine, book, internet site, etc,) where the information was found. Otherwise, you could be at risk of plagiarizing.

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 do you mean by plagiarism How can we avoid unintentional plagiarism? ›

Plagiarism is when someone else's work is passed off as your own. It may include: Using someone else's words directly without accurately acknowledging their authorship (whether this is from a published source or another student) Using ideas from someone else's work without accurately acknowledging their source.

What is the best way to avoid self plagiarism? ›

Tips to avoid self-plagiarism

Always properly cite your previously published material in new work. Make sure that any of your previously published text or data is used to support novel material and arguments in new work. There must be enough original content to justify a new publication.

What are 4 ways students plagiarize? ›

The Common Types of Plagiarism
  • Direct Plagiarism. Direct plagiarism is the word-for-word transcription of a section of someone else's work, without attribution and without quotation marks. ...
  • Self Plagiarism. ...
  • Mosaic Plagiarism. ...
  • Accidental Plagiarism.

How do you stop students from plagiarizing? ›

How can I prevent plagiarism?
  1. Clearly define plagiarism. ...
  2. Committing plagiarism. ...
  3. Provide examples of proper citation. ...
  4. Create original assignments. ...
  5. Require rough drafts. ...
  6. Suggest that students submit electronic copies of their drafts to

How to distinguish between intentional and unintentional plagiarism? ›

The difference between intentional and unintentional plagiarism is that unintentional plagiarism is not purposeful plagiarism. When someone unintentionally plagiarizes, they do not realize it is happening. Intentional plagiarism is when someone knows that they are using someone else's ideas as their own.

How do you apologize for unintentional 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.

How a student 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 ...

How do you copy and paste without plagiarizing? ›

Some reminders to avoid falling into the trap of copying/pasting:
  1. Indicate your sources.
  2. Cite images and graphics.
  3. Paraphrase and rephrase ideas.
  4. Make references to the bibliography.
  5. Leverage simple-to-use similarity-detection software. - Compilatio's Magister: software to help teachers assess student work.

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

Is it plagiarism if you copy one sentence? ›

However, there are in fact degrees of plagiarism: one can steal an entire paper, or a section of a paper, or a page, a paragraph or a sentence. Even copying phrases without credit and quotation marks can be considered plagiarism. In other words, paraphrasing done improperly can qualify as plagiarism.

Does changing words still count as plagiarism? ›

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.

Is it plagiarism if you copy a phrase? ›

Anytime you copy and paste verbatim from a source and do not give the source credit it is plagiarism. If you do copy and paste a passage word for word, you must put the information in quotations (i.e. " ") marks and give credit to the author.

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 do I know if I accidentally plagiarized? ›

Plagiarism Checker by Grammarly. Grammarly's plagiarism checker detects plagiarism in your text and checks for other writing issues. Catch plagiarism from ProQuest databases and over 16 billion web pages. Get feedback on grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, and sentence structure.

Can self-plagiarism be accidental? ›

Even if it was not intentional, it is still plagiarism and not acceptable. Accidentally failing to cite your sources correctly. Some students may plagiarize accidentally by failing to cite their sources correctly.

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.

Is it OK to accidentally plagiarize? ›

In academic writing, plagiarism involves using words, ideas, or information from a source without including a citation. Plagiarism can have serious consequences, even when it's done accidentally. To avoid plagiarism, it's important to keep track of your sources and cite them correctly.

Is Accidental plagiarism serious? ›

Lack of intent does not absolve the student of responsibility for plagiarism. Cases of accidental plagiarism are taken as seriously as any other plagiarism and are subject to the same range of consequences as other types of plagiarism.

Is it common to accidentally plagiarize? ›

Plagiarism is a serious offense but often occurs accidentally. It's easy to do it unintentionally. Here are some of the most common examples of accidental plagiarism found in papers, essays, and articles: Not citing a source properly.

Can you get kicked out of university for accidental plagiarism? ›

The University regards plagiarism in examinations as a serious matter. Cases will be investigated and penalties may range from deduction of marks to expulsion from the University, depending on the seriousness of the occurrence. Even if plagiarism is inadvertent, it can result in a penalty.

How do I prove I didn't plagiarize? ›

Provide your teacher with the outlines, notes or drafts, which were made for this particular paper as the proofs that you have made efforts to write the paper on your own. Provide the evidence that highlights your knowledge or skills (for example, previous essays) to prove that you didn't plagiarize in the past.

What is the golden rule of plagiarism? ›

As a “Golden Rule” you should always remember to give credit where credit is due. In other words, if the idea is not completely your own, you must cite the source (journal, magazine, book, internet site, etc,) where the information was found. Otherwise, you could be at risk of plagiarizing.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Msgr. Refugio Daniel

Last Updated: 29/12/2023

Views: 5293

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (74 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Msgr. Refugio Daniel

Birthday: 1999-09-15

Address: 8416 Beatty Center, Derekfort, VA 72092-0500

Phone: +6838967160603

Job: Mining Executive

Hobby: Woodworking, Knitting, Fishing, Coffee roasting, Kayaking, Horseback riding, Kite flying

Introduction: My name is Msgr. Refugio Daniel, I am a fine, precious, encouraging, calm, glamorous, vivacious, friendly person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.