Watch Out for Accidental Plagiarism


Emily Bekiaris, Staff

Plagiarism is the act of stealing one’s work or words and passing it off as your own. It may see easy to avoid, but sometimes people don’t know what fully constitutes as plagiarizing. This what is known as accidental plagiarism. 

This can lead to a person getting in trouble because they did not give credit where it is was due or they thought changing a few words would make the idea their own, when in fact, it is still plagiarizing.  

In many schools and professions, changing a few words is still an offence. For example, in Penn State’s plagiarism policy, it says“If you copy word-for-word or change a word here and there while copying without enclosing the copied passage in quotation marks and identifying the author, you are also plagiarizing.” 

It is possible you have never been told this and thought changing a few words was acceptable, and in fact, a good tactic to use. Things like this, not knowing what is right and wrong is a big reason for accidental plagiarism. 

Another example of you doing something that you didn’t know was plagiarism, and it called self-plagiarism.  

Ben Mudrak, in his article titled, Self-Plagiarism: How to Define it and Why you Should Avoid it, he writes, “In short, self-plagiarism is any attempt to take any of your own previously published text, papers, or research results and make it appear brand new.”  

If you ever turned an old assignment that originated from an old project, you still are obligated to cite that it was used previously. It should be known what the original use of your assignment was for. Like previously stated, you should always give the author the credit, even when it is you receiving it. 

With all this being said, there are many ways to fall victim to plagiarism unintentionally. Here are some tips you can use to ensure you never have to worry again. 

Tip 1. Always cite your sources. You will never have to worry about thinking that you stole someone’s ideas if you jot down where you got the information from. You’ll eventually develop a good habit. 

Tip 2. Paraphrase. Sometimes, when your writing, you might find it more appropriate to paraphrase instead of using quotations. There is such thing as the “Five Word” rule that states that you are not use more than five consecutive words when paraphrasing a source. In case you struggle with this, here is an article that will show you examples of the difference between plagiarizing and paraphrasing called, Avoiding Plagiarism- Paraphrasing. 

Tip 3. Clearly separate your ideas from others. If you make clear where your ideas end and where others begin, you won’t ever have to worry that you may have stolen someone else’s ideas. 

Tip 4. Do added research if you are still unsure what counts as plagiarism. There are many available resources out there that are more than willing to help. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry. 

With all your new knowledge, accidentally plagiarizing is something you never have to worry about doing it again. By knowing your stuff and having academic integrity, you will be on your way to success in no time!