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How it’s Possible to Accidentally Plagiarize


We all make mistakes. It’s simply a part of life. One school-related topic that is prone to its fair share of mistakes? Plagiarism. 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. It can result in a reprimand, failed grade, failed course, or even worse.

There is good news: if you know the causes of accidental plagiarism, you can easily avoid or fix it! Let’s learn three of the most common.

Cause 1:

Dropping research into a document and forgetting you didn’t write it

When scouring the Internet for information, most writers copy and paste information into a paper with the intent of citing it properly later. However, after hours and hours of searching and writing, it’s easy to forget that the copy and pasted text isn’t our own work. It can get lost in the shuffle and left without citations.


If you’re guilty of this, don’t worry, it’s an easy fix. Always make sure to include in-text or parenthetical citations as you’re working, not after. Cite as you write. That extra minute of adding citations while you’re researching could save your grade.

Cause 2:

Pitiful paraphrasing

Paraphrasing can be your BFF when it comes to writing research papers. But it does require time and effort. You have to think through another person’s idea, then rewrite it in your own words and writing style.

That means doing more than just substituting the original author’s words with synonyms, or chopping up a quote and replacing a small part of it with your own words. Both are mistakes and are considered plagiarism. Sometimes, rewriting an idea into something that is close to the original is also plagiarism.

Bottom line: A poorly written paraphrase results in accidental plagiarism.


Here’s a quick how-to guide to creating stellar paraphrases:

1. Read the original author’s idea, quote, or text. Fully grasp the meaning of it. If you’re not grasping the concept, ask a friend for help or use a search engine to read up on the difficult words.
2. After fully comprehending the original author’s information, put it to the side.
3. Write what you read, using your own style and words. It’s okay to take a peek back at the original author’s work, but try to develop your own synopsis!
4. Add an in-text or parenthetical citation, along with a full citation at the end of the project. If you need help formatting your APA citations or MLA citations, check out our fab guides!

Cause 3:

Forgetting to cite

There are so many rules to follow when it comes to research projects. Sources, deadlines, notes, introductions, thesis statements, the list goes on and on. So long in fact that sometimes a pretty important component is forgotten—citations!

Citations should be included in projects anytime another author’s work is referenced. So, if you’re reading through a paper and you come across a statistic, quote, or anything that isn’t common knowledge, a citation should be found nearby. If a piece of information is left hanging, it’s plagiarism.

Mistakes always happen, but when it comes to plagiarism, they’re preventable. Remember to cite as you write, paraphrase properly, and always include citations.

When your research is complete, don’t forget to run your writing assignment through a grammar and plagiarism checker, like the one available with BibMe Plus! This will help ensure that you didn’t miss a citation. You can also check your assignment for grammar errors like a misspelled pronoun, incorrect subject-verb agreement, an uncapitalized proper noun, and more!

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