May 2, 2023
What is Incremental Plagiarism? How to Avoid it
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Richard Wu
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In today's world, plagiarism is a significant issue, and it can be challenging to determine the extent of the infringement.

Most people believe copying and pasting someone else's work word-for-word constitutes plagiarism. However, there are other forms of plagiarism, such as incremental plagiarism, that are often overlooked.

In this article, we will explore incremental plagiarism and how it differs from patchwork plagiarism, provide examples, and explain its consequences.

Additionally, we will discuss how to avoid incremental plagiarism and answer some frequently asked questions.

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What is Incremental Plagiarism?

Incremental plagiarism occurs when someone takes various sections of someone else's work and incorporates them into their own without giving proper credit. It involves using someone else's ideas, phrases, or sentences to imply they are original.

The author is essentially "borrowing" or "copying" small parts of someone else's work and presenting them as their own. This type of plagiarism is often done with good intentions. The author may believe they are merely summarizing or paraphrasing the original work.

However, even if the writer does not copy the work word-for-word, using the original author's words or ideas without proper citation is still plagiarism.

Incremental Plagiarism Vs. Patchwork Plagiarism

Incremental plagiarism is often confused with patchwork plagiarism. However, there is a difference between the two.

Patchwork plagiarism occurs when someone takes various pieces of someone else's work and combines them into their own, creating a "patchwork" of ideas.

This type of plagiarism is usually more apparent than incremental plagiarism because it involves copying and pasting larger sections of someone else's work. Patchwork plagiarism is more blatant than incremental plagiarism because it is evident that the work is not original.

Incremental plagiarism, however, involves using smaller portions of someone else's work and weaving them into one's own.

It can be challenging to detect incremental plagiarism, as the copied work is often integrated into the author's work, making it appear as if it is original.

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Types of Incremental Plagiarism

There are several types of incremental plagiarism that writers may unintentionally engage in. These include:

  • Mosaic plagiarism involves taking phrases or sentences from multiple sources and piecing them together without proper attribution.

  • Sentence-level plagiarism involves copying and pasting entire sentences from a source without proper citation.

  • Idea-level plagiarism involves taking someone else's idea and presenting it as your own without proper attribution.

Examples Of Incremental Plagiarism

To better understand incremental plagiarism, we have provided several examples of this type of plagiarism.

Example 1: The Paraphrasing Trap

One of the most common forms of incremental plagiarism is paraphrasing. Paraphrasing involves restating someone else's ideas in one's own words.

Although this technique is useful when summarizing complex information, it can quickly become plagiarism if not done correctly.

For instance, if a student writes a paper on the history of the Civil Rights Movement and decides to paraphrase sections of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, they may unintentionally commit incremental plagiarism.

The student may reword some of the sentences in the speech, but if they fail to cite King's work, it will be considered plagiarism.

Example 2: The "Copy and Paste" Shortcut

Another form of incremental plagiarism is when writers copy and paste sections of text from various sources and paste them into their work. This practice is most common in academic writing, where students may save time by copying and pasting text sections into their papers.

For example, a student writing a paper on global warming may copy a section on the causes of global warming from one source and paste it into their work without citation.

If they then take a section on the effects of global warming from another source and paste it into their paper, again without citation, they have committed incremental plagiarism.

Example 3: The Idea Borrowing Scheme

A third example of incremental plagiarism is borrowing ideas from other sources without proper citation.

This type of plagiarism is often more subtle because it involves using someone else's ideas or concepts without proper attribution. Credit to the original author, even if the writer is not using their exact words, is essential.

For instance, a writer may be working on an article about social media's impact on mental health and read an article that discusses the same topic.

The writer may then incorporate some of the concepts and ideas from the article into their work without citing the source. This type of incremental plagiarism can be challenging to detect, but it is still a serious issue.

Consequences of Incremental Plagiarism

The consequences of engaging in incremental plagiarism can be severe. Plagiarism is considered a serious academic offense and can result in disciplinary action, including suspension or expulsion from school.

Additionally, it can damage one's reputation and credibility as a writer, researcher, or academic.

Moreover, plagiarism undermines the integrity of academic institutions and the broader academic community. Plagiarism is considered an ethical violation and can lead to losing trust and respect from peers and colleagues.

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In addition to the ethical implications, incremental plagiarism can have legal consequences. Individuals who engage in incremental plagiarism may sometimes face copyright infringement or intellectual property theft charges.

This can result in fines, legal fees, and damage to one's professional reputation.

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Why Do Writers Engage in Incremental Plagiarism?

While incremental plagiarism is often unintentional, there are several reasons why writers may engage in it. These include:

  • Lack of understanding: Writers may not fully understand the concepts of paraphrasing and citation and may unintentionally engage in incremental plagiarism.

  • Time constraints: Under time pressure, writers may take shortcuts and not properly cite sources, leading to incremental plagiarism.

  • Over-reliance on sources: When writers rely too heavily on one source, they may inadvertently incorporate the author's words or ideas into their work without proper attribution.

  • Language barriers: For writers who are not fluent in the language they are writing in, it can be challenging to paraphrase effectively and avoid incremental plagiarism.

Addressing Incremental Plagiarism in Academic Settings

Academic institutions have taken steps to address incremental plagiarism and promote ethical writing practices. These include:

  • Providing resources: Many academic institutions offer writing centers or online resources that guide proper citation and paraphrasing techniques.

  • Incorporating plagiarism education into the curriculum: Some academic institutions require students to complete modules on plagiarism as part of their coursework.

  • Using plagiarism detection software: Many academic institutions use plagiarism detection software to check student work for any instances of plagiarism.

  • Promoting academic integrity: Academic institutions may have honor codes or other policies that promote academic integrity and discourage plagiarism.

Addressing Incremental Plagiarism in Professional Settings

Journal journalism, writing, and publishing professionals must also be aware of incremental plagiarism and take steps to avoid it. These include:

  • Using proper attribution: Professionals should always credit the original author when using someone else's work.

  • Checking sources: Professionals should verify the accuracy of their sources and avoid using unreliable sources that could lead to unintentional incremental plagiarism.

  • Editing and fact-checking: Before publishing their work, professionals should thoroughly edit and fact-check their work to ensure that all sources are properly cited and that there is no incremental plagiarism.

  • Staying up-to-date on ethical guidelines: Professionals should stay informed about ethical guidelines in their field and ensure they follow best practices for avoiding incremental plagiarism.

By following these strategies, professionals can maintain credibility and avoid unintentional incremental plagiarism.

How to Avoid Incremental Plagiarism

Avoiding incremental plagiarism requires careful attention to detail and proper citation practices. Here are some strategies to avoid engaging in incremental plagiarism.

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Strategy 1: Paraphrase Correctly

When paraphrasing, it is essential to put the original text away and restate the ideas in your own words. Paraphrasing requires more than merely changing a few words from the original text.

Instead, the writer should read and understand the original text and write it in their own words.

Strategy 2: Use Proper Citation

Giving credit to the original author when using someone else's work is crucial. The writer should include in-text citations and a bibliography or works cited page.

The citation should indicate the author's name, the work's title, and the page number where the information was found.

Strategy 3: Use Multiple Sources

Instead of relying on one source, using multiple sources to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the topic is better.

Using various sources, the writer can avoid over-relying on one source and inadvertently engaging in incremental plagiarism.

Strategy 4: Plan Ahead

Procrastination can lead to poor writing practices, including incremental plagiarism. Planning and starting early allows the writer to take the time to understand the material and incorporate it into their work properly.

Strategy 5: Use Plagiarism Checkers

Plagiarism checkers are excellent tools that help writers identify unintentional plagiarism.

These tools scan the writer's work and compare it to other sources to determine if any text has been copied without proper citation.

Tools to Detect Incremental Plagiarism

Fortunately, several tools are available to help detect instances of incremental plagiarism. Some of these tools include:

  • Plagiarism detection software: These programs can scan documents and compare them to a database of existing content to identify instances of plagiarism. Some popular plagiarism detection tools include Turnitin, Copyscape, and Grammarly.

  • Search engines: Sometimes, a simple Google search can reveal instances of incremental plagiarism. By entering a suspicious phrase or sentence into a search engine, writers can quickly identify whether the content has been previously published elsewhere.

  • Copychecker: Copychecker is a tool specifically designed to detect incremental plagiarism. It uses advanced algorithms to analyze text and identify instances where a writer has borrowed language from another source without proper attribution.

How Copychecker Works

Copychecker analyzes a document and compares it to a vast existing content database. The software uses advanced algorithms to identify patterns of language and syntax and then compares these patterns to other content in the database.

Copychecker will flag the passage and provide information on the source if a suspicious pattern is detected. This can help writers identify instances of incremental plagiarism and ensure that their work is original and ethical.

Overall, by utilizing tools like Copychecker, writers can ensure their work is original and free from incremental plagiarism.

This can help promote ethical writing practices and prevent the negative consequences associated with plagiarism.

Common Myths About Incremental Plagiarism

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Several myths and misconceptions about incremental plagiarism can lead to confusion and misunderstanding. Some common myths include the following:

  • "Paraphrasing doesn't count as plagiarism": This is false – even when paraphrasing, proper attribution is required.

  • "It's only plagiarism if you copy and paste": This is also false – even when using your own words, proper attribution is still required.

  • "It's okay to copy a few sentences as long as you cite the source": This is also false – copying any amount of text without proper attribution is considered plagiarism.

By debunking these myths and promoting accurate information, we can help prevent incremental plagiarism and promote ethical writing practices.

The Importance of Originality in Writing

One of the main reasons to avoid incremental plagiarism is to promote originality in writing. When writers engage in incremental plagiarism, they are not only potentially violating ethical and legal standards, but they are also failing to produce original content.

By avoiding incremental plagiarism and striving for originality, writers can create unique and valuable content that contributes to the overall body of knowledge.


Q: What is the difference bet ween incremental plagiarism and self-plagiarism?

A: Incremental plagiarism involves using someone else's work without proper citation, while self-plagiarism involves using one's previous work without appropriate attribution.

Q: Can incremental plagiarism be intentional?

A: Yes, incremental plagiarism can be intentional but often done unintentionally.

Q: How can I tell if I have committed incremental plagiarism?

A: The best way to determine if you have committed incremental plagiarism is to review your work and compare it to the source. If you have used someone else's ideas or words without proper citation, you have likely committed incremental plagiarism.


Incremental plagiarism is a serious academic offense that can damage one's reputation and credibility. It is essential to understand incremental plagiarism and how to avoid engaging in it.

Using proper citation practices, paraphrasing correctly, and planning, writers can avoid unintentional incremental plagiarism and maintain their integrity as writers, researchers, and academics.

Also Read: How to Write Better By Using 24 Best Writing Tips in 2023