It’s Never Innocent: Prevalent Types of Plagiarism in Academia

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We typically begin learning about plagiarism in elementary school. They teach us that plagiarism is passing off another person’s work as your own or directly copying from someone else, both of which should be avoided at all costs. Teachers aren’t wrong, but the simplistic definition of plagiarism presented to us as children needs to expand as we get older. The reality is that plagiarism is far more complicated than that, and it is much easier than you might think to inadvertently plagiarize others’ work in your academic papers.

There are numerous types of plagiarism—it’s not only high schoolers downloading a paper from the internet the night before a midterm essay is due and keeping their fingers crossed that their teacher doesn’t notice. While this may be one of the most egregious forms of plagiarism, cases of it are usually much less clear-cut. In fact, there isn’t always malicious intent behind plagiarism—sometimes, people plagiarize completely by accident, especially in academic or research fields. If you are concerned you might have done that, see how we can identify possible plagiarism in your work and help you eliminate it. 

The best way to avoid accidental plagiarism is to educate yourself on the matter. Here are the most common cases when plagiarism is considered to have taken place.  

Types of intentional plagiarism

Intentional plagiarism is when someone plagiarizes with full knowledge of the fraud they are committing. They are purposefully cheating an advisor, a publisher, a teacher, or the general public. Intentional plagiarism is unforgivable in the academic and professional worlds, and if you are found to have committed it, your reputation may suffer irreparable damage.

  • Direct plagiarism 
  • Also known as “verbatim plagiarism,” this refers to someone lifting a quote, a phrase, or a section from another piece of writing and using it without proper citations or quotation marks, thus making it appear that the author of the paper is offering original content. 

    Even if all the ideas in a paper are your own, you cannot take credit for other people’s words. Using a famous Shakespeare quote as an example, it would be like someone writing: What my research reflects is that all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players. I came to this conclusion using the following methods…

    Of course, this doesn’t mean you should not quote others in your papers. In fact, it is often important to use quotes, but by not adding quotation marks and citing the source, the author of a paper would be directly plagiarizing. Whenever you use others’ words, you must include quotation marks; otherwise, you are passing those words off as your own. There are better ways to meet your word count—see how we can help you revise your work to do so.

    It is worth noting that direct plagiarism could be accidental—it is easy enough to simply forget to add quotation marks, even if you have no intention to plagiarize. That is why academic editing is so vital for scholars.

  • Complete plagiarism
  • This is direct plagiarism’s big sibling and what many of us think of when we hear the word “plagiarism.” Complete plagiarism is exactly what it sounds like: copying another piece of work entirely (read: word for word) and attaching your own name to it, like those sneaky high schoolers mentioned earlier. 

    This type of plagiarism is unfortunately far more common in scholarly circles than one might think and nearly always has the most severe consequences for the plagiarist’s academic career, finances, reputation, and social life. Complete plagiarism is never worth it—if you want to achieve success in academia, you need to put in the work.

  • Patchwork plagiarism
  • This would be like someone collecting fifty quilts from expert quilters, ripping them up, and then stitching them into a new quilt without ever letting the original quilters have a say. Also known as mosaic plagiarism, patchwork plagiarism occurs when someone takes bits and pieces of other people’s work and tries to seamlessly weld them together to create an apparently cohesive original product. It is obviously intentional and more difficult to detect, and it can be quite time-consuming for the plagiarist. 

    Considering the effort that goes into pulling off patchwork plagiarism, you might as well do the work to compose the paper yourself. This way, your academic track record and your conscience remain clean.

  • Incremental plagiarism
  • Also known as paraphrasing, this is the cousin of patchwork plagiarism and one of the most popular forms of plagiarism. In recent years, there have been many widely publicized examples of this, among the more famous ones being Melania Trump’s paraphrasing of a Michelle Obama speech for her address at the 2016 Republican National Convention. 

    The difference between paraphrasing and patchwork plagiarism is that the latter often weaves in at least some original content, while paraphrasing does not add anything new—it just tweaks words and phrases. Incremental plagiarism is essentially taking someone else’s ideas, putting them into different words, and presenting them as your own. Paraphrasing is undoubtedly a valuable skill, but it becomes unethical if you try to present the ideas as your own. 

    You can certainly paraphrase others’ studies in your paper—in fact, briefly introducing the conclusions of previous studies is often necessary in academic work—but you must cite them properly. If you’re struggling with the urge to paraphrase, send us your work to have it edited the honest way.

    Incremental plagiarism is difficult to prove because original ideas are rarer than you may think, and yours may strongly resemble someone else’s, even if you came up with them entirely on your own. Nonetheless, be sure to stay away from intentionally paraphrasing someone else’s work and presenting it as yours.

    Types of unintentional plagiarism and gray areas

  • Plagiarism involving sources and citations
  • This type of plagiarism can occur when someone incorporates a fake citation, fails to cite every source they used (including primary, secondary, and tertiary sources), falsifies and/or fabricates data and figures,  or pads the bibliography section to make it look like they used more references than they actually did. 

    This is a gray area because, occasionally, it can slip someone’s mind to cite a tertiary source. However, intentionally falsifying data can be extremely dangerous, particularly in the fields of medical and scientific research. You can cite yourself if you are referencing a peer-reviewed study you’ve published, but you should never fabricate citations—that is a clear violation of academic integrity tenets.

  • Auto-plagiarism
  • Yes, it is entirely possible to plagiarize yourself, but it’s another gray area because it is tricky to identify and can sometimes happen accidentally. Nowadays, many institutions use anti-plagiarism software, and if you plagiarize your previously published work, you will get caught and punished, even if it is your own work. 

    Of course, no one will be the wiser if you write a diary entry and then tweak it 10 years later and publish it as a journal article—this is specifically about work you have published in the past. The ethics of auto-plagiarism revolve more around the integrity of thorough citations and the need to ensure that all work is entirely original because the original ideas you once had are still your own.

  • Lifting ideas
  • J.K. Rowling, Malcolm Gladwell, Jane Goodall, and J.R.R. Tolkien are some of the most high-profile authors accused of lifting ideas from other authors or sources and passing them off as their own to boost their careers and reputations. While it’s true that it can be difficult to come up with an original idea, if you don’t have anything new to add to the discussion, plagiarizing content from those who came before you is clearly not the answer. 

    This can be a gray area because the waters get murky when trying to determine the intellectual property of an idea, particularly in fiction. It is perfectly acceptable—and entirely normal—for fiction authors to draw inspiration from other works, but things get iffy if they don’t make a sufficient contribution to these ideas.

  • Complete accidental plagiarism
  • This is most common with students who perhaps can’t remember where they got an idea from, think they came up with a certain quote on their own, or don’t understand the ins and outs of paraphrasing and genuinely didn’t intend to plagiarize. This can happen much more easily than you think—the brain is far better at remembering ideas than remembering where they came from. Though the consequences of accidental plagiarism can also be profound, a proven lack of intention is often taken into consideration by a review board. To make absolutely sure that you haven’t accidentally plagiarized, order our deluxe academic package.

    Whatever the reasons, plagiarism is a serious issue in academia. Many formerly respected scholars and public figures have fallen from grace as a result of plagiarizing. We all know intentional plagiarism is wrong, but we hope this post has made you realize that even if you would never dream of intentionally plagiarizing someone else’s ideas, it is all too easy to do it by accident. 

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