Strategies to Avoid Accidental Plagiarism


In order to achieve success in academic writing, it is necessary to have a good understanding of the concept of plagiarism. Plagiarism stands for copyright infringement presented in a broader sense.  According to experts, plagiarism includes “the copying of ideas or of expression not protected by copyright, that would not constitute infringement and it can include the copying of small amounts of material that would be disregarded under copyright law” (Stearns, 2009, p. 9).  There are several causes  of plagiarism that should be taken into consideration, while selecting the proper strategies that help to avoid plagiarism. These causes are disorganization of research work, information overload, ethical lapses, laziness and lack of desire to work with the high degree of diligence, ignorance and lack of confidence in personal knowledge. According to the studies on plagiarism prevention, many of the identified causes cannot be explained by the increased level of ethical misconduct because “half of the control plagiarism rate observed in recent study was the result of inattention by the students” (Beasley, 2004, p. 7).

The major goal of this paper is to show the understanding of the concept of plagiarism, placing emphasis on the strategies aimed at avoiding accidental plagiarism, explanation of their rationales, and the expected outcomes by adhering to the strategies.

Understanding the concept of plagiarism

The concept of plagiarism is complex and, at the same time, contradictory as it relates to intellectual property in some way or another. Plagiarism is not a simple concept as it can be defined in different ways. As a rule, people consider that plagiarism is illegal as it goes against the law. However, due to plagiarism, “the law and literary ethics intersect imperfectly” (Stearns, 2009, p. 5). Plagiarism cannot be viewed as a legal term because it refers to wrongful copying practices, but it does not demonstrate the violation of the law of copy writing. In  a broad sense, plagiarism can be defined as copying of words, sentences or thoughts in various forms. The Modern Language Association defines the term plagiarism as “repeating another’s sentences as your own, adopting a particular apt phrase as your own, paraphrasing someone else’s argument as your own or event presenting someone else’s line of thinking  in the development of a thesis though it were your own” (Stearns, 2009, p. 9). Words, sentences, ideas and expressions of thoughts can be plagiarised. Practically, one sentence cannot be plagiarised, while technically, it can be assessed as plagiarism.Anyway, plagiarism stands for violation of ethical norms of writing. There is much evidence that plagiarism is associated with research misconduct that is defined by the US Federal Government as “fabrication, falsification or plagiarism in proposing, performing or reviewing research or in reporting research results” (Mason, 2009, p.1). In scientific writing and academic writing,  plagiarism is considered to be a breach of ethics. Any researcher should bear responsibility to guarantee that he/she is aware of the rules of writing and cite the ideas and words of others appropriately.

The strategies that can help to avoid accidental plagiarism

There are several strategies that can be useful in avoiding plagiarism, including the proper referencing, note taking practices, ensuring skilled writing, finding one’s own voice and the use of technology to prevent plagiarism.

To start with, referencing is one of the most reliable strategies to prevent plagiarism in research papers. It is required to cite any source that is used in the process of work.  Hence, if a person provides the proper citations, it is possible to avoid plagiarising sources. There are two kinds of plagiarism, namely plagiarism of data and plagiarism of text. If there is a need for using data in researcher papers, it is recommended to reference any data taken from tables or figures. It is possible to slightly modify these data in order to “give some credibility” (Mason, 2009, p. 1).

Besides, taking notes is another strategy that helps to paraphrase the work of others without copying sentences or words. The development of excellent note taking skills guarantees that a person will be able to cope with any task. Notes are used as a summary of the source and provide valuable information on the key points of the text. Besides, notes are used as prompts which help to generate one’s own ideas on the identified issues. According to Mason, “authors must always make sure it is very clear to readers which ideas and phrases are their own and which are the ideas and phrases of others” (p. 1). This fact means that taking notes guarantees positive results in terms of delivery of the key message without plagiarized sentences.

Moreover, using skilled writing is the best way to find one’s own voice, avoiding repetition of the key ideas. It is possible to put ideas into one’s own words in order to develop original explanation of the required material. This strategy is based on the application of paraphrasing method that requires developing the proper skills.  A person should have a good understanding of the text in order to assess the key idea or message and use his/her own voice restating this message effectively.

Finally, using technology approaches to prevent plagiarism is the best way to detect plagiarised content and make corrections. It is possible to utilise software in order to check papers for plagiarism and detect sentences that have been plagiarised from another source. According to researcher, “this approach provides plagiarism prevention through just-in-time guidance, research project management, productivity tools, and tracking features” (Beasley, 2004, p.2). The proposed detection software tools are based on different methods, such as “text matching with indexed sources, style analysis of content, and tests requiring researchers to fill in blanks in their own papers” (Beasley, 2004, p.2).

In general, the rationales for the selection of these strategies are easy to explain. Some of these strategies are based on detection of plagiarism, while others are based on prevention of using plagiarised content. All sources used by the researcher should be properly cited. The proposed styles for referencing are APA, MLA, Harvard, Chicago and others. It is obvious that there is a need for developing clear and comprehensive policies on plagiarism issues to deal with the cases of accidental plagiarism and promote the strategies that can help to avoid punishment for plagiarizing practices. 

The expected outcomes by adhering to the above mentioned strategies are mainly positive. The accidental plagiarism can be prevented if a researcher has a good understanding of the concept of plagiarism and avoids making mistakes in quoting, citing, or paraphrasing of the selected material. As a rule, the accidental plagiarist faces ignorance, information overload and disorganization problems which lead to using plagiarized content. The use of the strategies like the proper referencing, note taking practices, ensuring skilled writing, finding one’s own voice and the use of technology to prevent plagiarism guarantees positive outcomes due to reliability of the selected approaches, flexibility and accuracy of implementation.


Thus, it is necessary to conclude that plagiarism is an acute problem faced by researchers and students involved in academic writing.  It occurs when a person is unaware of the ways to avoid plagiarism and uses the ideas from other sources without the appropriate documentation. It is unethical to copy the ideas and thoughts of others. Besides, it is illegal to violate copyright laws. The identified strategies to avoid plagiarism include the following ones: using the proper referencing, note taking practices, ensuring skilled writing to find one’s own voice and the use of technology to prevent plagiarism.


Beasley, J. D. (2004). “The Impact of Technology on Plagiarism Prevention and Detection: Research Process Automation, a New Approach for Prevention,” Plagiarism: Prevention, Practice and Policies 2004 Conference.

Mason, P. R. (2009). “Plagiarism in Scientific Publications,” Journal of Infect Developing Countries, 3(1):1-4.

Stearns, L. (2009). “Copy Wrong: Plagiarism, Process, Property, and the Law,” in Perspectives on Plagiarism and Intellectual Property in a Post-modern World, ed. by Lise Buranen and Alice Myers Roy. SUNY Press.

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