Unintentional Plagiarism: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Unintentional…
  • 0:29 Parts of Quotes
  • 0:59 Long Quotes Without…
  • 1:29 Paraphrasing Problems
  • 2:53 Information Literacy
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Firestone
Find out what unintentional plagiarism is, and how to avoid it. Learn how quotes and paraphrases should be cited in your writing, and then take a quiz to test your new skills.

Unintentional Plagiarism Defined

Unintentional plagiarism happens when students borrow words and ideas and cite them incorrectly. Students also unintentionally plagiarize when they don't realize that borrowed ideas and short phrases must be cited. This differs from intentional plagiarism, where whole paragraphs of material or whole essays are submitted as one's own. However, both are considered forms of academic dishonesty.

Let's take a look at some different types of unintentional plagiarism.

Parts of Quotes

When quotation marks are placed around part of a quote but not all of it, this is a form of unintentional plagiarism. Since part of it is enclosed in quotation marks, the author may have added the rest of the quote later, and forgot to move the quotation marks. Let's look at an example:

'Trying to avoid the problem only makes it worse,' Davis (2013) said, but I also don't want to face the objections my committee members.

The quote above continues after 'said' but the student didn't add quotation marks around the full quote.

Long Quotes Without Quotation Marks

If you copy and paste several sentences and add a citation without using quotation marks, this isn't giving full credit to the source. It creates the impression that you've paraphrased, when you've actually used a direct quote. This type of unintentional plagiarism can happen when students might have changed a few words in the long quote, thinking this is the same as paraphrasing the whole thing. When you borrow anything that's from another author, you'll need to put quotation marks around it and add a citation or footnote, even if it's a single word.

Paraphrasing Problems

Paraphrasing is restating someone else's words and ideas. Certain common terms can be repeated, such as articles and conjunctions, but it's important to avoid simply switching words (such as 'frequently' for 'often') while the rest of the material goes unchanged. As stated earlier, exchanging a few terms is not the same as paraphrasing. You'll need to invent new phrases.

When you decide to paraphrase, read the original material carefully and put it aside. From memory, write down all the main ideas in your own words, avoiding key phrases or words of the original that are clearly not from your own vocabulary. If you do use those phrases, be sure to put quotation marks around them and be sure to give credit to the source.

Here's an original quote:

'The Senate on Thursday cleared the way for debate on the first piece of major gun-control legislation to be considered in that chamber in two decades,' Jennifer Steinhauer (2013) reported in the New York Times.

Here's a paraphrase:

After years of silence on the issue, a debate about gun-control is finally moving forward in the Senate, creating the potential for new gun laws. (Steinhauer, 2013)

Here's a paraphrase that includes a quoted phrase:

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