Incremental Plagiarism: Uncovering the Hidden Threat in Modern Academia

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By Jacob Maslow

In today’s fast-paced digital era, incremental plagiarism has gained significant attention across various domains, particularly in academia and content creation. Incremental plagiarism refers to copying someone else’s work in small portions without giving proper credit to the source, resulting in a cumulative effect that ultimately constitutes plagiarism.

The implications of incremental plagiarism are often overlooked due to the subtle nature of the offense. Individuals may resort to this practice out of ignorance or a misguided belief that small-scale copying is permissible. However, incremental plagiarism still violates intellectual property rights and is frowned upon by academic institutions, as it undermines the importance of originality and critical thinking.

Awareness of incremental plagiarism is essential to ensure that individuals understand the importance of proper citations and the potential consequences of such unethical practices. Educators, students, writers, and other content creators must remain vigilant in following ethical guidelines and promoting a culture of originality and integrity.

Understanding Incremental Plagiarism


Incremental plagiarism occurs when writers combine content from various sources and incorporate it without proper citations. This may involve mixing original content with plagiarized material, creating a “patchwork” effect. It differs from global plagiarism, which involves copying an entire work and can sometimes be unintentional, known as accidental plagiarism.

Different Types of Plagiarism

There are several types of plagiarism, including:

  • Global Plagiarism: Copying an entire work and claiming it as one’s own.
  • Incremental Plagiarism: Combining content from multiple sources without proper citations.
  • Patchwork Plagiarism: Piecing together content from different sources to form a new work.
  • Accidental Plagiarism: Unintentionally using another’s work without proper citation.
  • Self-Plagiarism: Reusing one’s own previously submitted work without proper citation.
  • Paraphrasing Plagiarism: Substituting synonyms or rephrasing sentences without proper citation.


Here are examples of different types of plagiarism:

  1. Global Plagiarism: A student copies an entire research paper and submits it as their work.
  2. Incremental Plagiarism: A paper has several paragraphs copied from various sources combined with the writer’s original content, and no citations are provided.
  3. Patchwork Plagiarism: An author creates an article by taking sentences from different articles and rearranging them without proper citation.
  4. Accidental Plagiarism: A writer unintentionally includes content from an earlier work they had read without realizing the plagiaristic act.
  5. Self-Plagiarism: An author reuses a section of a previous paper in a new publication without disclosing the earlier work or obtaining permission.
  6. Paraphrasing Plagiarism: A student rewrites a paragraph from a textbook in their own words but fails to provide a citation for the source.

Detecting Incremental Plagiarism

Plagiarism Checkers

Plagiarism checkers are tools that help identify instances of incremental plagiarism by comparing submitted texts with published works or databases. These checkers typically flag content similar to or identical to the original text. They can detect verbatim and mosaic plagiarism, consisting of restructured sentences from the original source.

Various online plagiarism checkers are available, some for free and others by subscription. Institutions and schools often have access to their plagiarism checker software. These checkers evaluate the content for word-for-word copying and paraphrases that may be too close to the original text.

Recognizing Patterns

In addition to plagiarism checkers, recognizing patterns in writing is crucial in detecting incremental plagiarism. It involves being aware of the following:

  • Inconsistency in the writing style: A sudden shift in the writing style can indicate that the content is borrowed from another source.
  • Changes in language or terminology: If specific phrases or terms seem unusual or inconsistent with the writer’s language or domain knowledge, this can signal incremental plagiarism.
  • Unusual sentence structure: If a sentence appears awkwardly placed, it could be an attempt to hide plagiarism by altering the arrangement of words.
  • Citations with missing sources: Pay attention to citations that seem suspicious or are not properly sourced, as they might be an indication of incorporating others’ work without appropriate attribution.

It is essential to be vigilant in identifying potential incremental plagiarism by using a combination of plagiarism checkers and employing the above pattern recognition techniques. By doing so, writers and editors can ensure the integrity and originality of the content, maintaining a standard of honest academic and professional work.

Consequences of Incremental Plagiarism

Academic Penalties

Incremental plagiarism involves copying small portions of text from multiple sources without proper referencing and can lead to serious academic penalties. Students found guilty of this form of plagiarism may face disciplinary action, including receiving a failing grade for the assignment or even the entire course. Academic misconduct can sometimes lead to suspension or expulsion from the institution. These repercussions can significantly affect a student’s academic career and prospects.

Legal and Ethical Implications

Beyond the scope of academia, incremental plagiarism also raises ethical concerns. It compromises the individual’s credibility and undermines the value of originality in intellectual works. Plagiarism, even in small increments, reflects poorly on the person’s character and can have lasting consequences on their professional reputation.

Incremental plagiarism may also entail copyright infringement, as it involves the unauthorized use of someone else’s creative work. Legal action can be taken against the plagiarist, leading to financial penalties or, in extreme cases, criminal charges. Respecting intellectual property rights and maintaining the highest standards of academic integrity are crucial for avoiding the legal and ethical implications associated with incremental plagiarism.

Avoiding Incremental Plagiarism

Proper Citation and Attribution Practices

To avoid incremental plagiarism, it is essential to implement proper citation and attribution practices. When using ideas or words from a source, always provide credit by citing the original work. In academic and professional settings, such as research, assignments, or public speaking, citations protect both the original author and the user. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the correct citation styles depending on the specific field or assignment requirements. Some common citation styles include APA, MLA, and Chicago.

Providing direct quotes from the source requires the use of quotation marks. If using quotes, ensure they accurately represent the original text and include the author’s name and the publication date. It is also essential to balance the proportion of quotes with original content, providing rich and well-substantiated work.

Paraphrasing and Rephrasing Techniques

Paraphrasing is another effective way to evade incremental plagiarism. Good paraphrasing requires rephrasing and rewording the original text while keeping the core ideas intact. The user must then cite the source to give due credit. Developing this skill can boost their confidence when presenting the work to the audience.

Using techniques like synonyms, changing the sentence structure, and summarizing can help make the paraphrased text different from the original. However, it is critical not to alter the meaning or context of the original work. One must strive to balance creating a new expression and preserving the essence of the source material.

Original Work Development

Lastly, focusing on developing original work should be a top priority. Incremental plagiarism often occurs when individuals rely heavily on different sources without providing significant input or contributions. Developing original work requires innovation, critical thinking, and effort to create a piece that stands apart.

Conducting individual studies, accessing databases, and using tools like Scribbr can help build unique and exciting content. Engaging in creative activities, discussions, or participating in workshops can also foster a sense of originality and inspire unique ideas.

By combining these practices and dedicating time to developing an original piece, users can protect their reputation and avoid incremental plagiarism’s ethical and legal consequences.


What is incremental plagiarism?

Incremental plagiarism occurs when someone uses bits and pieces of someone else’s work without proper attribution or citation. It’s a form of plagiarism that can be less obvious than copying entire sections or works, but it’s still considered unethical. It can have serious consequences for students and professionals alike.

How does incremental plagiarism differ from other forms of plagiarism?

While incremental plagiarism involves using small portions of someone else’s work, other forms, such as direct or mosaic plagiarism, involve using larger portions of the original work. All forms of plagiarism are considered dishonest, but incremental plagiarism can be harder to detect due to the small amount of copied content concerning the plagiarist’s work.

Why is it important to avoid incremental plagiarism?

Avoiding incremental plagiarism is essential for maintaining academic and professional integrity. Plagiarism, in any form, can lead to severe consequences, including damaged reputations, legal ramifications, and academic or professional sanctions.

How can one prevent incremental plagiarism?

To prevent incremental plagiarism, it’s important to:

  • Always provide proper attribution and citations for the sources used in your work.
  • Familiarize yourself with the citation standards for your field or institution.
  • Paraphrase and summarize ideas in your own words.
  • Use plagiarism detection tools to check your work for unintentional similarities to other sources.

What should I do if I find incremental plagiarism in my work?

If you discover incremental plagiarism in your work, addressing it as soon as possible is essential. Edit your work to provide proper citations or replace the plagiarized content with original ideas. If necessary, seek guidance from instructors, colleagues, or academic integrity resources to ensure your work adheres to ethical standards.

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