Incremental Plagiarism: How to Avoid the Serious Consequences [2024 Guide and Glossary]

By: | August 25, 2020 | Tags: , , , |

Updated: March 2024

incremental plagiarism

Do you know what counts as incremental plagiarism?

Incremental plagiarism is a crime.

This post will answer the question, “What is incremental plagiarism?”

By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know the serious repercussions of incremental plagiarism, the incremental plagiarism definition, and how you can avoid committing incremental plagiarism.

The updated information in this post offers you a glossary of terms related to and including incremental plagiarism.

If you are a blogger or other type of writer, you should know what incremental plagiarism is in order to avoid committing it.

As a writing teacher, I teach forms of plagiarism. As writers, my students need to be familiar with incremental plagiarism and global plagiarism. After reading this post, you will be familiar with these writing taboos as well.

Are you ready to learn how to avoid incremental plagiarism?

UPDATE August 2023

In order to avoid incremental plagiarism, you need to be able to recognize it.

On a recent episode of the Authority Hacker podcast, guest Tony Hill revealed his strategy for boosting Pinterest traffic to his blog: He takes Instagrammers’ photos, gives a link as source credit, and posts them to Pinterest where he generates boatloads of traffic to his website.

Is this incremental plagiarism? Continue reading to find out.

UPDATE: June 2023

If you want to avoid committing any type of plagiarism, even incremental plagiarism, consider using a plagiarism fixer.

More information about the types of plagiarism and tools to fix incremental plagiarism can be found below.

Incremental Plagiarism Glossary

Updated Information

Before we begin, there are terms you need to know that will enhance your understanding of incremental plagiarism.

  • Direct Quote – Conveys the original text source verbatim.
  • Ethics – The principles we hold of right and wrong.
  • Global Plagiarism – A speaker or writer uses 100% of a work without citing source credit.
  • Incremental Plagiarism – A speaker or writer uses part of a work without citing source credit.
  • Patchwork Plagiarism – Bits and pieces of another work are put together and proper source credit is not cited.
  • Plagiarism – Someone passes off another work as their own without citing proper source credit.

This article explains these types of plagiarism.

What is Incremental Plagiarism?

This guide to incremental plagiarism is about ethical considerations.

Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s ideas as your own. How serious is this problem?


Plagiarism Statistics

58% of students admitted to plagiarism.

33.3% of students admitted to plagiarizing an assignment.

95% of students admitted to a form of cheating including plagiarism.

The statistics in the table reflect 2017 data.

What is incremental plagiarism?

Incremental plagiarism is plagiarism that occurs sporadically. In other words, plagiarism occurs, but occurs inconsistently throughout a piece of writing.

To what degree is your writing original? If you can’t honestly answer, “100%,” you may be guilty of incremental plagiarism.

Incremental plagiarism is a concern of writers in all genres. For instance, in the last decade, courts have cracked down on incremental plagiarism in the area of song writing when musicians claimed their lyrics were plagiarized.

Also, there is a fine line between inspiration and content theft.

For instance, a reader virtually copied my blogger tricks post, using the same tips in the same order as I did. When I called him on it and asked him to link to me, he refused and said he only used my ideas. I feel he was guilty of incremental plagiarism, and I treated him coldly going forward.

What would you have done if you caught someone plagiarizing your work? Since he changed some wording slightly, I didn’t feel I could report him.

Where would you report someone guilty of incremental plagiarism?

I heard somewhere you tell the internet provider he is using the internet to steal. I heard this second-hand so I’m not sure of the accuracy. As I wrote, I never reported anyone, but I sure was tempted.

Incremental Plagiarism Definition

Incremental plagiarism is plagiarism that occurs in increments. In other words, most of the writing is original, but there are spots that are lifted from another piece of content or other pieces of content without being properly quoted.

For instance, if you make a speech and include quotes without giving proper attribution, you are guilty of incremental plagiarism. “Attribution” means attributing the quote to the original source. This is needed to avoid charges of incremental plagiarism.

Ethics in Public Speaking

Updated Information February 2021:

Although this article is mainly devoted to giving information about incremental plagiarism in text, incremental plagiarism in speeches is just as serious. One of the examples discusses questionable ethics in Public Speaking that went all the way up to the world of politics.

People still discuss Milli Vanilli lip-syncing to other people’s singing. This fraudulent behavior might be in the music realm and not related to songwriting, but this unethical behavior ruined their brand perception.

Their careers were ruined. You don’t want your career ruined as well due to unethical behavior in the public eye.

People say, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” I beg to differ as the Milli Vanilli example shows.

Content Credibility and Incremental Plagiarism: How to Avoid the Serious Consequences

incremental plagiarism

In this day and age, everybody has their own website, blog, or vlog but there’s a high chance that the content you see on those sites is not the website owner’s original content.

How can this be a guaranteed fact? Because nobody thinks for themselves anymore. To be fair, there actually are sites out there with purely original content, but for the most part, a lot of the content on various sites has been plagiarized.

The term “plagiarized” is used very loosely here. That’s not saying that website owners are going around stealing word-for-word content from other sites, per se. But there are lots of websites looking to other websites for information and “rearranging” the words to make it their own. It’s also pretty common to see ideas plagiarized as well. 

Maybe this “almost/kind of” plagiarizing could be called “light plagiarizing?”

Can you get sued for plagiarism?

incremental plagiarism
Photo by Sora Shimazaki on

The thing to understand about plagiarizing content is that although it’s not a true criminal act, it can be viewed as one if the content you use infringes on an author or writer’s copyright, intellectual property rights, or their trademark. When this happens, an author could sue a plagiarizer in a court of law for copyright violations.

But let’s be honest here… A lot of writers may have great ideas in their heads and may need just a little help getting their start in the intro or just need a little help in their conclusion… If they get inspiration from other sites on how to best utilize their words and word placement, would that still be considered as plagiarizing?

So what’s considered plagiarizing and what’s not?

It seems as though this particular word, “plagiarism,” is very complex in its boundaries and lines that can’t be crossed. Fortunately, as technology has advanced, so has software programs that help you avoid this type of word theft. For example, a sentence rewriter can help you avoid incremental plagiarism while rewriting your text more uniquely and engagingly. 

But it’s also important to note that plagiarism isn’t always deliberate either. Plagiarism is a deliberate act of stealing some else’s content and crediting it as your own.

There is so much information out there that you could be writing on a particular topic and the verbiage you use could be flagged as a stolen piece.

The truth of the matter is that it’s just so easy to be accused of plagiarism, even if it wasn’t your intent. But in knowing how easy it is to be accused of this, you want to make sure you protect yourself with business insurance. This applies to you whether you’re a freelance writer or if you have a writing business. There are sites that will help you create a policy customized for you.

Ultimately, the goal is to not have to use your policy but it’s a safety net to have in case you need it. If you indeed enjoy writing but want to protect yourself from getting sued for potentially plagiarizing someone else’s work, there are a few things you can do to ensure your work is your own and you give credit where credit is due.

How to Maintain Content Credibility and Avoid Plagiarism

Credit and Source Any Type of Numerical/Statistical Data You Present

Unless you have a statistical computing machine down in your basement or if you’re just that knowledgeable on world news, there’s no way you’re going to know how many millions or billions of people use social media or how many car accidents happened in Nebraska in 2016. 

To protect yourself with statistical data in your content, you want to make sure you always credit where you obtained that information. Not doing so will cause your readers to ask how you came up with that number. So, to save yourself the embarrassment, include the link to the site where you found the information… It’s just less stressful.

Note Where Your Ideas Come From

incremental plagiarism
Photo by Pixabay on

Sometimes you need help coming up with topics or content ideas from time to time, and that’s okay. But it’s important to note that if you’re looking up ideas that are very niche-specific, you can still use that topic but throughout your article or blog post, you’ll want to notate where a particular statement came from and reference the site where you obtained the information.

It’s pretty common to need help coming up with blog topics or ideas but one of the best ways to clear your head and generate content ideas is to simply write regularly. This is a common technique that will help you to become a better writer.

Give Credit to Source Images

One of the best ways to grab the attention of your readers is to include photos in your content. The only thing about it is that you have to make sure that you’re not violating any copyright laws. According to, it’s always best to assume that any online content is protected by copyright.

With that frame of mind, you can then investigate the copyright status to ensure whether you can use that picture or not.

Accidental Incremental Plagiarism

Learning of a piece of writing and then forgetting on a conscious level is common. However, when the subconscious remembers, and we pass off that writing as our own is still considered incremental plagiarism.

This memory lapse called “kleptomnesia” was originally explained by psychologist Dan Gilbert.

Tools to Detect Incremental Plagiarism

Whether you have committed Patchwork Plagiarism, Accidental Plagiarism, or any type of plagiarism, you might want tools that detect plagiarism.

Also, if you are hosting a guest author on your website and you want to check to see if the writing is 100% original, plagiarism tools will help.

After all, if the writing you post isn’t 100% original, in addition to being in trouble for incremental plagiarism, you could lose rankings in Google’s Search Engine Results Pages.

Here are tools that will detect incremental plagiarism:

  • Plagiarisma
  • Small SEO Tools
  • Plagiarism Detector
  • Search Engine Reports
  • Dupli Checker
  • Webconfs
  • Quetext
  • Prepost SEO
  • ITS Free

The source of this information provides links to these tools.

More Situations With Incremental Plagiarism

This guide focuses on sharing how to avoid committing incremental plagiarism.

What if you see incremental plagiarism?

However, there might be times when you witness incremental plagiarism and don’t know what to do.

A blogger I know saw an example of incremental plagiarism, and she reported the infraction.

What if you are asked to commit incremental plagiarism?

Freelancers might find themselves in this situation. Someone who hires you asks you to “adapt” content.

Don’t do anything in which you don’t feel comfortable is my advice. Insist on citing all sources.

Famous Examples of Incremental Plagiarism

In 2018, Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke were ordered to pay five million dollars in damages when they were accused of plagiarizing the lyrics to the song “Happy” (Source).

In July of 2016 when former U.S. President Donald Trump was running for president, his wife gave a speech eerily familiar. It turned out former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama had given a remarkably similar speech. The two speeches weren’t identical. When questioned, Mrs. Trump implied the woman who helped her write her speech committed incremental plagiarism.

In 2007, singer-songwriter Avril Lavigne found herself at the receiving end of a lawsuit. She was accused of incremental plagiarism when she wrote the song “Girlfriend.” She was accused of plagiarizing the lyrics to the song “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.”

Other Forms of Plagiarism

Photographer Chris Hau was almost sued. As with the case of incremental plagiarism, Hau did not intend to plagiarize and was not aware he did.

As a professional photographer, Hau finds himself at the end of an extensive chain of command. If any of the people in the chain before him commits a violation, Hau gets blamed. You can find his account of the situation here.

Patchwork Plagiarism

What is Patchwork Plagiarism?

Patchwork Plagiarism occurs when a writer copies from a group of writers. He or she then uses the writing but does not give source credit.

Incremental Plagiarism: Updated Information

November 2020 Update 1

If you ever need resources on the topic of Incremental Plagiarism, consider using Twitter.

Using the search bar, type #WomenWriters. On Wednesdays, writers find each other with the hashtag #WomenWriterWednesday or #WWW.

Bloggers find each other on Wednesday also. Use the hashtag #WWWBlogs.

If you feel you need support, go to Twitter and find people you can use as resources using these instructions.

November Update 2

I am currently composing a post on title builders. In the article, I advise writers to Google their headline. This is so they can outshine their online competition for readership.

However, you still need an original headline. You can have more tips than your competition, but don’t copy their headline. We are in a gray area. Incremental plagiarism, no matter how small, is taboo.

October Update 1

Interest in the topic of Incremental Plagiarism is high as evidenced by the number of people that linked to this post since publication. So far, seven websites have linked to this article.

October Update 2

Teachers at the school where I work are up in arms about incremental plagiarism committed by students.

As a matter of fact, there is a push to purchase Turn it In which checks for plagiarism. Although the service costs eight thousand dollars, according to sources, teachers want to make the purchase. According to one eighth grade teacher, “Students don’t even know what plagiarism is.”

If students don’t know what plagiarism is, they certainly don’t know what incremental plagiarism is.

Quiz: Incremental Plagiarism Involves Which of the Following?

UPDATED August 2023

Now that you discovered this information about incremental plagiarism, let’s see how you do on a quiz titled, Incremental Plagiarism Involves Which of the Following?

The answers will be revealed after the quiz.

Question 1: What is Incremental Plagiarism?

A) Copying an entire work without giving credit to the original author. B) Paraphrasing a few sentences or changing a few words without proper citation. C) Using creative commons images without permission.

Question 2: Which of the following actions can be considered Incremental Plagiarism?

A) Rewriting a paragraph from a source while maintaining the original sentence structure. B) Quoting a source with proper citation. C) Creating original content based on your own research.

Question 3: What are the consequences of Incremental Plagiarism?

A) Boosting your own credibility as a writer. B) Risking academic penalties or damage to your reputation. C) Encouraging others to respect intellectual property rights.

Correct Answers:

  1. B) Paraphrasing a few sentences or changing a few words without proper citation.
  2. A) Rewriting a paragraph from a source while maintaining the original sentence structure.
  3. B) Risking academic penalties or damage to your reputation.

Explanation: Incremental plagiarism involves subtly copying or rephrasing parts of someone else’s work without giving proper credit. This form of plagiarism can be problematic as it attempts to pass off someone else’s ideas or expressions as one’s own, even if some modifications are made.

  1. Correct Answer: B) Paraphrasing a few sentences or changing a few words without proper citation.
  2. Correct Answer: A) Rewriting a paragraph from a source while maintaining the original sentence structure. This action falls under incremental plagiarism as the structure of the content remains intact, even though the words may be slightly altered.
  3. Correct Answer: B) Risking academic penalties or damage to your reputation. When caught, incremental plagiarism can lead to severe consequences, such as academic disciplinary actions, lower grades, and damage to one’s credibility and reputation as a writer or researcher.

Remember, it’s essential to always give credit to the original authors and sources you use in your work to maintain academic integrity and respect intellectual property rights.

Incremental Plagiarism Involves Which Two Actions?


Incremental plagiarism occurs when you borrow from someone else’s work without proper acknowledgment.

Here are the two actions involved:

  1. Rephrasing without Giving Credit: This happens when you rewrite someone else’s ideas or words in your own style but fail to attribute the original source. It’s like using a thesaurus to change a few words, hoping no one notices. This can still be considered plagiarism because you’re essentially taking credit for someone else’s work without acknowledging them.
  2. Paraphrasing without Citation: Similar to rephrasing, paraphrasing involves rewriting someone else’s ideas in your own words. However, if you don’t provide a citation or reference to the original source, it can still be considered plagiarism. Even though you’re not copying word for word, you’re still using someone else’s ideas without giving them credit.

Incremental plagiarism can be avoided by properly citing and referencing any material you use in your writing. Remember, giving credit where it’s due not only respects the original creator but also strengthens the credibility of your own work.

Incremental Plagiarism: FAQ

What is Global Plagiarism?

Global plagiarism is when you take an entire work and pass it off as your own without citing source credit. This is in contrast to incremental plagiarism when you sporadically steal excerpts of someone’s text without proper source credit.

What is the difference between global incremental plagiarism and Patchwork Plagiarism?

When you commit global incremental plagiarism, you are stealing the entire body of text without citing proper source credit. When you commit Patchwork Plagiarism, you are stealing parts of a text and putting them together without giving proper source credit to make the writing look like your own.

What is NOT a way to avoid incremental plagiarism?

Fail to have a works cited. Leave out links to your sources. Don’t quote. Instead, make the writing look like your own. Don’t give credit for other people’s writing. Those are all ways to commit incremental plagiarism and not avoid committing it.

What is incremental plagiarism in the art of public speaking?

Incremental plagiarism is easier to commit in a speech since you’re not presenting a Works Cited list in writing. Make sure in the speech you preface your ideas with “According to [the source]…”

How do you steer clear of incremental plagiarism?

Cite your sources in a Works Cited page. Also, link out to the source of your ideas in your writing. In a speech, tell people where you got your ideas. For example, “These ideas are based on the work of…”

Final Thoughts: Credit and Source Speakers of Direct Quotes

If you’re quoting something word for word from a source or a person, ALWAYS credit the source of the quote and speaker. Also, ALWAYS use quotations… It’s just that plain and simple. Not giving credit to the speaker or citing the source when using word-for-word quotes can definitely be looked at as deliberate plagiarism.

Related: To see more examples of word-for-word citations, see these quotes people use as their Facebook status.

Readers, please share so writers know what incremental plagiarism is, the consequences for lifting other people’s writing without proper citations, and how to avoid committing incremental plagiarism.

I look forward to hearing your experiences in the comments section. Have you ever been accused of incremental plagiarism? Has anyone ever stolen your writing without permission?

Author:  Wahab Ullah Amjad

This post was made possible by the support of our readers.

  1. Reji Stephenson

    Hi Wahab,

    Glad to read about plagiarism in blogging. I always make sure that I give proper credit for the other website or the author if I use any idea from them. Also, it is very important that we should give proper credit for any images that we use in our blog.

    Hoping to come back again to read more contents in this blog.

    Thanking you for the good share.

    Reji Stephenson

    • Janice Wald

      Hi Reji,
      Thank you for commenting. Great to see you here. Like you, I try to give source credit. You are right. We should also give credit for our images.
      Take care,

  2. Pospi Otuson

    oops! you got me here…

    I’m guilty of Incremental Plagiarism and this article meant so much to me. Thanks for such a great and resourceful content… I will always share

    • Janice Wald

      HI Pospi,
      Great to hear from you. Don’t worry! I’m sure a lot of us are!
      Thanks for writing!

  3. Ravula Naresh

    That is true Cheif sometimes I do that for ideas what to write and how to and each and every single time I check my contents plagiarism and post it just to be on the safer side and I also give credits if I use there content.

    • Janice Wald

      Hi Ravula,
      Thanks for the comments. That’s wise. If in doubt, give credit to the author. It can’t hurt, but it could hurt not to do it.

  4. John Maberry

    Ideas cannot be copyrighted. An expression of that idea can.The description in that segment is a little too vague to be helpful. You need some specific examples if you want to inform people. In Baker v Selden, the US Supreme Court, for example, ruled that Baker could include copies of forms that Selden, an accountant published in book describing an accounting system–the forms of which used that system. Baker couldn’t republish the system but could the form. Copyright can be complicated.

    • Janice Wald

      Hi John,
      I agree this is a complex issue. I appreciate you adding to the discussion with a clarifying example.

  5. Alana

    This is indeed a complex topic. I might add (noting that I am not a licensed insurance agent) that “business insurance” might or might not protect against a claim of plagiarism; and that anyone concerned about insurance coverage should check with their insurance agent to make sure they have the proper coverage. Apart from that, it was excellent in pointing out possible areas of concern. As far as the question of if anyone has ever stolen my work – sadly, I do not know, and need to know how to find out. So again, thank you for raising questions like this.

    • Janice Wald

      Hi Alana,
      I once discovered someone stole my work. I confronted him and asked him to link to my post as source credit. He refused. I contacted a blogging friend of mine to ask what to do. He advised me to let it go, so I did.
      Thanks for commenting.

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