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Plagiarism Prevention: Why You Need a Plagiarism Check (Even When You Think You Don’t)!

Plagiarism prevention may not be top of mind for students and researchers who produce their original ideas and writing. In fact, some may dare to ask what’s the brouhaha about plagiarism checks anyway? So let’s explain this simply. Say you build a tower out of wooden blocks. Each block has your name and signature. Each block is unique, belongs entirely to you, and represents an important idea that you had. That’s exactly how knowledge grows in academia! It accumulates patiently, layer by layer, with each researcher contributing to that knowledge in some way or form. 

Now imagine someone simply grabbing a block from your tower and claiming it as their own. How dare they?!  

That right there is plagiarism and in academic writing, it is a big deal! 

Table of Contents

Understanding plagiarism: why journals take it so seriously?

Science must be free for consumption and dissemination by everyone. However, it must be done ethically and responsibly. It is plagiarism “…when somebody presents the published or unpublished work of others, including ideas, scholarly text, images, research design and data, as new and original rather than crediting the existing source of it.1 Plagiarism in academic writing can be of several types and all of them are a prevalent problem in academic publishing today. Broadly, plagiarism can be categorized as follows: Direct, Self-plagiarism, Mosaic, and Accidental.2  

Most students and academic researchers, especially those for whom English is the second language, experience a tough time ensuring that their text is free from unintended or accidental plagiarism. And the consequences of plagiarism can be harsh, often extending well beyond immediate penalties. For most honest researchers who are generating original content, however, plagiarism in academic writing can stem from one of the following: a lack of understanding/proper guidance in academic writing, poor citation practices, inadequate knowledge on what constitutes plagiarism or academic integrity.1,3 

It should be noted that the academic landscape is rife with paper mills and predatory journals.4 It is because of these bad apples plaguing academia that journals and publishers have to resort to strict plagiarism prevention measures to safeguard the integrity and sanctity of science. And this is a major reason why when you send a manuscript to a journal, they will first check it for similarity and potential plagiarism. They trust you but they need to verify!  

Correct attribution practices can overcome most of the cases of potential plagiarism in academic writing because the “seemingly free, widely available online information still requires referencing.”5This is why it is likely that even if you think the content is original, there might be a possibility of accidental plagiarism. This warrants that authors check their manuscript to avoid potential instances of plagiarism. While paper mills and predatory journals involve unethical writing, we can minimize the risk of accidental plagiarism by inculcating good citation and paraphrasing practices. 

Plagiarism and similarity index

A common plagiarism prevention approach used in academic writing is to run the final document or manuscript through a plagiarism checker tool such as iThenticate, Paperpal plagiarism check, etc. Memon’s paper explains the difference between plagiarism and similarity index very well.1 Most plagiarism checkers provide a similarity score, which reflects the extent of overlap your piece of text has with an existing source. This by itself is not indicative of plagiarism. Consider the following sentence: “This was a retrospective study.” A simple Google Scholar search shows that at least 1,05,000 articles have the exact same phrasing. 

Fig. 1: A Google Scholar search for the phrase “This was a retrospective study” retrieves over 100k hits.

As an author, you need not worry and rush to paraphrase text like this simply because it was flagged as similar on a plagiarism check. Academic writing has many such standard phrasings and word usages so this should not be a big cause for concern.  

You should, however, be worried if a statement like this is flagged on a plagiarism checker: Protein X is known to modulate the expression of gene Y in pathway Z in cancer C, and that the expression level of protein X is inversely related to the extent of carcinogenesis. When a plagiarism checker flags sentences and seemingly general knowledge like this, it means that there is (are) reference paper(s) that should be cited along with this sentence. And this is where, as a responsible author, you should cite the relevant study to avoid instances of accidental plagiarism. The global publishing powerhouse Wiley holds a similar stance on plagiarism in academic writing. 

A submission could, for example, receive a score of 51%, but that might comprise more than forty small overlaps or it might comprise a 51% overlap with a single source. The former situation may be relatively unconcerning, while the latter situation is certainly worthy of further investigation. Therefore, Overall Similarity Index alone is simply a summary of overlap and is not diagnostic of plagiarism; detailed interpretation of the report itself is essential in determining the source, context and extent of any single overlap.6 

What to do when your manuscript is flagged for potential plagiarism?

This is a very real scenario that plagues researcher in their academic publishing journey. Thankfully, COPE provides a logical and usable flowchart for reviewers if a manuscript is flagged as potentially being plagiarised.7As can be seen, journals are sensitive to cases of suspected plagiarism, and give authors ample opportunity to course-correct in case of accidental plagiarism. 

Therefore, as an author committed to plagiarism prevention, you should do the following: 

1. Ensure good citation and referencing practices. 

2. Run your manuscript through a trusted plagiarism checker before final submission. 

3. Carefully review all instances of similarity flagged by the plagiarism checker and add citations wherever applicable. 

4. Rephrase/paraphrase content in case text has been used verbatim and add relevant citations. 

Fig. 2: A simple flow to avoid unintended plagiarism in academic writing.

How Paperpal can support you in overcoming potential plagiarism issues?

Paperpal’s newly launched plagiarism check offers authors the opportunity to check manuscripts for the extent of similarity. It provides users with a detailed plagiarism report with an accurate similarity score and side-by-side comparisons to sources. Authors can then pre-emptively address any problem areas and ensure that their manuscript is suitable for submission, so journal reviewers do not flag and return their manuscript for suspected plagiarism. Haven’t tried this key plagiarism prevention check yet? Stop and use Paperpal today to avoid any unintended plagiarism


  1. Memon AR. Similarity and Plagiarism in Scholarly Journal Submissions: Bringing Clarity to the Concept for Authors, Reviewers and Editors. J Korean Med Sci. 2020 Jul 13;35(27):e217. doi: 10.3346/jkms.2020.35.e217. PMID: 32657084; PMCID: PMC7358069.
  1. Office of the Dean of Students, Bowdoin College. The Common Types of Plagiarism.
  1. Meo SA, Talha M. Turnitin: Is it a text matching or plagiarism detection tool? Saudi J Anaesth. 2019 Apr;13(Suppl 1):S48-S51. doi: 10.4103/sja.SJA_772_18. PMID: 30930721; PMCID: PMC6398291
  1. Rivera H, Teixeira da Silva JA. Retractions, Fake Peer Reviews, and Paper Mills. J Korean Med Sci. 2021 Jun 21;36(24):e165. doi: 10.3346/jkms.2021.36.e165. PMID: 34155837; PMCID: PMC8216989.
  1. Young-Powell, A. How serious is essay plagiarism? The Guardian, December 2017.
  1. Matthew L, Moylan E. Primer on plagiarism: Top tips for editors when facing plagiarism issues. 2020.
  1. COPE Flowcharts and infographics — Plagiarism in a submitted manuscript.

Paperpal is an AI writing assistant that help academics write better, faster with real-time suggestions for in-depth language and grammar correction. Trained on millions of research manuscripts enhanced by professional academic editors, Paperpal delivers human precision at machine speed.

Try it for free or upgrade to Paperpal Prime, which unlocks unlimited access to premium features like plagiarism check, academic translation, paraphrasing, contextual synonyms, consistency checks and more. It’s like always having a professional academic editor by your side! Go beyond limitations and experience the future of academic writing. Get Paperpal Prime now at just US$19 a month!

Shardool Nair

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