What Is Incremental Plagiarism?

You may have heard of incremental plagiarism in school, but did you know it’s a serious concern outside academia? Plagiarism can show up in web content, fiction writing, songs and even social media. As a form of intellectual dishonesty, plagiarism harms not only your reputation as a writer but also the original creators.

Worst of all, it’s possible to plagiarize unintentionally. Referencing established sources is a great way to bolster your writing; there’s even a literary device, allusion, that references famous works to add depth to a piece.

How can you tell where to draw the line? Here, we break down the definition of incremental plagiarism and provide examples to help you avoid this problematic practice. 

What Is the Definition of Incremental Plagiarism?

What is incremental plagiarism? The word “incremental” means small additions, so the incremental plagiarism definition means small acts of intellectual theft added to a work. This is in contrast to global plagiarism, which is claiming credit for an entire work.

This type of plagiarism isn’t exclusively a human error; generative AI can also produce it because of how the models work. Generative AI, such as ChatGPT, processes immense amounts of writing as part of “training.” The more a particular work shows up in the training data, the more likely the AI will produce work that resembles it.

In some cases, generative AI models regurgitate entire passages from classic literature or widely distributed studies. Unfortunately, the technology isn’t yet advanced enough to allow you to check the original sources.

While you can ask these models if they plagiarized, there’s no way to verify the answer. Generative AI models “hallucinate” frequently; hallucinating models make false statements they claim are true. As a result, it’s best to proceed with care when using generative AI when incremental plagiarism is a concern.

What Is an Example of Incremental Plagiarism?

One of the most infamous instances of this type of plagiarism is Melania Trump’s 2016 Republican National Convention speech. This was especially egregious for several reasons:

  • Melania didn’t acknowledge the dishonesty.
  • A third party determined nearly half of the speech was unoriginal.
  • Donald Trump, Melania’s husband, had previously made negative remarks about the speech’s original orator, Michelle Obama.

Journalists recognized the plagiarism by putting the speech through a plagiarism checker, a program that compares the submitted text to publicly available works. Academic institutions regularly use these programs to detect intellectual dishonesty in student work. 

What Is the Difference Between Incremental and Patchwork Plagiarism?

Patchwork plagiarism incorporates more uncited material than incremental plagiarism. Think of it like a patchwork quilt: The creator takes plagiarized scraps and sews them together to create a complete blanket.

In this scenario, the scraps are ideas and written works of others. Patchwork plagiarists may try to make their end products look like something new by taking from different sources and mixing them together. However, a lack of citations still makes this intellectual dishonesty.

What Else Do You Want To Know About Incremental Plagiarism?

With this basic knowledge of incremental plagiarism, you can avoid incorporating source material into speeches, stories and articles in an intellectually dishonest way. Do you have any questions on the topic or want more writing tips? If so, share with us in the comments below!


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