I have read that even in published papers there are citation mistakes such as putting an incorrect word in cited text, missing a word, etc. I have even noticed these mistakes myself in some papers.

Can such a mistake ruin a career? Obviously there is no intention to use someone's words as your own, just a mistake that everyone could make. I'm a young researcher worried that sometimes I will make such a mistake. I think that making mistakes in this job is inevitable. I'm an over-thinker and would like to know how much is tolerable.

  • 1
    You will only ruin your academic career if you didn't make mistakes, but instead you purposely mislead/copied/etc the system. We all make mistakes. Sometimes serious serious mistakes in papers that invalidate them completely. None of that ruins your career, unless you did it on purpose. Nov 4, 2022 at 15:00
  • Are these mistakes considered plagiarism or just mistakes?
    – User857965
    Nov 28, 2022 at 14:51
  • Plagiarism is not a mistake, its something that by definition, requires to be performed knowingly. Nov 28, 2022 at 15:56

2 Answers 2


Take a deep breath and relax: mistakes happen all the time, and most of the time they do not matter.

The only really important questions here are:

  1. Does the mistake change the meaning of the quotation?
  2. Is the mistake worth correcting?

If the mistake doesn't substantially change the meaning of the quotation, then it's almost certainly not a problem. For example, if a typo or transcription error caused a word to be duplicated, mangled, or dropped, then it may be clear that there's an error, but the intention of the communication will be clear. An easy example generating this is when a copy-paste runs into problems with ligatures or text selection order. If it makes it past not just you but also some peer reviewers or copy editors, then clearly it wasn't a big deal, and nobody will hold it against you.

Even if it does change the meaning, you are presenting the material in some interpretive context, which should make clear what the quote was intended to contain. Again, if you aren't distorting or misrepresenting the actual contents, you should be fine.

Now, as to whether it's worth correcting: my general opinion is that it's worth correcting if the mistake changes the meaning, or if you just can't live with incorrectness once you've noticed it. Issuing a correction is often a hassle, however, so if it's just an inconsequential typo, I would let it stand.

  • Thank you so much. I realized that instead of "product" I wrote "product group". I know it's not the same, just while I was paraphrasing I made a mistake. However, it's a long citation (more than 3 lines), and everything else is fine. I can still change it, however. I have already seen that these mistakes happen, but I l'm so angry with myself because od this.
    – User857965
    Nov 3, 2022 at 18:03
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    And even for a mistake that does end up seriously misrepresenting the quote, e.g. on the order of the Wicked Bible, the result would be that you'd have the journal publish a corrigendum, and then you move on with your life. The professional effect is mild embarrassment, nothing anywhere close to "ruined career". Nov 3, 2022 at 20:13
  • Are these mistakes considered plagiarism or just a mistake in cited and paraphrased text?
    – User857965
    Nov 28, 2022 at 14:50
  • @Academicaeconomica Plagiarism is representing another's work as your own. Presenting another's work incorrectly cannot be plagiarism, because you are clearly saying that it was done by another and not yourself.
    – jakebeal
    Nov 28, 2022 at 15:39

As to "how much is tolerable": There is no clear upper limit for a tolerable density of citation mistakes. You navigate between two conflicting issues:

  • It is obvious that you should try to avoid citation mistakes altogether, so your goal should be to have zero mistakes.
  • It is equally obvious that we are all human and consequently are prone to make an occasional mistake.

So a single (minor) citation mistake will, under normal circumstances, not ruin a career or invalidate findings in a research paper, as long as it is an honest mistake, even if it is noticed by somebody. It becomes problematic if the density of mistakes is high enough to give the impression that you do not take the goal of avoiding the errors seriously.

For example, if I find a single citation mistake in a paper, I would assume an honest mistake. If I spot a second mistake, I start to suspect that there might be a problem.

  • Are these mistakes considered plagiarism or just mistakes in citations ana parphrased text? Thanks.
    – User857965
    Nov 28, 2022 at 14:49
  • @Academicaeconomica, that depends on the definition of plagiarism you use. In certain contexts, it might be considered as plagiarism. If you want a more detailled answer, ask a separate question or search on this site for answers. Nov 28, 2022 at 17:42

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