How many words can become 'subject to verbatim copying'? For example, if I write 'to disseminate content' in my paraphrasing and later on find that 'to disseminate content' is used exactly elsewhere. Is it considered as plagiarism in such a case? (i.e. 3 words matching)

1 Answer 1


There is no single "number of words" threshold, because the issue is the degree of creativity and salience in the choice of words, which is dependent on the exact phrase and context.

If those few words are extremely significant and clearly attributable to a particular person, you might need to quote them, e.g.:

"Eat my shorts" (Simpson, 1997)

On the other hand, some words are just not very interesting, and have a much higher threshold for quotation, e.g.:

On the basis of the data presented, this study concludes

My recommendation is that rather than stressing about particular thresholds, you read the original source that you are paraphrasing, then set it aside and do something else for a while. Then come back and write your summary from memory, in your own words; what you produce will almost certainly be different enough from the original to be not problematic.

  • That's interesting to think about. What do you personally think of the 3 words I mentioned above? (i.e. 'to disseminate content') Do you think they are simply generic and general? I mean, I wrote them from my memory as I considered them to be 'straight generic English wordings'.
    – R. AS.
    Jun 29, 2016 at 11:48
  • 4
    @R.AS. "to disseminate content" is really generic: "to disseminate" is really just a single verb, and "content" is one of the most typical nouns to be associated with that word. It's almost as generic as "to eat food"
    – jakebeal
    Jun 29, 2016 at 11:54
  • Google Scholar suggests a lower bound of 940 publications mentioning "to disseminate content" -- scholar.google.com/scholar?q="to+disseminate+content" By comparison, "On the basis of the data presented" generates 11,200 hits -- scholar.google.com/…
    – user2768
    Nov 29, 2017 at 9:50

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