Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Plagiarism: be afraid… be very afraid

Most of us know what it is. As a writer, it’s absolutely essential to know what it means.

Plagiarism is the act of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as your own.

Although there are those who maliciously plagiarize another’s work, I believe that for most people it is done unintentionally. The last thing we, as writers, want to do is plagiarize someone else’s writing, conversation, song, or even idea. We’re intelligent, creative people with a comprehension for words and ideas of our own. Why would we need to steal another’s thoughts or words?

I think that it comes down to three major things: time, the internet, and laziness.

Many writers find themselves in a time crunch, needing to get a MS to their editor by deadline, or submitting an article or idea to a magazine before someone else does. Research can take hours, days, weeks, or months. The internet is a wonderful tool for research, but it can also hinder and intimidate. When a website or blog is discovered with the information we’ve spent a great deal of time researching, and is written in just the right language with the exact meaning that we need, it leaves us vulnerable for plagiarism. Once we read the article, oftentimes it becomes difficult to put the information into our own words and get the exact same results.

So we tend to try to rewrite part of it by changing a few words here and there. Not good enough. In order to avoid plagiarism we have to do more than just change a few words. We have to totally reconstruct the sentence, paragraph, or entire article into our own words. And don't forget about concept. If the words are changed, but the concept remains the same, you risk plagiarism.

How, you ask? One information site I came across while searching plagiarism was a site for Indiana University. I found it to be very informative with great examples. Make sure you check this out. Here are a couple more ideas on how to avoid it:

The use of Specific Words or Phrases

Give Credit Where Credit is Due: Know that if you use someone else’s words it is imperative to put them in quotation marks and credit the source.

Common Knowledge or Not Common Knowledge

You don’t have to provide a source for things that are considered common knowledge. Whenever information is considered to be in the public domain, it is considered general standard reference, i.e.; birth and dates of well-known figures, or dates of historical, military, and other events. Another type of common knowledge is field-specific common knowledge. This means the information is common within a particular field or specialty. Before you use this information as your own, you must be sure that it is so widely known within that field that will be shared by your readers.

My best advice is to you is, if there is doubt, lean on the cautious side and cite the source.

Irrelevant to whether the information is general or field-specific common knowledge, if you use the exact words, you absolutely must put them in quotations and credit the source.

Be careful of paraphrasing

Even the best intentions can go awry. If you are paraphrasing a paragraph, you are vulnerable of committing plagiarism simply because you are using large chunks of material and may use ideas without proper citation.

The Don’ts Plagiarism

·         Never cut and paste material from an internet site into your own work
·         Be careful of paraphrasing – don’t retype a passage by replacing words here and there in order to make the passage different enough to pass as your own. This is not good enough.
·         Don’t use ideas from any source without citing it

Check out this link for The Writing Center for some great examples of plagiarism. There you will find links to things like How to Paraphrase a Source, Successful vs Unsuccessful Paraphrasing, and How to Quote a Source.

Here is a short example of plagiarism:

A sentence in a magazine may read: “The use of therapy horses for autistic children has been proven to increase self-esteem” (original sentence)

The plagiarized version might read: “Studies show that autistic children have benefited by improved self-esteem after spending time with a therapy horse”

Why is this plagiarism? Because the concept is the same even though the words are different. Although the second sentence may pass through a plagiarism checker, it’s still plagiarism without proper citation.

Here are some resources to help you avoid this career killer:


Have you ever been accused of plagiarism? Do you know someone who has? Do you have advice on how to avoid doing this nasty deed? Leave a comment and let us know.

As always, thank you for stopping by.

All my best wishes for your success,

Dee Ann