Plagiarism: Just Don’t Do It

Plagiarism should always be on your radar — and never on your to-do list.

Plagiarism is one of the top concerns of any writer, and for good reason. After all, being accused of plagiarism can ruin reputations, carry serious penalties and even end a writing career. Here, we will define what plagiarism is, explain the difference between repurposing and plagiarism, and give a few tips on making sure you don’t commit plagiarism in your own work.

Understanding the Elements of Plagiarism

Plagiarism, according to the Oxford Dictionaries, is “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.” However, plagiarism can take many forms. There is blatant plagiarism, which involves word-for-word copying of a specific text and is usually detected by web-based plagiarism detectors. There are other, more subtle forms of plagiarism as well, such as paraphrasing someone else’s work, taking someone else’s ideas and presenting them as your own, or rephrasing someone else’s sentences or paragraphs. All of these are acts of plagiarism.

Repurposing vs. Plagiarism

For writers, there is a clear line between repurposing and plagiarizing content, and it’s important to understand where that line lies. Repurposing content often means using existing content, ideas or art and then building upon them, changing their purpose and application, and creating something new and valuable in the process. You aren’t just rewording someone else’s work to pass it off as your own; you are creating a new piece of work that stands on its own. Repurposing still often involves citing others’ ideas and work — but without proper citation, repurposing can still contain elements of plagiarism.

There is ultimately nothing wrong with using other sources for inspiration or to provide data to back up your main points. However, it’s necessary to cite the work you’re drawing from.

Why Plagiarism is Frowned Upon

Plagiarism is essentially theft — it means you’re taking an idea or sample of writing from someone else and making others believe it is your own work. The original writer or writers contributed their talent, time and effort to the content, and without proper attribution, they don’t receive the credit owed to them.

Plagiarism also creates a toxic environment for businesses, academic institutions, media outlets and other organizations that rely on writers to produce quality content. That’s why journalists have been let go, students expelled from universities and heads of government have resigned when present or past plagiarism was uncovered. In essence, plagiarism threatens ethical standards and raises doubt about your integrity.

How to Avoid Plagiarism

When dealing with plagiarism, it’s best to err on the side of caution. Here are some ways to keep yourself on the straight and narrow.

  • There is plenty of general knowledge and information out there that doesn’t require citation. However, if you’re unsure, it’s always better to cite.
  • If you’re crafting a piece of writing using existing ideas, be sure to offer something new and creative to build on the content already out there. If you don’t, you’re not adding value and are likely to run into issues with plagiarism.
  • Plagiarism can also occur by accident, so it’s important to use a plagiarism checker to determine whether your piece may have accidentally copied phrases, sentences or ideas from other online content. Content platforms such as Scripted often have these checkers built into their platform. Sometimes you’ll get false hits, but in general, it’s an important step in catching plagiarism issues.
  • Think of your writing as though it’s an academic research paper. You’re offering unique ideas and concepts, but you’re also backing them up with correctly cited references and existing ideas to strengthen the piece and make it more credible. The same concept goes for great web-based content.

Ultimately, committing plagiarism will hurt you in the long run. Heed these suggestions and cautionary tales, and make sure you aren’t burned by a plagiarism scandal during your own writing career.

How do you make sure that you avoid plagiarism? Let us know in the comments below.

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