Simply seeing the word plagiarism can be triggering.
Instantly, you’re back in school trying to explain to your teacher why you’re missing a citation for a claim you made in your research paper on The Great Gatsby and what the green light means. The guilt sets in. You learned your lesson: never again will you claim someone else’s work as your own.
Now years later, as a content creator, you are constantly writing about your industry; blog posts, landing page copy, ebooks, and more. Not in a million years would you purposefully copy someone else’s work to pass off as your own, but what if it happened accidentally? Unintentional plagiarism is extremely common in the world of creative writing and online content.
While plagiarism at its core is the act of passing off someone else’s work as your own, it takes on many shapes and forms that you may be unaware of. This could cause you to commit the unthinkable: copying and claiming someone else’s work - even by accident.
One of the best ways to avoid being accused of or accidentally committing plagiarism is to know its ins and outs, plus the steps required for properly crediting other creators’ work. But first, let’s discuss why content writers should do their due diligence when it comes to plagiarism.
Why should content writers work to avoid plagiarism?
For many, plagiarism is an ethical issue, meaning it goes against moral principles. While ethics are a subjective concept, plagiarism is factually a form of theft - it’s the act of stealing someone else’s words. It may be even more so for content writers who could receive monetary compensation for their stolen work.
Aside from it being ethically wrong, plagiarism has the potential to damage someone’s personal and business integrity. This can lead to lost brand partnerships, professional referrals, and worst of all, customers. That’s right - plagiarism has the potential to end a business in a flash.
Additionally, Google and other search engines don’t take kindly to copied content. To search engines, copied content is duplicate content, and they penalize it. Your plagiarized content will most likely not rank on search engine results pages and may very well damage your domain reputation. Simply put - plagiarized content is not SEO friendly!
We can’t forget to mention the potential legal consequences that could result from plagiarism. If your plagiarized work takes credit or profit away from the work’s original creator, you may find yourself in a legal battle - no matter whether you plagiarized on purpose or by accident.
5 types of plagiarism to be aware of
The best way to prevent plagiarism is to be knowledgeable about its various forms. Here are the top five types of plagiarism you could encounter yourself or have committed against you:
- Global plagiarism
Also referred to as complete or direct plagiarism, this is what most people imagine plagiarism to be; the act of copying someone else’s entire piece of work and attempting to pass it off as your own. But global plagiarism is not only the act of stealing someone else’s work. In school, paying someone to write a paper for you and then handing it in as your own, is also an act of global plagiarism.
This stands to beg the question: is hiring a ghostwriter a form of plagiarism? Here is a great article by Jonathan Bailey on that very topic. Bailey points out, “Ethically, it is considered acceptable for a politician to use a speechwriter and does not attribute them. However, a student who turns to an essay mill for an assignment is a clear plagiarist.” Thus, based on the situational nature of ghostwriting, determining whether it is or is not plagiarism is difficult.
- Verbatim plagiarism
Similar to global plagiarism, this form of plagiarism is the act of passing off someone else’s work as your own. The difference between the two is how much of the content is plagiarized. While global plagiarism includes all of the content, verbatim plagiarism may only include a small portion of text such as a few sentences or paragraphs.
Note: It’s considered verbatim plagiarism even if you change words or rearrange sentences, which leads us to our next form of plagiarism.
- Paraphrasing plagiarism
Paraphrasing plagiarism is one of the most common types of accidental plagiarism. Like it sounds, this is what happens when writers reword another’s work without giving credit to the original writer. While the practice of putting someone else’s content into your own words is acceptable, doing so without proper citation is not.
- Patchwork plagiarism
Also known as mosaic plagiarism, patchwork plagiarism refers to the process of “stitching together” different ideas, phrases, or longer forms of text from multiple sources to create new content. This form of plagiarism can coincide with paraphrasing and verbatim plagiarism.
For example, you pull an idea from one source, and from another, you “borrow” a sentence, and another, a paragraph. You work all of these into your piece to create a patchwork masterpiece.
While repurposing or recycling content is more than fair, reusing work that you’ve previously submitted or published is not. In a school setting, self-plagiarism looks like submitting a paper you already submitted to another class. But in the world of content creation, this form of plagiarism looks like reusing your own content in other publications. For example, you submit one of your older blogs as original material for a paid guest blog opportunity. Even if you were to reword or rephrase some of the content, it would still be considered self-plagiarism.
How to avoid plagiarism in your content writing
Let’s discuss the real reason you’re reading this blog - how to avoid plagiarism in your content writing. With these simple four steps (yes, just five!), you can protect yourself and your business from the consequences of plagiarism:
- Thoroughly research topics. Just like you did for Mrs. Smith’s class in 9th grade, research your topic first. Not only will this help you discover sources to support your content’s topic (and argument, if you have one), but thorough research will also help you identify any content gaps that could lead you to develop a unique perspective on the subject matter. By default, a unique perspective is naturally anti-plagiarism because it has never been written about. Plus, unique perspectives make for compelling organic content!
- Record and cite sources. When presenting someone else’s idea or words in your text (even if they’re paraphrased), simply cite your source. Adding a citation to your work is a quick and easy way to ensure you avoid plagiarism. Depending on the style guide you’re using, a citation should include at least the full name of the source and the date it was published. To make the process of citations even easier on yourself, develop a record-keeping process and record your sources as you write. You’ll thank yourself later - we promise. Tip: Google Documents also includes a citation tool that makes it easy to cite your sources in your preferred citation format (APA, MLA, or Chicago).
- Incorporate quotations. One of the easiest ways to avoid plagiarism is to insert another’s words or ideas verbatim into your text with quotation marks and proper citation, of course. Quotations offer a simple way to utilize another’s words or ideas in your own writing while helping you avoid the mental struggle that comes with paraphrasing. You might have noticed that we used this very strategy under the definition of global plagiarism!
- Paraphrase. This may be a no-brainer, but paraphrasing is a great way to avoid copying someone else’s words word for word. When paraphrasing, focus on putting the other author’s words into your own voice. Research synonyms, work the idea into your original content, and reformulate the sentence (e.g. change the sentence from passive to active). If you are paraphrasing in a blog, ensure you insert an external link to the original material.
- Use a plagiarism checker. Also called anti-plagiarism tools, tools like these will quickly compare your text to other web pages and provide you with a plagiarism report. You’ll simply copy and paste your text into a plagiarism checker software of which many are free to use. Grammarly offers a plagiarism checker as well as Small SEO Tools.
The bottom line
With your personal and business integrity on the line, plagiarism should be avoided at all costs. And, the best way to avoid plagiarism is to have in-depth knowledge about it. Just by reading this blog, you’re protecting yourself from the reality of being accused of or accidentally committing plagiarism. Job well done!
Now, it’s time for you to get back to writing! Write away with unbridled passion because you know deep in your heart that your words are original, and that’s what makes your content worth reading.
You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about plagiarism.
- What is plagiarism? At its root, plagiarism is the overt act of attempting to pass off someone else’s work as your own.
- What’s the difference between plagiarism and paraphrasing? The line between plagiarism and paraphrasing is very thin. It all depends on if and how you cite your sources. When your content lacks proper citation, paraphrasing quickly and easily turns into plagiarism.
- What are the common types of plagiarism seen in content writing? There are many types of plagiarism, but the most commonly seen in content writing include global plagiarism, verbatim plagiarism, paraphrasing plagiarism, patchwork plagiarism, and self-plagiarism.
- How can I detect plagiarism? While prior to the Internet, it was difficult to check your or others’ work for plagiarism, now you can easily check for plagiarism with free and easy-to-use plagiarism checker software. A quick Google search will bring up several software options.
- Can you accidentally plagiarize? Yes, you can accidentally plagiarize. One of the most common forms of accidental plagiarism is paraphrasing plagiarism, which is when you reword someone else’s work without giving credit or properly citing the source.