Think back to your high school English class. Do you remember reading a book that completely bored you? When it came time to write an essay it was tempting to copy from sources like SparkNotes or Wikipedia. But having low interest in the topic and easy access to copyable resources does not make plagiarism acceptable.
The truth of the matter is, plagiarism is never acceptable in any form of work—period. This article will guide you through what plagiarism is, the consequences of copying work, and how to avoid doing so.
What is Plagiarism?
The broad definition of plagiarism is using someone else’s work as your own. According to Plaigiarism.org, this can include claiming a work belongs to you when it doesn’t, using another’s ideas or words without credit, not directly citing a source, giving false information about a source, copying ideas and sentence structure, or using someone else’s work as a majority of your own work. If done incorrectly, even simple paraphrasing ends up as plagiarism.
Is This Plagiarism?
After an extensive definition, you’re probably hoping for more concrete examples. As you work toward perfecting your research and your writing, focus on keeping your articles unique in ideas and wording.
Let’s say you are working on an article titled “5 Benefits of Using an Electric Toothbrush.” You do a Google search for the topic and find a piece with exactly the same title. The article is neatly outlined with the following points:
- Efficient brushing
- Easier brushing
- Deeper cleaning
- Long-term results
- More fun
It looks like your work is all but done for you, right?
Wrong! Your article would be considered plagiarism if it used these same five reasons, even if the wording were changed.
You could, however, use unique reasons not listed on this site, like:
- Better for receding gums (DentalCareMatters)
- Recommended by dentists (HowStuffWorks)
- Easier for those with braces (ArchWired)
- More efficient brushing (Wheaton Dentist)
In this list, you are drawing various (but limited) information from several original sources. Doing this will assist in making your article as unique as possible. This is not to say that your work needs to contain information that is 100% unique from any other article. However, you should find your own spin or angle on a topic and use your sources to support the ideas you have come up with on your own and through thorough research. But don’t stop there!
You gathered your ideas from multiple sources to create a new angle on your article. Now you need to make sure that the wording will be original as well. Here is one sentence you read in one of your sources:
The extra scrubbing of an electric brush results in better removal of stains from coffee, tea, and smoking.
An unacceptable way to use this work would be to write the following and fail to cite the source:
Electric brushes work faster and do a better job at removing plaque as well as stains from coffee, tea, and smoking.
This content is plagiarized because the exact words may be different, but the structure, form, and wording are still too similar when the source isn’t even cited. Even while citing the source, be sure to keep your own unique writing style:
Drinks like coffee and tea as well as smoking can leave dark stains that an electric toothbrush will do a better job at removing, according to Wheaton Dentist.
What’s The Worst That Could Happen?
The Internet can sometimes feel like a free range world where users can roam from website to website, copying content with no consequences at all. Who could possibly patrol plagiarism in such a vast sphere?
In 1998 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was signed by President Clinton. The bottom line of this act is that copying anything online—whether in content, form, or idea—is not tolerated. Should the original owner find that their work is plagiarized, they have the right to sue the copier.
Google and other search engines have also put rules and algorithms into effect to try to catch and prevent plagiarism. Google encourages users to report scraper sites. A scraper site copies content from another site and ranks higher than the original site on the search engine result page. Any site found copying can be de-linked, de-indexed, and even deleted.
Additionally, WritersDomain provides guidelines on citations and plagiarism as well as consequences for breaking these rules.
How Do You Avoid Plagiarism?
As a writer it is crucial to your professional career that you avoid plagiarism at all costs. Plagiarism accusations taint your reputation and follow you around forever.
To avoid plagiarism, make sure that you draw your research from several reliable sources. As you do your research, make notes on interesting points and incorporate them into your outline. Remember: The only thing you should be copying and pasting is the URL as a citation.
Paraphrasing may seem like a good method for getting around plagiarism, but summarizing too much information can also be considered copying. If you compare your content next to your source and it looks like you are saying the same thing, your work is too similar, even if you’re using “your own words.”
Plagiarism is a serious issue, both on- and offline. Keep the laws in mind, do adequate research, and thoroughly compare your content to avoid even the semblance of plagiarism.