Every writer knows plagiarism is bad. We must all express ourselves uniquely without stealing thoughts, words, and ideas from others. But sometimes it’s hard to be original and unintentional plagiarism creeps into our work. Especially when on a tight deadline, you may let another’s work slip into your content without proper attribution.
Why is plagiarism bad?
Foremost, you’re committing fraud when you pass someone else’s work as your own. And as a writer, we should all realize how important original work is to each of us. Just as you wouldn’t want someone to take credit for something you wrote, you shouldn’t try to pass off other’s content as your own.
We work hard to create. When someone steals our hard work, we lose credit for that originality. And that’s a hard egg to swallow. Not only is it unethical, but it’s incredibly disrespectful to take credit for what doesn’t belong to you.
You can irrevocably damage your reputation as a writer by plagiarism. Why risk your livelihood by taking something that doesn’t belong to you or not sourcing your work appropriately? Once you’ve lost your reputation as trustworthy and your integrity as a writer, clients won’t hire you and readers won’t buy your books anymore.
Plagiarism.org reports that in the United States:
- "Plagiarism can also be considered a felony under certain state and federal laws. For example, if a plagiarist copies and earns more than $2,500 from copyrighted material, he or she may face up to $250,000 in fines and up to ten years in jail."
When you use someone else’s work word-for-word, such as copying and pasting content from a website into your own blog, you’re committing plagiarism intentionally. You are actively stealing someone else’s work.
And when you replace a few unique words in a sentence but keep the essence the same, you’ve plagiarized. And when you do this from multiple sources and mashed everything together, you’re still plagiarizing.
You can even plagiarize yourself when you recycle content for various other venues. You need to make each piece unique and original, or source you previously published this work elsewhere.
You don’t mean to but sometimes plagiarism slips through the cracks. You may copy and paste something from another’s work and perfectly cite your source, but forget to include everything you used in quotations.
Some writers unintentionally include the wrong citations in their work, especially if they’re using multiple sources to create an article. And others include more cited material than original thought in their content.
Also, you may cite another’s work perfectly, but the paraphrasing is too close to the original wording. If you don’t include copied material in quotes—and cite it properly—you’re plagiarizing.
There are two methods that will help prevent you from plagiarizing others’ work:
The more you know about what makes up plagiarism, the better prepared you are to avoid it. Even if you have a college degree, you might not be aware you are unintentionally plagiarizing.
It is your responsibility to learn more about plagiarism and how to spot it. You shouldn’t leave it up to your editors or publishers. It all starts with your integrity as an author. Respect other writers’ work and hopefully they’ll respect yours.
Rely on technology like ProWritingAid to help you identify plagiarism before you send your work out there. The plagiarism check feature is an add-on to ProWritingAid's Premium package, but well worth the money spent. And if you purchase the Premium Plus package, you automatically get 50 plagiarism checks each year.
The plagiarism check is easy to use. Click on it like any other report, and it automatically generates results. You’ll learn what percentage of your work is similar to others and what pieces you took word-for-word from other sources. ProWritingAid checks your work against thousands of other websites, databases, and online published works.
What to do if you’ve been plagiarized
First, don’t run your work through "free" plagiarism checks. Per plagiarism.org, "This includes not running your writing through an untrusted plagiarism detection service as some of those actually funnel scanned essays into essay mill websites for the express purpose of letting others plagiarize them."
Next, you know how experts always encourage you to tell a story, especially when writing content for the internet? The more you personalize your work with your own stories, the harder it will be to plagiarize and the easier it will be to find your work when/if plagiarized.
All you need do it select a unique portion of your content (preferably one that includes a personal story) and Google it in quotes. Google will return any website that lists your content word-for-word. When you do find your work has been plagiarized, here’s what plagiarism.org says you should do:
"How you respond will depend heavily on how the work was used. If it was used in a classroom or a professional publication, you’ll likely want to reach out to either the instructor or the editor and let them know about your findings.
"If the work appears elsewhere online, the stopping internet plagiarism guide at Plagiarism Today can help you either contact the plagiarist directly or reach out to their host to get the offending work removed.
"Beyond that, any further action would require consultation with a lawyer to see what additional legal remedies might be available."
Avoid duplicate content at all costs and keep your writing reputation squeaky clean. It’s much better you capture unintentional plagiarism with technology than to send it to a client, editor, or publisher and have them catch it.