Update: How to Avoid Plagiarism, 5 Important Tips for A New Writer

By: | June 13, 2017 | Tags: , ,

You can avoid plagiarism with these 5 #WritingTips

Consider this an update to my popular post How to Know if You Have Committed Plagiarism.

Clearly, that 2016 post resonated with readers. Has anything changed in that time?

In the comment section of that post, readers shared horror stories. Some shared the horror of seeing their work reproduced without receiving any sort of credit on other websites.

Others shared nightmarish accounts of being accused of plagiarism and fined after they unintentionally committed plagiarism themselves.

One of the most common questions when it comes to plagiarism as it relates to bloggers concerns images. If you use someone’s image and cite the blog as a source, are you covered?

The answer is “no” since you don’t know where that blogger found the image. How will you find or ever be certain of the original source?

We live in a society where people are inclined to sue. I know bloggers who unwittingly committed plagiarism and had to pay fines.

Fortunately, today’s guest author Christina Battons is here to shed light on this situation and make sure you don’t find yourself in a similar predicament of being accused and fined. She offers 5 tips you help you avoid plagiarism.

Consider these comments from a reader of the original post:

This happened to me several years ago with Getty images. I was sent an email with funny sayings and images of polar bears. I have no idea where the email came from – it was one of those forwarded and forwarded ones. I used one of the polar bear images on my mortgage website (this was before I was blogging). A year or so later my mortgage broker got a letter that they had to pay $7500 for the photo, even if it was taken down immediately. I had to take drastic measures to get it resolved.

Tips for the Novice Writer: How to Avoid Plagiarism

by Christina Battons

Plagiarism is bad and there is no point in going deep into the reasons for that. Students and even renown scholars have problems because of plagiarism in their works. So, whenever we write something, we should avoid plagiarism by all means. This minimizes the risk of intentional plagiarism.

 

However, sometimes you simply don’t know that the ideas that you have come up with yourself have been expressed by someone else before. This means unintended or accidental plagiarism. The fact that you did not know that a certain idea has been expressed before does not free you from responsibility. If you commit unintentional plagiarism, it is still plagiarism in the public eye because there is no way for you to prove that it was unintended.

 

Therefore, accidental plagiarism should also be avoided. It may be challenging, especially for a novice writer. Because you can’t possibly be aware of all the books and articles out there, can you? Probably not, but you are not expected to. It is also not expected from the proofreaders who find such cases of accidental plagiarism only because they always scan articles for plagiarism before the actual proofreading.

 

Sure, checking articles with the help of a proofreading service is the best way to make sure your work is ideal. Still, if it’s only plagiarism you are worried about, here are some tips that should help you to avoid unintentional ‘theft’.

 

  1. Be aware of what plagiarism is.

The dictionary definition of plagiarism is “the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work.” Therefore, the mere use of synonyms does not excuse plagiarism. The ideas that you have must be put strictly in your own words, so you are not blamed of “close imitation.”

 

  1. Know your theme.

Having in-depth knowledge of what you are talking about gives you two benefits in this regard:

– You are most likely generally aware of what is going on in your field of knowledge. You read the works of your colleagues from time to time. So, you know what you should not copy.

– Deep understanding of a topic means that you are not likely to copy someone else’s words.

You will most probably convey your ideas, and the text will be written in your own original tone, style, and – most importantly – words.

 

  1. Try and paraphrase every sentence in your head.

This way you will have several variants to choose from so you can pick the one that seems more original to you. You should pick the option which sounds the most like your own words. If you need to rely on some sources in the course of your work, find as many as possible. This way, you will avoid unintentionally quoting a single author all the time. Speaking of sources…

 

  1. Always reference your source.

If you have a certain idea or even a quotation stuck in your head, and you would very much like to put it into your work in these exact (or close) shape, then you are actually not forbidden to do so. The only thing that you need to remember to do is to mention the source that you are quoting.

Note that if you are a student, you should specify the format in which you are expected to refer to other authors. Your teacher or professor should be able to advise you in this regard.

Also, if you choose to use direct quotes, then include the source on the go, immediately as you write your text. Putting it off may cause you to forget to do it – and this will mean plagiarism. Avoid that.

 

  1. Do research about copyright.

Be warned that in many cases plagiarism is not merely an academic flaw. Sometimes, it is a violation of law, and a plagiarist may encounter some legal complications. This is why it is necessary to be aware of the legal approach to plagiarism as well.

[Read: Do You Know How to Protect Yourself from Copyright Violation?]

Bonus tip: A fact is normally not subject to copyright. This means that you are free to use facts the way you want without fear of being accused of plagiarism. For example, nobody can copyright such sentence as “Water boils at 100 degrees Celcius”. However, when an author uses their own expression to describe something new or define a term (such as ‘black hole’, for example), this definition can be copyrighted. If this is the case, you should use quotes and reference your source.

 

Bio: Christina Battons is a blogger and freelance writer. I am interested in topics about education, writing, blogging, motivation, etc and I also like to share my knowledge with people. Currently, I write for various blogs like ThrivingWriter or similar. My free time I spend with my family, friends, or riding my bicycle. You can find me on Facebook.

Please share, so other content creators know how to avoid plagiarism.

Readers, what have your experiences been with plagiarism? Have you been victimized by someone stealing your work or photos? On the other hand, have you been accused of stealing other people’s work? I look forward to you sharing your experiences in the comments section.

  1. Kevin | at 3:30 am

    As a poet, I always include a copyright notice in my books, likewise my website contains such a notice. Writers do not write in a vacuum. There is, as is often remarked “nothing new under the sun” and we are all influenced by those we have read (either consciously or unconsciously). To compare a woman to a rose is not original (it has been done before by countless writers and poets). One can not be accused of copying another’s work simply owing to writing about the same subject matter (so a poem comparing a woman to a rose is fine). However using the same (or very similar language) to another writer who has written on the same subject is likely to breech copyright.

      • Kevin | at 1:14 pm

        Thank you Janice. I agree that it can sometimes be a fine line. I have never actually come across anyone who has attempted to pass off my work as their own creation. I have, however found links, on Google which claim to provide my books free. Having done a little digging, I discovered that the sites in question almost certainly didn’t hold illegal copies of my works. Rather they where traps which, if clicked on would infect the user’s computer with malware leading to the stealing of data or them being bombarded with spam. So another point to be aware of is that not all breeches of copyright may (in fact) be so, as the site claiming to offer your work free may be a trap aimed at harvesting the personal data of anyone who clicks on it.

  2. Ryan Biddulph | at 9:57 am

    Hi Christina,

    Excellent advice. Many bloggers have no idea what plagiarism is; if they followed tip #1 no way they would take this path. Sometimes I write guest posts for bloggers from lesser developed nations with less stringent laws; they may place the guestie without even mentioning me, taking the credit. I politely shoot them an email expanding how it was not pure charity work LOL and ask for a link and my name mention and 99% of the time they are on board. No big deal; they literally had no clue it was plagiarism.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Ryan
    Ryan Biddulph recently posted…How to Get Featured on World Famous Blogs Even If You Are a Nobody From NowhereMy Profile

  3. Beth Havey | at 11:08 am

    Great tips for writers. The other side of the issue is that what I write might be lifted and used by someone else and I will probably never know. This happened to me when I published a humor piece in a major newspaper and then it appeared as a lead article on someone’s blog. With no credit. When I complained, he took it down. But the blogger had made no effort to contact me or to use my name.

  4. P V Ariel | at 11:15 am

    Hi Janice and Christina,
    A very timely piece. Yes, many newbie writers do not know what it is and they knowingly or unknowingly fall into this and face problems.
    Some time back a blogger copied the full text of one of my roundup posts and published it as his own. I send a mail informing about the consequences and immediately at once he downed it and apologized. I have noticed few other posts of mine on a later check he immediately downed all the 6 posts of mine. And I also noticed that there are so many posts this way he posted on his page as his own. I wondered why others are not worried about this!
    In fact, i came to know about it only a few weeks after he posted.after seeing a link back to my comment box in the dashboard.

    I still wonder why this is happening and Google or any other concerned are not taking action on such people or their sites.
    Thanks Christina for this detailed post.
    Keep writing
    Keep sharing
    Best Regards
    ~ Philip
    P V Ariel recently posted…How to Build Strong Bonds with ReadersMy Profile

    • Janice Wald | at 11:54 am

      Hi Philip,
      Thanks for writing such detailed comments. I agree with your last comments. Why isn’t Google or other agencies concerned people are passing other people’s content off as their own?
      Shouldn’t that man have had to pay some fine to you? I know people who had to pay plagiarism fines. I asked a commenter who you’d report these violations to. He said the web server host.
      Janice
      Janice Wald recently posted…How to Easily Conquer Lost Space on an iPhone with iMyfone UmateMy Profile

  5. Dr. Scott Simmerman | at 11:17 am

    Interesting. A good overview. But let me try to add a little perspective, if I may. This is NOT legal advice, but I have been working as a trainer and publisher for the past 25 years.

    Words – if you express an idea in your own words, that freedom of expression is protected. There are no issues. But if you use someone else’s words and present them in such a way that people might think they are yours, you could have a problem. There are issues around expression and language structure and linguists can easily say if two phrases are unique or not (generally).

    I have used, “Nobody ever washes a rental car” as a statement framing commitment and involvement and ownership. I have been using that for 25 years at least. And I remember a friend who said it and said I could use it with no problem. But, if you use, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” that is from John LeCarre.

    So TRY to quote others when you can. And you are ALLOWED to use snippets of other people’s text in your writings if they are referenced. That gets a bit complicated when the quoted word is lengthy.

    I publish images called Square Wheels – google the term and you can see both my line art versions as well as our LEGO® scenes. Because the latter are copyrighted and trademarked, you can apparently create scenes with them under a “useful articles” framework. But you cannot take MY images and use them without permission. That is that “Getty Thing” referred to above and the reality of copyright trolls who have software and actively LOOK for people using images they own.

    Plaghunter.com is an image search company. I get reports from global searching every day about my images and their use. You simply cannot use other people’s images, even if no copyright attribution appears on them; unless they SAY that they are public domain, they are NOT. And many of those “free” images sites say that the image cannot be used for commercial purposes, meaning that if you have a business and have a blog, you cannot use that image on your blog unless you pay them a license fee.

    We live in interesting times, and copyright laws are international, as well as being changed around the issues of Intellectual Property right now, in Congress.

    I hope this helps a little. Note that there is a LOT of information online. If you see an image you like, ask if you can use it!

    • Janice Wald | at 11:52 am

      Hi Scott,
      Thank you for writing such detailed information. As I said to another commenter, there is such a fine line between what is okay and what isn’t okay, it is better to err on the side of caution. Clearly, it’s better to be too safe than not enough.
      Wow, that’s tough about your square wheels and the Lego trademark. Thanks for these warnings about how concerns over plagiarism can plague us when our intentions are actually innocent.
      Janice
      Janice Wald recently posted…How to Easily Conquer Lost Space on an iPhone with iMyfone UmateMy Profile

  6. Joy Healey | at 2:53 pm

    The whole issue of plagiarism is worrying.

    Not long ago I received an email from someone claiming that I was using a copyrighted image, even though I had obtained it as a CC0 image from one of the free image sites. The lady was very reasonable about it, and accepted my apology that, because it was on a well-known free image site, my misdemeanour was accidental. I took it down and replaced it with another. Silly really, because I could just as easily have photographed the same object in my own home.

    Far more annoying was that several years ago I had an article refused because – the editor claimed – it was plagiarised. It most certainly wasn’t – in fact I had written it as part of an academic study before I was even online. But this wretched ezine site wouldn’t accept it. I asked to see the article I was supposed to have copied and it bore no resemblance to mine – it even expressed a diametrically opposed opinion. But the site owner wouldn’t budge. He’d decided I was a plagiarist and that was that.

    I just moved on – what else can you do?

    Joy – Blogging After Dark

    • Janice Wald | at 10:47 pm

      Hi Joy,
      Interesting anecdotes. I am sorry you had these bad experiences.
      Regarding the lady: These seem to be concerns with free sites. People think they are free, and then they find out someone is claiming the credit for the image and is angry.
      As far as the second incident: It sounds like the editor was looking for an excuse to reject your piece. You know you’re not a plagiarizer. However, I can understand how both these incidents would be irritating. Thanks for contributing to the discussion by sharing them.
      Janice
      Janice Wald recently posted…How to Easily Conquer Lost Space on an iPhone with iMyfone UmateMy Profile

  7. barbara | at 3:25 pm

    Hi, Janice. I have a few questions I’ve been wondering about for a long time. These have more to do with copyright. Is it a violation to share music videos? They have a share button, and I do mention who wrote the song, etc. Another question is about old photos I find at yard sales/flea markets. I have no idea who the people in the photos are, and the pictures were for sale, so is it okay to post some of these photos? Last question concerns Pinterest. I thought it was for finding photos, etc. to put on your own board, but have heard that you can be sued for doing this. How can Pinterest stay in business if everyone posts photos from everywhere onto their boards. Is this wrong? I’m scared to use it any more! Thanks for any answers you can provide!

    • Janice Wald | at 10:37 pm

      Hi Barbara,
      As I indicated, this was a guest post. I am not an expert in copyright law and I don’t want to guess at the answers. Your question regarding Pinterest I have wondered as well.
      I have a friend who I do consider a copyright expert. I will ask him if he could come by and respond. If not, maybe he can tell me the answers, and I will convey them to you. Thanks for writing with your questions.
      Janice

    • Janice Wald | at 11:24 pm

      Hi Barbara,
      Michael, my friend who is knowledgeable in the area of plagiarism, did some research into the answers to your questions. He has information for you. I am pasting it here:
      I went through the terms and policies on Pinterest.
      There is CONCERN!!
      There are some instances where a person can be sued, especially if sharing a photo that belongs to Photographer, if they are a well known famous one, well even worse. The problem I found with in their terms is that if I share one or some of your creative images and pinned to Pinterest, I am granting them a Royalty Free License, WITH OUT YOUR PERMISSION.
      That is a Copyright Violation.
      The terms:
      · b. How Pinterest and other users can use your content

      You grant Pinterest and our users a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, store, display, reproduce, save, modify, create derivative works, perform, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest solely for the purposes of operating, developing, providing, and using the Pinterest Products. Nothing in these Terms shall restrict other legal rights Pinterest may have to User Content, for example under other licenses. We reserve the right to remove or modify User Content for any reason, including User Content that we believe violates these Terms or our policies.

      More simply put
      Copies of content shared with others may remain even after you delete the content from your account.

      · c. How long we keep your content

      Following termination or deactivation of your account, or if you remove any User Content from Pinterest, we may retain your User Content for a commercially reasonable period of time for backup, archival, or audit purposes. Furthermore, Pinterest and its users may retain and continue to use, store, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify, create derivative works, perform, and distribute any of your User Content that other users have stored or shared through Pinterest.

      https://policy.pinterest.com/en/terms-of-service

      Janice again. I hope this information answers some of your questions, Barbara. Thanks again for writing.
      Janice
      Janice Wald recently posted…25 Quick Ways You Can Avoid Writer’s Block: UpdateMy Profile

  8. Patrice M Foster | at 3:19 am

    Thank you, Janice & Christina Battons, for these tips. Plagiarism is a topic that every writer should be aware of at some point. We can easily get caught up especially with the images use.

  9. Lori | at 3:03 pm

    Another thing I’ve wondered about, along these lines, has to do with blog feeds. Using various WordPress plugins, a person can grab the feed from another website and have it post to their own site. No attribution, no checking for permission, nothing. To me, that’s stealing content, but somehow when they advertise the plugins they make it sound perfectly acceptable because it’s a public feed. If we have an RSS feed for our website, I wonder – do we need to post something on our site saying we don’t give permission for our full feed to be posted elsewhere? I suppose it wouldn’t matter one way or the other to a thief. They’ll take the content and use it as long as they can get away with it.
    Lori recently posted…What They Don’t Tell You When You Have Surgery: A Post-Op PostMy Profile

  10. Chike | at 12:13 pm

    Hello Janice, around 4-5 years ago i began a blog where I wrote about events and circumstances occurring within the world, often reported by the media. I wrote what I termed as a reply to the event but in a Christian man’s point of view. The website allowed me to continue writing blogs on their site but refused to pay me any money for the amount of hits I received because of plagiarism accusations. They accused me of plagiarism on one of my blogs but never told me which specific blog they were referring to or what it was that I actually plagiarized. I have doubts that I plagiarized anything and am still not receiving any income from the ninety plus blogs I submitted.

    • Janice Wald | at 12:43 pm

      Hi Chike,
      I am so sorry you had this experience. May I ask which blogs? I have a post planned on blogs that pay writers. I wouldn’t want them to accuse my readers of plagiarism for writing duplicate content. Do you think that’s a concern?
      Janice

  11. Carolyne | at 12:37 am

    Great Janice, we are fed up of this “COPY N PASTE DISEASE” where people/ writers have no originality of their work. Thanks to plagiarism tool. Writers, researchers, students etc must style up and be accountable to their own write- up. I echo this million times.

  12. Eugenia | at 6:55 am

    Great tips. I have seen writers terminated from social media sites and a WordPress site for Plagiarism. It was blatant, which one of them bragged about how they good they were as a writer. Go figure because why ruin your reputation as a writer when you know better.

    I use public domains for images and display the link at the bottom of my post.

    • Janice Wald | at 1:37 pm

      Hi Jhon,
      I think I saw you subscribed. Thank you! Thanks as well for your comments. I use the plagiarism checker as a teacher and host blogger who wants to ensure the guest authors are submitting original content.
      Janice

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