As a writer, there are legal risks to your profession, including libel, defamation, licensing, and more. At its core, your job is to report the news, write feature stories interviewing outside sources/experts, or create content strategies for brands and clients. Being a public face, you need to understand potential areas for error. The big one being plagiarism. It is a significant violation of ethics if you were to plagiarize any piece of work and claim it as your own.
Understandably, publications and companies have a zero-tolerance policy for plagiarism and it could be ground for immediate termination. Since the core of your job, a writer should be fair, unbiased, and dedicated to accuracy, and passing off someone’s work as your own isn’t just frowned upon; it could be a career-ender.
But, what exactly is plagiarism? What are the types? And how can we avoid it?
As a noun, plagiarism is when a person or company uses, steals, or represents another person or company’s ideas, thoughts, language, or writing as their own.
Example: When Bobby copied and pasted Suzie’s English paper and submitted it to the teacher, he committed plagiarism.
As a verb, to plagiarize is to steal or misrepresent another person’s work as your own.
Example: Bobby plagiarized Suzie’s English paper and submitted it to the teacher.
The types of plagiarism
There are numerous ways to plagiarize, and they all carry a different level of risk and weight. Also, various industries are more susceptible to plagiarism than others, like academia and journalism. Most recently, as ‘content mills’ have become more common, these websites simply copy/paste articles and pass them as their own, so it’s vital to pay attention to your sources. The most common types of plagiarism include:
- Paraphrasing plagiarism.
- Global plagiarism.
- Verbatim plagiarism.
Another important term is ‘paraphrasing.’ This is when you rephrase another piece of copy — either from the web or from a source — but it isn’t directly in quotations. On its own, paraphrasing isn’t plagiarism, but only if you properly cite the source. All too often, writers paraphrase a few sentences but do not provide credit where it’s due.
Paraphrasing plagiarism example: When you are trying to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume in a day, all from a balanced diet of proteins, fat, and carbohydrates. You should also commit to at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week to remain active.
Not paraphrasing plagiarism: When you are trying to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume in a day, all from a balanced diet of proteins, fat, and carbohydrates. According to researchers at The Mayo Clinic, you should also commit to at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week to remain active.
Just as it sounds, global plagiarism happens when you hire someone to write something for you. Like, paying for a term paper written by another person online and slap your name on it. Though plagiarism is never a great idea, this is probably considered the worse offense because of its intentional nature.
Verbatim plagiarism is much like paraphrasing plagiarism, but it’s direct. You can think of this as copying a paragraph, then pasting it into your story without changes or attribution.
Verbatim plagiarism example: There are many ways to plagiarize and they all carry a different level of risk and weight. Also, various industries are more susceptible to plagiarism than others, like academia and journalism.
Not verbatim plagiarism: “There are many ways to plagiarize and they all carry a different level of risk and weight. Also, various industries are more susceptible to plagiarism than others, like academia and journalism,” according to ClearVoice.
Yep, that’s right: you can plagiarize yourself. Especially, as a niche journalist who covers the same topic for a plethora of outlets or a content marketer with clients in the same field, it can be tough to regularly come up with ingenious ideas. However, if you submit the same story to two editors, you’re plagiarizing yourself. Also, by doing this, you aren’t living up to the expectations and requirements of the client. They hire you to write original copy that’s unique to their brand, messaging, and goals, so submitting dupes isn’t just unethical, it’s not quality work.
How to avoid plagiarism
Be original. Reading articles and other pieces of content will help stimulate creativity. It can also be helpful to use a checking service, like Grammarly, just in case you accidentally wrote something similar to content that already exists. When in doubt or unsure if you’re plagiarizing, add source links throughout your work to be on the safe side. It can also be helpful to track your sources and be skeptical of who you interview to ensure they aren’t giving you duplicate responses.
Bottom line: you should be proactive in protecting your work and your reputation to avoid plagiarism, rather than reactive.