How to Avoid Accidental Plagiarism (and Why It’s More Common Than You Might Think) – Content Hourlies
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How to Avoid Accidental Plagiarism

How to Avoid Accidental Plagiarism (and Why It’s More Common Than You Might Think)

A contribution of one of our new writers:

There’s a delightful example of plagiarism through sheer idiocy in the late, great Sue Townsend’s The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole. Adrian Mole is an aspiring writer, spewing out amusingly pretentious drivel (one the earlier books had him writing an experimental novel without vowels).

Mole’s fictional lost diary states: “I have decided to call my new novel Larry Topper: Boy Wizard… I may give Larry magical powers. I could have an entirely original bestseller on my hands!”

OK, so this is an example that’s designed to be utterly silly, but Sue Townsend had a point.

When it comes to creative writing, I often fall into the trap of creating something that is highly derivative of something I have recently read or watched. It’s a habit that is (mercifully) usually spotted fairly early on, leading to major changes to the piece, or (more often than not) totally discarding the piece.

But what about when you have to write a blog or article for a client?

I sometimes end up with something that could be considered as partial plagiarism, and this needs to be noticed and swiftly rectified before I send the piece to be assessed. So how do I get into this rather irritating situation? And what are some other forms of plagiarism that can be all too easy to fall into?

Self-Plagiarism: Natural, Logical, Unacceptable

It can actually be ridiculously easy to plagiarise another piece of writing.

This happens to me when I have to write a succession of articles using the same keyword or topic, which is generally a keyword or topic that I’ve had to write about before.

My natural writing style results in me reproducing key sentences verbatim. I just have a way of arranging words which means that the new article contains sentences and partial sentences that have been lifted from the original article.

I don’t realize that the sentences in questions are direct reproductions since the original articles were produced many months (or years) ago.

When you write a lot, it’s impossible to remember exactly what you’ve said before. Such self-plagiarism is entirely natural, and even logical, and yet this doesn’t make it acceptable. Clients pay for a piece of original content, and it doesn’t matter if you’re replicating your own content.

This is easy enough to overcome, and it’s just a question of habit. Archive everything with Copyscape. This is the easiest way to protect yourself.

Using something like Google Docs to write means you no longer have to do anything as retro as having to actually back up your files. If you have to write something for a client that encompasses the same keywords and/or general topic as something you’ve previously written, then take the time to find and read the original pieces!

It’s really that straightforward.

There are a finite number of variations on a keyword, so while the new piece you produce might have some thematic similarities to the original piece, it will at least be different enough to be considered original content.

And this is what you’re being paid for.

You’re a Writer, Not a Curator

When producing content for a client, it’s also easy to fall into the aggregation trap.

This is not even really writing, it’s more like collating information from other sources. You’re a writer, not a curator.

I used to sometimes verge on this type of content production when faced with a topic about which I knew very little. This makes coming up with an appropriate angle a bit of a head-scratcher.

Regardless of how original you want your article to be, chances are that there are already hundreds (if not thousands) of other comparable articles online. It’s a certainty that you’ll read some of these articles as part of the research process. I know that I do, accumulating random pieces of information that I might never need again in my writing career.

Reviewing existing work on the topic is essential when it comes to researching, but to simply aggregate key pieces of information from a number of articles and then submitting it as a new piece of work is again, unacceptable.

Clients are paying for an original piece of work, not merely a greatest hits compilation of ideas pertaining to the topic that you’ve looked up.

This is particularly true if you’ve simply paraphrased the original content into your piece. This might pass Copyscape, and yet is still just lazy.

I look at the material and ask if I can add anything new to these existing ideas. This is the key. Can I expand upon something that I’ve researched without actually reproducing it?

It can be helpful to even reference the material as an authority site if permitted within the format of the piece you’re writing. In online content production, this can be as straightforward as hyperlinking to the article from your own piece.

If you cannot add to the existing idea, then it should not be used. This will prevent you from producing content that is aggregated.

In Conclusion

Simply being mindful of how easy it is to plagiarise existing content is generally enough to ensure that it won’t happen.

You don’t want to be accused of plagiarism when you write for a living as this can literally jeopardize your income.

Now please excuse me, I need to get back to writing my new novel about erotic pottery: 50 Shades of Clay.