They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Yet on the Internet, some people take this type of compliment way too far.
Copied content runs rampant online. Getting someone else’s work onto your site is as easy as pressing Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V. Why bother writing your own article when somebody has already done it and better?
However, these are really the extreme cases. Copyright infringement and blatant content scraping like that are in the realm of spammers, black-hat SEOs, and other dubious individuals that people like you and me want nothing to do with.
Yet, even as honest, hard-working bloggers or website owners whose goal it is to provide awesome content to their visitors, we too, run the danger of taking stuff that is not ours and publishing it under our own names.
In times where everyone on the Internet copies from everyone else, plagiarism, especially the inadvertent kind, is ever-present.
While most of us are pretty knowledgeable on how to avoid copyright infringement when it comes to images (use open source images, attribute, and you are done), when it comes to the medium of text and writing, things are not as clear cut.
Today we will go over what does and does not count as plagiarism, and how to avoid committing it at all costs.
Plagiarism: what it is and isn’t
“Plagiarism: ADictionary.com.” –
As can be gleaned from the definition above, at the core plagiarism means representing someone else’s work as your own. In terms of web publishing and blogging, this can take several different forms:
1. Complete plagiarism
This is the definition of content scraping. the most obvious case of plagiarism and copyright infringement. It means people will take entire articles and other content from someone else and republish them on their own website without asking for permission or giving attribution. Once your blog or web presence reaches a certain size, you will definitely have to deal with this.
2. Partial plagiarism
This form involves a little more effort, yet is just as uncool. Partial plagiarism is when someone take sparts of your content (entire passages, half a blog post) and then intersperses it with their own writing. Still not your own work!
3. Lazy plagiarism
This form is what many people on the web are guilty of. It happens when central ideas and phrases from someone else creep into your work and is often the result of sloppiness, copying and pasting material from different sources and failing to create something entirely unique. This can be done as much intentionally as by accident.
Ok, but what is not considered plagiarism?
On the other hand, the charge of plagiarism does not apply when you cite information that is common knowledge, generic, and widely available. If you read a piece of info in several sources or if it’s something your readers are probably already aware of, there’s no need to divulge the source of your knowledge.
An easy trap to fall into
First of all, let me calm you down a bit: When writing an article or creating content for the web, it’s completely normal to go and do research on what is already out there. In fact, it’s a mandatory step in the writing process. Unless you are already an expert on your topic, you will need source material.
However, with the overabundance of existing information it can sometimes seem like everything has been said before and that there is nothing new to add to the conversation. Plus, depending on your niche, there are only so many topics to go around.
As a consequence, parts of your content will always be based on what other people have written before. In fact, The Skyscraper Technique does so on purpose by taking other people’s content and making it insanely better (and it works).
But that is also where the problem lies. The pressure to create high-quality content in combination with an overabundance of existing resources creates a challenge for those of us trying to come up with unique material. Pair that with time constraints and it’s a recipe for inadvertent copying. And that’s really not a good thing.
Why you should avoid plagiarism like the plague
Plagiarizing someone else’s work is, in short, unprofessional.
Why? Because first of all, we actually care about what we do and take pride in the content we provide to our clients and readers, right? Right. I knew you were with me on that one.
Secondly, we have reputations to maintain and brands to build. We are professionals, damnit, and want to be perceived as such! Nobody likes a content spinner and we sure as hell don’t want to be one.
Thirdly, Google dislikes plagiarism as much as everyone else. Only they call it duplicate content and will punish your site for it. Not good for organic traffic.
Plus, there is the small matter of copyright infringement which can, at times, lead to legal issues. With the Internet and bloggingsphere being what it is, this doesn’t happen all too often, however, it is a possibility.
Lastly, and most importantly, passing off someone else’s work as your own discredits the hard work that your predecessors have put into it. I wouldn’t want my blog post published under someone else’s name. Not when creating it cost me several hours of my life!
How to avoid plagiarism in your content
So, how can we keep ourselves from copying someone else in order to protect their ingenuity and our own reputation? Here are a few tips that should help keep you on the righteous side of content creation.
1. Take your time
Plagiarism often happens with a looming deadline and when you need to get the next piece out of the door quickly. Therefore the first step is to plan enough time for the writing process. Make sure you have a buffer to edit and double check your content so that you don’t keep anything in there that you didn’t write yourself. Here is a content creation process that might help.
2. Keep track of sources
If you use information from someone else, note it down. Better yet, create a link to them while writing or include the link in your draft. That way you stay aware of what is your own scribblings and what is the writing of other people.
3. Read more than one source
The danger of plagiarism also looms when you limit yourself in your research. If you base all your ideas on one other piece of content, you easily run the danger of adhering to its structure, phrasing, and other identifiable characteristics. So, read broad and learn as much as you can.
“If you simply want to lift the text verbatim from your resource materials, you can blockquote the text on your blog post and place a link back to the site or online resource you got it from.” – Bloggingpro
See what I did there? When using someone else’s words, make sure your readers know where they are coming from.
The same goes if you plan on including an original idea or point from another source. Even if you express it in your own words, be so kind as to shoot them a link. This does not only free you from the charge of plagiarism but is also a good idea in terms of SEO.
If you are spreading information that does need to be attributed to anyone (because it is common knowledge), make sure you paraphrase and rewrite it. Keeping the same language or phrasing will only get you punished for duplicate content, remember?
Finally, the best way to make sure you didn’t plagiarize in your article is to check. That does not only mean editing your content until it is completely unique, but also running it through a content checker such as in the list below. They will compare your writing to available web sources and tell you whether your content can be considered as duplicate or plagiarized.
Free and paid content checker tools
Use these to sweep your content before publishing it. It only takes a few minutes but can save you a lot of headache down the road.
This is a free tool that will run your blog post through Google, phrase by phrase, and give you a score on its uniqueness. It takes a little while to perform the check if you write longer content, but the sweep appears to be quite thorough.
WordEssays is another free content checker. It can be used for five sweeps per month without a membership. It worked very well in my test runs and successfully listed all sources of the scraped content I put in there.
This is a paid tool which supposedly checks your content against 8 billion websites. Its plans start a $11.66/month for a yearly contract and go up to $29.95 for just one month. This is a good option for professionals who have to check a lot of text.
Copyscape will not only help you find your scraped content on the web, but their premium version also lets you check your own work for uniqueness and originality.
For a fee of $5-$10/month Unplag will happily check any and all files you have for plagiarism. Allegedly compares your content against 16 billion web sources.
Plagiarism in conclusion
It seems as if plagiarism is an inherent part of the Internet. With millions of blog posts published every day, there is bound to be some overlap in information.
However, that is no excuse not to be vigilant in your own effort to avoid passing other people’s work off as your own.
By being conscientious in your writing efforts, keeping track of your information sources and providing links, you not only safeguard yourself against charges of stealing but also insert yourself into the broader conversation.
Sound good? Ok, now give me a minute while I run this article through a duplicate content check.
What are your feelings about plagiarism in blogging and web publishing? Any other tips on how to avoid it? Let us know in the comments (but don’t copy someone else’s opinion).