Write or wrong: Thoughts on plagiarism

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When we think about plagiarism, we usually think about the academic setting. The fact of the matter is, however, that plagiarism is a real concern for everyone. This is especially true for Internet writers.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is, essentially, using someone else’s ideas, language, or other original material without attributing it to its source. There are some instances where plagiarism is easy to recognize. For example, you may be guilty of plagiarism if you cut and paste someone else’s writing, whether it is a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph or even a whole article, into your Internet writing.

Sometimes, plagiarism is harder to recognize. You also may be guilty of plagiarism if you use someone else’s argument in your own writing. An example of this would be if someone writes an article on “8 ways to avoid plagiarism” and you write an article listing those same 8 ways.

Academic plagiarism vs. non-academic plagiarism

In the academic world, plagiarism is serious business. While policies will differ from one setting to the next, you can expect to be expelled from the academic setting if you are found guilty of plagiarism on more than a single occasion, with some schools having a zero-tolerance policy.

In other settings, such as with Internet writing, there are fewer penalties. If you are caught plagiarizing, you will generally be asked to remove the material. If you choose not to remove it, the owner of the material must go through the courts, via a civil lawsuit, to get you to remove it. Except for rare circumstances no one is going to come pounding on your door if you plagiarize.

How common is Plagiarism in Internet writing?

All too common. It is so common, in fact, that there are even services such as CopyScape that serve the sole purpose of guarding your writing, and finding copies of it on the Internet.

Why plagiarism matters

Plagiarism matters to the Internet writer for several reasons:

First, plagiarism demonstrates a lack of character. Whether or not you are every caught, the fact that you plagiarize speaks to your personal integrity.

Plagiarism generally hurts both the victim and the plagiarizer, in that search engines tend to ignore pages that have content that is substantially identical to other web sites.

There is the risk that, if you are caught, you could be taken to court and sued.

Accidental plagiarism

It does happen, from time to time, that an Internet writer might plagiarize unintentionally. Here are some things that you can do to avoid plagiarism in your writing:

* If possible, make certain that you give credit to your sources in your writing.

* When it isn’t possible to attribute sources, such as when submitting to certain article directories, make certain that you substantially contribute your own thoughts to the article. Make the article your own; don’t just restate the ideas of the original.

* Spend some time learning more about what constitutes plagiarism. A good source is http://www.csub.edu/ssric-trd/ howto/plagiarism.htm, but there are many others out there.

* Consider using a service such as CopyScape to check your own writing from time to time.

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