How to Avoid Accidental Plagiarism While Blogging

How to Avoid Accidental Plagiarism While Blogging (1)

Plagiarism tends to be a thing that we think other people do.  People who are desperate or of morally questionable character.  What else could convince them that presenting someone else’s work as their own is a good idea?  However, plagiarism is more than copying and pasting an article or website and saying that you wrote it.  Plagiarism can take on other forms as well.  And sometimes novice writers plagiarize by mistake.

There have been incidents of blatant and purposeful plagiarism on the book blogosphere.  In these cases, the bloggers either copied other reviews wholesale or, after being caught and confronted, tried to hide their actions by mixing up elements of several other bloggers’ reviews.  Both actions are wrong; even copying a few sentences or phrases from another person without citation is plagiarism.  However, rephrasing sentences from other bloggers posts and using them in your own posts is plagiarism, as well.

Rephrasing is what often gets novice writers into trouble.  Even if they are aware that paraphrasing another person’s work still requires attribution and citation, some writers are still practicing rephrasing work so that it does not resemble the original work too closely.  They may not mean to plagiarize, but they are.  And, sadly, intent does not always save a person’s reputation or prevent them from getting into trouble.  Thus, it is of paramount importance that writers learn as quickly as possible how to avoid accidentally copying someone else’s work.

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Strategies to Avoid Accidental Plagiarism

Writing Reviews

When writing a book review, try not to read other reviews beforehand.  Of course, you may have found the book through another review or seen it somewhere like Goodreads.  That’s okay.  However, when you start drafting your own review, do not return to Goodreads or other blogs to see what other people are saying.  Write your own review first.  This way, the ideas or phrasings of others will be less likely to creep into your own work.

Writing Discussion Posts

Discussion posts often arise from thoughts you may have had about a post, book, or article you read. In this case, it’s appropriate to link back to the website or mention the book.  Explain that you are writing a discussion post that is in response to someone else and that you are having a conversation with the other writer.  Once you start writing, be careful with your research.  If you use other sources  to provide evidence for your case, cite them and link back when possible.  Do not, however, search for other bloggers’ thoughts on the topic and then quietly incorporate their ideas into your own work because you think their ideas are better.  If you are using their work at all, in any way, you have to link back.

Writing Lists of Blogging Tips

Writing lists can be tricky. Bloggers often cover the same topics such as “How to Start a Book Blog” or “Resources for Graphic Making.”  You may wonder how you are supposed to compile a list that is entirely original.  After all, don’t people use the same general blogging strategies and resources?  It’s okay if you find that some of your points overlap.  However, if you are writing a list of ten tips, look at another list, and use a bunch of the same tips from the same writer without attribution, you may be accidentally plagiarizing.  You may dig yourself even deeper if you use the same order as their list, the same format as their list, or the same wording as their list.  If you find yourself doing this, the reality may be that you aren’t adding anything new to the conversation.  You’re merely compiling and rearranging other sources without attribution.  In which case, you are probably accidentally plagiarizing.  To avoid this, make your own list first, write out the descriptions without looking at anyone else’s, and do more research once you are finished drafting. If you then use anyone else’s resources, cite them. When in doubt, always cite.

Figuring Out How to Rephrase

By now you know that, if you are having trouble separating your ideas from the ideas of others, you should try to avoid looking at other people’s writings while drafting your response.  But how do you actually rephrase something so it is not too close to the original writing?  The easiest way to do this is to understand fully what you just read.  Paraphrasing that becomes plagiarism typically occurs when writers do not have a firm grasp on their research material or what it means, so they stick closely to the original phrasing.  So read the material several times.  Make sure you know what it’s saying.  You will know you have understood it when, as one of my instructors once advised, you can summarize the whole thing in one sentence.  Even if it’s a 20-page paper, you should be able to get at the heart of the paper and explain its main argument in one sentence.  Once you understand it, you can explain it without copying the original writer’s phrasing.

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Conclusion

Accidental plagiarism happens on the blogosphere.  In many cases, we should see this as a learning opportunity for the plagiarizer, who may have written their posts without fully understanding that they followed their sources too closely.  However, ultimately, we are each responsible for our own actions and we cannot always count on others to believe that our motives were innocent.  The best way to protect ourselves from accidental plagiarism is to educate ourselves.

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Other Resources

36 thoughts on “How to Avoid Accidental Plagiarism While Blogging

  1. CJRthebrit says:

    Omg I never knew this was a thing in respect to blogging but obvs I habe heard it with authors! I never read reviews before I read a book, sometimes I gaze at a few after. ☺

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    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I’ve seen posts around that seem eerily similar. However, I don’t think there was an intent to plagiarize. It’s just that sometimes writers either 1) “model” their post on someone else’s and end up following it too closely or 2) end up writing something similar because they keep referring back to another text for whatever reason. It can happen with any type of writing, really, but it’s always good to practice strategies to try to prevent it.

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      • CJRthebrit says:

        I will keep not looking at reviews before I read and review myself. I guess it’s easy done if something is sub consciously stuck in your mind but would hate for people to think of me doing it! If guess there are those that do on purpose though which is not good.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Same. I don’t read reviews right before or while writing my own. It’s just an easy way to make sure I’m not accidentally doing anything sketchy. And I think a practice that could prevent some of what I see when I go through my reader–a series of posts that seem almost exactly the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ashley says:

    I had a situation where I had to ask another blogger to remove my content from their blog because it looked like they were passing it off as their own.

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    • Briana says:

      I was involved in that whole ordeal with Reed’s Reads & Reviews where she plagiarized a lot of different bloggers, but that was the only instance I’ve “called out.” It’s much easier when it’s basically copying and pasting because then nearly everyone agrees it’s plagiarism. There have been more subtle cases I kind of side-eyed because it seemed clear to me that someone had basically used one or more of my posts as a “template” for theirs–taking the structure and the general content while using their own wording–but it’s much harder to get people on board with seeing that as plagiarism, even though it is. So I don’t say anything.

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      • ashley says:

        Luckily that was the only instance I had. I don’t remember the blogger though. It’s a shame that we as bloggers have to worry about this stuff.

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        • Briana says:

          I remember the blogger partially because she really stole from a lot of blogs, and partially because she did that thing where she kept closing blogs and opening new ones…with basically the same name. I mean, it was easy to see she hadn’t taken down the reviews? :p

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  3. Amber Elise @ Du Livre says:

    This is a great topic Krysta, I feel like we always get one or two accusations of plagiarism per year and the plagiarizer has no idea s/he did anything wrong. I stay clear of GR when I write reviews because I don’t want to be unconsciously influenced.

    When in doubt, ALWAYS CREDIT. I feel like we’re heading down that road with the popularity of bookstagram.

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    • Krysta says:

      I admit I have a hard time believing that serial plagiarists don’t understand what they’re doing is wrong. We talk about plagiarism all the time in school and surely it’s common sense that copying and pasting other people’s sentences and paragraphs is wrong? I can understand more the writers who aren’t paraphrasing adequately. It’s actually somewhat difficult to teach someone how to paraphrase–basically all you can do is ask them to read the text several times and take notes in their own words, so that they master the content and don’t have to repeat it because they don’t understand it. But it’s a skill that takes most students time to master.

      Yes, I think we’re losing the art of giving credit online. And, of course, when people see that no one else is citing their sources, it doesn’t occur to them that THEY ought to!

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  4. Valerie says:

    I’m always afraid of accidental plagiarism, especially since we are so prone to priming. I’ve made it my thing to not read any reviews of any books I know I am about to read. Because I KNOW I’ll accidentally say the same things, or I’ll be biased. And then I read the reviews after!

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    • Briana says:

      I read some reviews before I read the book, but I definitely try to avoid reading them after I’ve read the book and especially as I’m starting to write my own review because I know some other people’s thoughts and phrases might end up in there if I do!

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  5. Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks says:

    I’ve never seen blatant copy-paste plagiarism in the blogosphere, but what I’ve seen is style plagiarism. And you can’t really accuse anyone of style plagiarism, because it’s… well, it’s not the same. It’s just copy cat. But I mean, I can plainly see that blogger X uses the same post structure as famous / popular blogger Y, same sentence structure, even the same fonts. The whole difference being tiny things like the actual header images. And the sad thing is, these bloggers are liked and followed. Although they just blatantly copy the style… I’ve even talked to the famous blogger and asked her opinion on this. She said she was very sad about this and didn’t really know what to do. She’s talked to other plagiarisers like that, but when it’s just copy cat style, you can’t just go out and say “please stop imitating me”. Anyway. I think that’s the worst kind of plagiarizing, cause the blogger can’t even really defend themselves – it’s not “really” copied.

    Anyway, good article!

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    • Krysta says:

      Good point! I have seen bloggers copy the voice, formatting, and even images of bigger bloggers! But, as you say, it’s more difficult to prove this type of plagiarism and the plagiarists themselves use that in their favor. It’s sad that nothing can be done about it. But I often do wonder why other bloggers still follow those blogs. After all, I would rather follow the original rather than an imitator. The imitator isn’t doing anything new or interesting that would capture my attention.

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  6. Jonathan Scott Griffin says:

    Only one problem. People have similar ideas more than we think. How can one prove that one plagiarized if the sentence is structured differently? It’s not a crime to have a similar idea. What if someone never read a similar review, but someone who wrote that similar review still criticizes them? This is scary to me.

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      • Jonathan Scott Griffin says:

        Thanks. That’s my point. I think people should we should all be careful about jumping onto the bandwagon about plagiarizing unless we have strong proof. Particularly since people do share common ideas. In fact, though this is somewhat different, being about fiction and not articles, my post from four months ago can still give the same message. I invite you to read. It’s entitled “The Mirage of Originality.” https://wordpress.com/posts/anauthorstravails.wordpress.com

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        • Krysta says:

          I haven’t seen any bloggers go after accidental plagiarists. I know in the past some have asked bloggers who copied their reviews wholesale or in part to take those posts down. The problem is that more subtle forms of plagiarism are difficult to prove, so even if I saw a post that looks eerily like mine, I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.

          That’s why I think education is important. I’m sure many bloggers didn’t actually mean to copy someone else’s post. They were probably just looking at it and ended up using the same main points, structure, and format. That’s why in schools students are encouraged to read a text a couple times and to try to sum it up in their own words. They’re encouraging students to not have to keep referring back to a text and not to use the same words because they don’t understand what the words mean.

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    • Briana says:

      I agree. I’ve seen some people scream “plagiarism!” over things in the book blogosphere that probably aren’t. Like, if I write a post about “my favorite childhood books,” it COULD be because I saw someone else write a post titled that…or not. It’s just such an obvious thing to write about that of course multiple people could have come up with the topic independently. The same for reviews. I COULD be saying the romance in a book is flat because I saw another review say that…or I could have come up with that conclusion myself. For me, plagiarism is really about ideas that are more original than this (a gray area, obviously) and about taking patterns of phrasing or the structure of someone else’s work. Like, two people could independently write posts about “How to Start a Bookstagram Account,” but it’s sketchy if Person B basically takes the headings (the structure) from Person A’s post, rewords the headings, and rewords the explanations beneath the headings. It might still be subtle, and some people might not see the plagiarism, but it would count.

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  7. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Absolutely brilliant and important post! I don’t often come across outright plagiarism (though I have heard stories) but I definitely have seen people taking credit for ideas that are not their own (I won’t ever forget the youtuber who thought it was okay to do a whole video paraphrasing Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author as if they’d come up with it- and I just was screaming at the screen going JUST SAY WHERE YOU GOT THE IDEA!) I do totally agree about not reading other reviews before reviewing and it’s something I try to keep to as a general rule, even if reviews were how I got to the book in the first place. If I want to link to the review, I’ll go back to it after I’m done.

    Also, a bit off topic, but aside from opinion pieces (like Why do I read x genre) I wish TO THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY people would link more to other people’s work and studies when doing discussion pieces- partly cos of the plagiarism issue, but mostly because I spend too much time reading them going “citation needed” (yes I’m one of those people). I’d also appreciate if people didn’t just say things like “psychologists say” (okay, yes I’m thinking of some specific examples now, but it’s kinda irritating, because I cannot for the life of me find psychologists that agree with them and only ones that disagree) Point is: it’s really bad practice not to include sources! (sorry for the digression lol 😉 )

    And yes I completely agree about not just reading other lists on the same topic and that’s a great tip about being able to summarise a paper in one sentence. Fantastic post!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      It’s sad, but I’ve even seen a published author who rephrases stuff from other authors and not in an “allusion” kind of way. When we have professionals doing this, it’s hard to convince new writers that they need to be more rigorous. Maybe some people think that their audience will recognize that they’re playing with or using someone else’s work–but no one should count on that.

      I think more links in discussion posts would be nice. I’d like to add more to my own, actually. It’s a good way to keep the conversation going and present more viewpoints, for one thing. Also, I think that citing sources makes a work more credible. A lot of times I see bloggers GUESSING why they think something occurs. Frankly, I don’t want to read anyone’s random guesses. I’d rather read someone who did the research and find out the truth. Finally, doing research can help writers from being wrong. I often see totally false claims. A quick search would have revealed that, no, that’s not actually a law or, no, that technology wasn’t around at that time. When writers don’t research, they sometimes ending up literally making stuff up–and then they lose all credibility.

      I think we are allowed to be a little more relaxed while blogging. I sometimes start blog posts with generalizations that I wouldn’t make if writing an academic paper. Something like, “Many people hate English class.” I’d probably try to find some statistics on English classes or at least a quote from an English class-hating person if I were writing for a different audience. But sometimes I think it’s tempting to give ourselves too much latitude while blogging and that’s where non-credible writing occurs.

      Liked by 1 person

      • theorangutanlibrarian says:

        Yup- I’ve actually seen quotes repeated verbatim from the original and then attributed to the wrong person as well. I will say I can be pretty forgiving (maybe it’s the medievalist in me that took a shine to the concept of literary “borrowing” 😉 ) but there’s a line that I think people cross.

        Yeah I totally agree- looking over my posts actually I realise I need to do more pieces where I could link to articles and such (or more accurately, when I come up with an idea for that, I need to actually stick with it after I’ve done the research… but I usually decide against it, cos doing research usually makes me realise how little I know 😉 ) hehehe yes- I have seen *so many* false claims made (funnily enough though, after saying I should just write research pieces, I realise that the reason I don’t is because I don’t want to fall into the trap that a lot of other people do of making false claims, cos basically the people making the claims are not experts and I’m not an expert, so even if I can prove them wrong, someone else will prove me wrong… so yeah, vicious circle really 😉 )

        Yeah I definitely take a more chilled approach when it comes to blogging- ultimately because I don’t think it’s so important if I say a generalisation. Or even if I refer to some unnamed person (to be honest, if I’m critiquing something someone said, I’d actually rather keep them unnamed on my blog, cos I don’t see any reason to embarrass someone, though I realise this keeps a lot of arguments more vague than I intend) But yeah, if I was doing it properly, I know that this is not how you construct an actual argument (I mean, I was even trying to explain strawmanning without actually naming an example… so I basically sounded like I was strawmanning… but I dunno better than calling someone out who can’t defend themselves) So yeah, I definitely think it’s easy to become lax on certain things on the blogosphere
        (again sorry for the tangents!)

        Like

  8. Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    Insightful and necessary post! I do not think that many people realize this happens and that it can happen without them actually realizing it. This was well written. I love that you mentioned not reading reviews before writing your own. I try to avoid this at all costs when I can unless I am involved in a direct discussion with someone reading a title at the same time. Recently Trang and I finished 13 Minutes roughly at the same time and I broke my rule and read her review. But I do find avoiding others will help prevent any influences on my own thoughts. Again, well said.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Precisely! I’m sure many people don’t mean to plagiarize when they follow another text too closely. They probably just think of it as doing research. That’s why it’s helpful to keep some guidelines in mind.

      Yeah, it may not always be possible not to read ANY reviews before writing your own. But if you’re aware that you’re going to be writing your own soon, you’ll probably be more alert in making sure you’re keeping everything original. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction says:

    This can be a really tricky topic. I agree that paraphrasing can be the hardest type of plagiarism to avoid. And it’s especially dangerous when you read things too close to when you’re writing your own post because those thoughts can linger in your mind without you even realizing it.

    Like

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