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.
Strategies to Avoid Accidental Plagiarism
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.
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.
- What Constitutes Plagiarism?
- How Plagiarism Can Affect Your Readers
- Why Stealing Images Is the Same as Stealing Words
- Have You Plagiarized Another Blogger?