Prevent any kind of plagiarism before hitting publish
Plagiarism from a business standpoint
Plagiarism might be a word you haven’t thought about since elementary school or university days, associated with research papers and student essays. But, plagiarism is still all-too-relevant in the business and content marketing world.
There’s nothing wrong with taking inspiration from others — in fact, it’s good to pay attention to what’s working at the moment and try to implement those tactics into your own strategic plan. You should always be open to learning from the success of others. Just make sure you’re not stealing that work.
Different types of plagiarism
When it comes to plagiarism, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition. Plagiarism is more than stealing someone else’s ideas word-for-word and claiming it as your own. There are six common forms of plagiarism that pop up in the business world. It’s important to be aware of them so you can safely stay clear.
Patchwork or mosaic plagiarism
At its core, plagiarism is taking credit for another person’s ideas. This remains true even if you change up the sentence structure and move the words around a bit.
With this type of plagiarism, the work of someone else is simply paraphrased without proper citation. It’s often difficult to detect because the plagiarized material is interwoven with many different sources — including the writer’s own ideas and perspective.
This type of plagiarism can involve one or several sources. The writer may try to change up the sentence structure or use synonyms to make it seem original.
Paraphrasing — or incremental plagiarism — is the most common type of plagiarism. It’s similar to the mosaic plagiarism style mentioned above.
However, the difference is that the copied work isn’t mixed in with new concepts and research. When you paraphrase the original author’s ideas in your own words, the borrowed material stays the same throughout the new piece.
Plagiarism doesn’t always happen on purpose. It’s still considered plagiarism if you copy someone else’s writing without citing their source, improperly cite the source, or leave out quotation marks by accident.
Just because the omission or incorrect citation was accidental doesn’t mean plagiarism hasn’t been committed. This is why it’s important to check any work, and when in doubt, credit your source.
This type of plagiarism refers to instances when misleading sources are involved. For example, you may have two sources of information, but only reference one. Another form of source-based plagiarism would be when an author quotes a non-existent or incorrect source.
The worst type of this kind of plagiarism is when sources are fabricated. Making up information — like study findings or statistics — is extremely misleading and can even be harmful in the case of medical content.
Direct or verbatim plagiarism
Direct plagiarism — also known as verbatim or copy-paste plagiarism — is an intentional and unethical form of stealing content. As the name suggests, the writing is stolen word-for-word and pasted into the new piece. The author then tries to pass off the content as their own. A word or two might be changed, but this type of plagiarism is too blatant to even be considered paraphrasing.
Also known as auto-plagiarism, self-plagiarism happens when you copy your own writing, whether intentional or not. Often the person in a self-plagiarism incident is summarizing or repurposing their own work instead of writing a whole new piece from scratch on the same topic.
Many people think self-plagiarism is harmless because you aren’t stealing from someone else, just yourself. But, this type of plagiarism can be just as damaging as any other.
Rephrase properly to prevent self-plagiarism
Anyone who creates content is expected to create a lot of it if they want to keep up with the stream of neverending material online. Oftentimes, you’re going to want to repurpose something you’ve created in the past.
On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with doing that — as long as you’re going about it the right way. If you’ve written something in the past that would be relevant to a new topic, go ahead and mention that previous piece and link to it. Just don’t copy entire paragraphs and pretend it’s the first time you’re writing these insights.
By rephrasing, you can prevent self-plagiarism, save yourself time, and get more out of your content. We have a helpful guide on rephrasing. Rather than copy and paste heaps of paragraphs from that guide, we’ll go ahead and link to it. (See, it’s that easy.)
Examples of self-plagiarism
- Using statistics or data from your previous work without making the audience aware of the source
- Submitting the exact same piece of content that has already been submitted elsewhere
- Copying and pasting text word-for-word from past work and using it in a new piece
- Improperly paraphrasing previously published work to include in a new piece
- Repurposing a concept from your previous content without adding anything new
Remember: rephrase, don’t recycle. You’re not expected to come up with a brand new, unique topic everytime you want to publish content. You’re just expected to do it in an ethical, original manner.
Common knowledge vs. plagiarism
The definition of common knowledge refers to any information that’s well-known to the general public.
You can’t present data or statistics from studies as common knowledge. The same is true for direct quotes or original ideas that can be traced back to a single source. These all need attribution — meaning you’ll have to cite the sources of this type of data or content in your written work.
While properly citing your sources can help you avoid plagiarism accusations, you also don’t want to get bogged down creating citations for a piece of information that’s considered common knowledge. This isn’t beneficial for the writer or the reader.
Two primary types of common knowledge
- Information that the general public or most people could reasonably be expected to know.
- Mutual knowledge that’s commonly known in a specific group of people, such as a specific professional field, such as doctors, lawyers, or professional writers.
Three questions to ask yourself to spot common knowledge
1. Who is the intended audience for this piece?
Is your work intended for the public, or is it targeted toward a specific group such as professionals in a certain field? Keep in mind that just because something is published and accessible to everyone, it doesn’t mean that’s the audience of the piece.
2. Would the audience be able to verify that the information is from different sources?
If your audience were to do some basic research, they should be able to find several sources that state the same thing. If that’s true, then it’s likely considered common knowledge.
3. Could someone dispute the information?
If the accuracy of the information in your piece can be questioned, then it might not be common knowledge. For example, stating the estimate of the average salary of a freelance copywriter. The reader wouldn’t be able to find that information readily from multiple sources. It’s specific and requires a citation to include in your work.
|Common knowledge||NOT common knowledge|
|Seattle is located in Washington||New York has 5x as many bakeries as Seattle|
|Facebook owns Instagram||Instagram Stories have a higher ROI for advertising dollars than Facebook|
|The first moon landing was in 1969||Apollo 11 left the moon and landed on Mars before returning to Earth|
At the end of the day, if you aren’t sure whether a source is common knowledge or not, it’s best to cite it. Worst case scenario, you created a little extra work for yourself by citing the source. Best case scenario, you avoided plagiarism.
Why do you need to avoid plagiarism?
It probably seems obvious, but you should do your very best to avoid copying the work of others. Depending on the level of plagiarism committed, the consequences can range from minor to severe. Either way, no one wants to do anything that could damage their reputation or result in legal action.
- Hurts your career — Plagiarizing content hurts not just the quality of creative outputs, but your career. Submitting stolen work can have serious consequences for a company. As an employee or contractor for a company impacted by your plagiarism, you can expect to bear the brunt of it. You could get fired or face being shunned in your industry, making it difficult for you to land another job.
- Damages your reputation — In addition to hurting your career, your personal and professional reputation can be impacted by plagiarism. You can even harm the reputation of the brand you represent or your employer. Plagiarism comes across as shady and immoral. It’s hard to undo the negative result of your audience or customers finding out your work was plagiarized.
- Potential legal action — One of the most serious consequences of plagiarism is a potential lawsuit or even jail time. Most plagiarism cases won’t end up in court, but if the plagiarized content happens to be protected by copyright law, you could be stuck with legal fines or penalties. At the very least, you could be served with a cease and desist letter.
- SEO visibility — Google is looking for distinct information, so when you’re not presenting original, high-quality content, your pages may not perform as well as expected in organic search.
5 ways to steer clear of plagiarism
1. Rephrase your content
Rephrasing is a common practice used to repurpose your own content in a new, original way. It helps you avoid accidental self-plagiarism, while still making the most out of your ideas.
You may rephrase content for clarity, or you may rephrase a piece you previously wrote to express new thoughts. This method is the best way to steer clear of self-plagiarism, because if you’re publishing duplicate content, your SEO performance could suffer.
2. Cite and reference
Better safe than sorry — this applies to your content marketing efforts too. If the idea or wording isn’t yours, then you should include a citation. This goes for both direct quotes and paraphrasing.
When you paraphrase, you’re essentially translating someone’s ideas into your own words. However, just because you’re using your own words doesn’t mean you don’t need to cite the source. Wherever possible, approach the idea from a fresh perspective and structure it differently than the source material. If your copy is similar to the source, then you’ll need to add a citation and link to the original work.
3. Add unique insights
Is there anything about the content you are writing that’s unique, different, or hasn’t been shared before?
This won’t only help you avoid plagiarizing any existing content, but it’ll also make what you write stronger. You aren’t just recycling or sharing what others have already talked about or written about. You are adding your own two cents.
Here are some questions that can help you when you are brainstorming and researching ideas:
- Do you have a unique angle or perspective on the topic?
- Can you run an experiment and share the results?
- Do you have access to original data or insights through your product or service?
4. Run your content through a plagiarism checker
Plagiarism detection tools let you check sentences or entire articles. Depending on the capabilities of the software, you can run a test to see if your content risks plagiarizing existing indexed web pages online, or you can manually enter two different pieces to check for potential plagiarism. The latter option is particularly useful for checking for instances of self-plagiarism with your work.
5. Create a plagiarism checklist
In the same way that you create brand and editorial style guidelines, you should also create a checklist that all writers and editors must follow before submitting and publishing new content.
This checklist could look like a series of questions:
- Did you attribute all quotes?
- Did you list and cite all sources you used — including ones that you paraphrased?
- Is there something original or unique about the content you wrote?
- Did you run the post through a plagiarism checker tool?
Following the steps above will help you achieve original, high-quality content that isn’t plagiarized.
Why original content is important for your business
Build brand name and voice
Every good business strives to create a recognizable brand. This is achieved through consistent, original content written in that company’s personal voice and tone. It goes without saying that a unique style and personality can’t be borrowed or plagiarized from someone else.
Create trust and loyalty
When readers know they can count on you for original, unique insights, they’re going to trust you. Today’s sea of content is saturated with copy that all sounds really familiar. When you make yours stand out, you’ll be rewarded with readership loyalty.
Rank favorably on search engines
Just as duplicate content can limit your SEO performance, original content does the opposite. High-quality, original messaging that properly links and references other content is going to get noticed by search engines. More original content means more eyes, which means more loyal readers.
Using Writer to detect and avoid plagiarism
Knowing you want to prevent plagiarism is one thing, but actually avoiding plagiarism is a different challenge. That’s why Writer features a plagiarism detector that ensures your content isn’t plagiarized. You can even enter in any URLs you want the checker to ignore during its search.
Whether you’re managing a team of freelancers and need to make sure that they’re not plagiarizing any of their writing, or you’re a writer yourself looking to avoid any unintentional plagiarism, Writer works for you.
Here’s an example of text copied and pasted from Wikipedia. Writer flags similar content and lets you know where it found a close or identical match.
Plagiarism is damaging to any business’ brand and any writer’s career. It’s vital to take the necessary steps to prevent it from happening in the first place, rather than scrambling to conduct damage control later.