What is plagiarism really?

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What is plagiarism really?
A lot of the people think of plagiarism as copying another writer’s work and not giving her credit for it. However, plagiarism has many heads.

So what is plagiarism exactly?

Plagiarism is many different things. Yes, it is taking credit for someone else’s words, but it is also taking credit for that person’s ideas, style of writing, and sentence structure. Consider the following rewrites; are they plagiarism?

Inadequate Paraphrasing

  • Original: “Having had some time at my disposal when in London, I had visited the British Museum, and made search among the books and maps in the library regarding Transylvania…” (Bram Stoker’s Dracula)
  • Rewrite: Because I had some free time when I was in London, I visited the British Museum and searched through the library books for mentions of Transylvania.

If you answered yes, you are correct. While I did rewrite the sentence in my own words, the sentence structure is still very similar. This is known as inadequate paraphrasing.

Lack of Quotations

Even if you cite the author but don’t put his work in quotes, you may be plagiarizing.

  • Acceptable: Stephen King once said, “Fiction is a lie. And good fiction is the truth inside the lie.”
  • Unacceptable: Stephen King once said that fiction is the truth inside the lie.

Because I quoted him directly, I need to include it in quotation marks.

Taking Ideas

If you take someone else’s ideas and use them to create a new work, you may be plagiarizing.

For example, if you read a journal article and then write a blog post where you share the same ideas but fail to provide citation, effectively passing off the ideas as your own, you are plagiarizing that research paper.

If you read Stephen King’s It and decide to write a short story about a killer clown who stalks children and follow the same plot points, you might be plagiarizing. That’s not to say you can’t write a story about a psychotic clown who terrorizes kids — after all, some say there are only seven (or nine) basic story plots — but it crosses the line when you use the same plot points, thematic elements, etc.

What isn’t plagiarism?

If you share a non-unique, common idea you find in another source, that is not plagiarism. For example, if you read on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website that motorcycle helmets save lives, that is not a unique idea. It is common knowledge that helmets keep riders safe. You are not plagiarizing by making a similar claim without attribution.

However, if you see that the NHTSA stated that helmets are effective in preventing fatality 37 percent of the time, and you want to share this statistic, you must credit the NHTSA.

So how do I avoid plagiarizing?

When in doubt, cite. If it’s a statistic, quote, opinion, or unique idea, attribute it to the author.

Here are two examples of how to avoid plagiarism:

  • All riders should wear a helmet at all times, regardless of state law. According the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Motorcycle helmets reduce the likelihood of a crash fatality by 37 percent.”
  • All riders should wear a helmet at all times, regardless of state law. Helmeted riders are 37 percent more likely to live through an accident compared to unhelmeted ones, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

If you are nervous about whether you may have unintentionally plagiarized, you can always run it through a plagiarism checker, like this one from Grammarly.

Come back next week for a discussion about vetting your sources.

As always, if you need help with content writing, give us a call or leave us a message: 888-521-3880.