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Writing Wednesday: Inspiration or Plagiarism? How To Keep Words Your Own And Give Credit Where It’s Due

Script Below:

Hi, everyone, and welcome to Perfectly Planned Content’s Writing Wednesday video series, where we dive into the power of words and the many ways writing impacts your business. I’m Lauren Keller, Director of Content and Strategy, and I’m thrilled to bring you a monthly video series completely dedicated to the craft of writing.

Today, I’m going to dive into a topic that gets creators shaking in their boots, a thing that would land you an automatic F in school, and, unfortunately, something that’s far too ubiquitous no matter the creative medium: plagiarism.

Plagiarism is when you take someone else’s work (words, ideas, expression, intent, thought, etc.) and disguise it—whether skillfully, intentionally, or not—as your own. It could be as simple as borrowing a phrase or as complex as stealing an entire idea or argument. 

In addition to being really not cool, plagiarism can lead to legal repercussions if you cross the line of copyright infringement, patent, or trademark.

But the line between inspiration and plagiarism can be as wispy as cirrus clouds—feathers gently ticking the sky. It’s even easier to blur the lines in the digital content creation space. When you have roughly 7 million new blogs posted per day, there’s a lot of material for creators to access and potentially take for themselves. 

So, how can you avoid plagiarizing in your blogs and keep your words original?

The Relationship Between Inspiration and Plagiarism

There are several recognized takes on plagiarism; these stood out the most. 

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” Clearly, T.S Elliot wasn’t all that phased by the whole stealing thing. 

Wilson Mizner famously observed, “If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research.” Looks like the American playwright had a knack for humor. 

Both takes on plagiarism highlight that identifying and avoiding it is messy and not always cut and dry. Because the reality is that creators influence other creators. 

For example, a common exercise for new and seasoned writers is studying the work of other writers they admire. Leo Tolstoy famously went back to Charles Dickens David Copperfield when searching for inspiration throughout his own life and writings. 

Does that mean Tolstoy ripped off Dickens? No, not at all. 

It’s wonderful to seek and find inspiration in others’ work. Sometimes reading a piece by another author, experiencing a film you love, or enjoying another’s art, can give you context and perspective when creating your own. You may also find opportunities to build on that person’s work or ask additional questions that examine the topic from a different vantage point. 

Inspiration is well and good but crossing the line into plagiarism is what you want to avoid—here’s how.

5 Simple Ways To Avoid Plagiarism

As creators, it’s critical to respect both your work and the work of others. One of the best ways to do that is to avoid plagiarism. Here are five ways you can steer clear of stealing from other creators. 

Cite Your Sources

A strong piece of content will likely be informed and supported by research—but unless you were the one who conducted the study, give credit where it’s due. 

Citing your sources allows you to clearly state where you got a piece of information, like a statistic, quotation, idea, strategy, etc. Once you let your readers know where it came from, you can expand on your thoughts regarding the material. 

Depending on the style guide you’re working with, you can cite a source in several ways.

Paraphrase When You Can

So here’s where things continue to be hazy. Paraphrasing means that you rewrite an idea or thought in your own words. It’s not plagiarism since you aren’t directly taking the words from someone else, but like walking on a tightrope, it’s easy to tip over and fall into plagiarism. 

Remember, with paraphrasing, you’re still using someone else’s idea and therefore must cite your source. 

Don’t Forget Quotations.

Quotation marks (these guys, “) are an excellent way to indicate that you, the writer are not the speaker and are quoting someone else. You should use quotation marks to reiterate what someone said verbatim, like an interview, expert commentary, official statements, etc. Also, be sure to cite your source!

Say Something New

Be sure to add your original thoughts, ideas, experiences, and interpretations of the material you’re working with to avoid plagiarizing. 

Your audience is interested in your take on the topics you write about. They aren’t as interested in generic, boilerplate information as with custom thoughts and ideas you want to communicate with them.

Take writing as an opportunity to express your thoughts and perspectives on topics relevant to your audience—answer their questions, offer new ways of thinking about a topic, share your expertise, etc.

Run Your Content Through A Plagiarism Checker 

Once you’re confident that you’ve cited your sources, used quotation marks, and written an original piece of content, the last thing you can do is to run your article through software that checks for plagiarism. These programs can detect plagiarism and help ensure that your writing is original and playing by the rules. 

Write Often

The only way to get better at something is to practice—the same is true with plagiarism. Get into the habit of citing your sources and interacting with the incredible creators out there, all while keeping your work, well, yours

Maybe Mark Twain was right when he said, “There is no such thing as a new idea…they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

Maybe there aren’t “new” ideas, but there are your unique experiences, thoughts, and perspectives about those ideas. 

Be sure to keep creating new colors (and your eyes on your own paper).

Thanks so much for tuning in!

Until next time.