Plagiarism is something everyone learns about in school at one point or another. Students are taught that while sources can (and should) be used for inspiration or research, it’s not OK to copy original content from other students or from published sources.
Dedicated writing and journalism courses delve even deeper into what it means to plagiarize, as well as the many reasons why it’s an absolute no-no. Yet even established journalists are sometimes still caught plagiarizing.
What it does and does not mean to plagiarize can be even harder to determine when it comes to content writing, but it’s crucial to know the difference. Where does inspiration stop and plagiarism begin? Here’s an overview of what to know and be aware of.
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What Is Plagiarism?
The term plagiarism describes the act of passing off another person’s work, ideas, insights, or research as your own. It is critical to attribute any such ideas must be properly to the original source at all times. Otherwise, it’s still “stealing”, even if you have the original author’s permission to duplicate it.
Many content writers are also sometimes guilty of a borderline form of plagiarism called patchwriting.
A writer using this technique may technically rewrite a source by switching a few words around or perhaps mixing up the sentence structure. However, this is not enough to make the content original.
Common Types of Plagiarism
Plagiarism is more than copying and pasting text from one source to another without permission. There are a few different types to learn about to help you prevent them from popping up in your work.
Direct plagiarism is the most common type and is the type that most people refer to when discussing the topic.
The author copies words from someone else directly without attribution. It can be a few sentences or several paragraphs or pages. In extreme cases, an entire draft gets copied from another source.
How to Prevent Direct Plagiarism
The easiest way to prevent directly plagiarising content is to attribute the original writer and indicate when something is a direct quote.
For example, adding quotation marks and italicizing the text can illustrate that that piece of text is transcribed from another source.
Also, remember that direct plagiarism is what online plagiarism checkers check for. Other types of plagiarism are harder to detect but still can be found when using plagiarism detection software.
In this case, plagiarism comes as paraphrasing another writer’s words without attribution.
For example, a writer may use a specific turn of phrase or borrow passages to make the same point. In more indirect forms, this scenario can happen when a writer copies another’s style or specific talking points, again without attribution.
How to Prevent Mosaic Plagiarism
This kind of plagiarism can be harder to detect, especially if the writer isn’t always copying text directly.
The best way to prevent it is to double-check the piece while editing. Check if any passages seem out of place or if the style of the piece is very similar to other content.
At first, self-plagiarism may seem harmless or innocuous, but it can lead to real-world problems. Even if you’re technically the source, you must be careful where you use your material. For example, if you’re writing material for two publications and use the same content for each, there could be accusations of plagiarism from readers.
How to Prevent Self-Plagiarism
Avoid using the same language in multiple pieces. Even if the content is very similar, creating something unique for each piece is crucial. If self-plagiarism is inevitable, you need to get permission from all involved parties.
In this case, the writer copies information or writing styles from someone else without intent. This occurrence can overlap with others, making it harder to spot and even more difficult to prove.
However, since it’s virtually impossible to verify if someone acted intentionally or not, this type can be perceived as direct plagiarism, leading to new problems.
How to Prevent Accidental Plagiarism
Double and triple-check your content to see if plagiarism checkers note any plagiarised text. Checking programs can also help find any duplicated passages. From there, you can adjust the text until it’s almost all original.
Plagiarism in Content Marketing
Plagiarism is a bad look any way you slice it and can add up to consequences for anyone involved in it. But content marketers need to be especially careful.
The following are some ways any form of plagiarism can hurt a brand or a content agency.
Plagiarism can lead to legal trouble
Plagiarism is more than just unethical. If the original creator or copyright owner discovers it, it could lead to a lawsuit and public accusations.
If you run a content agency and accidentally sell plagiarized material to a client, you could get them into trouble, as well.
Website owners and content creators found guilty of publishing plagiarized content or imagery can face hefty fines, costly lawsuits, or both. Problems like these can even be serious enough to end a small business.
Plagiarism tanks your SEO
SEO is all about filling your website, blog, and landing pages with incredible original material that genuinely serves search engine users.
Plagiarized content is the very opposite, regardless of how good the content is. If reported and detected, it can damage your hard-won SERP rankings.
Once Google flags your site as a publisher of stolen, plagiarized, or just plain unoriginal content, it can be hard to correct the situation. This is especially true if you’re ever slammed with actual Google penalties.
Plagiarism damages an audience’s trust
A brand’s ability to win an audience’s trust is a crucial part of its ultimate success. Because while it takes time and many instances of acting in good faith to win someone’s trust, it only takes one bad incident to destroy all that hard work.
Modern consumers’ and readers’ memories also tend to be long, so it can take a very long time and a lot of hard work to regain their trust once it’s lost.
Plus, as bad a look as plagiarism and unoriginality can be for your business, original content that brings something fresh to the table can be the exact opposite. Originality is definitely the key to gaining a competitive edge over others in your niche or industry.
How Plagiarism Affects SEO
Plagiarism is already unethical, but it’s also impractical. Since a big part of your content marketing strategy involves search engine optimization, you want to avoid practices that will hurt your rankings on different search results.
Plagiarism can cause your link to dip significantly for a few reasons:
When you copy material from another source, you’re not adding any insight or value to the reader. None of it will rise above the rest when everyone copies the same information. Instead, Google puts the oldest material first since it assumes that newer versions are copies of the original.
Google only wants high-value content for its users, so it penalizes sites that repeatedly use plagiarized material. That’s not to say you must have 100 percent original writing on each page. For example, boilerplate text or calls-to-action can use nearly identical language without getting docked. Only material that looks plagiarized from another source will fall in the ranks.
Lack of Indexing
Search engine web crawlers are learning to index and crawl pages from reputable and authoritative sites. If your website looks like most of its content is plagiarized, crawlers will avoid it. When your site isn’t indexed correctly, it will be harder to find in search results.
How to Check for Plagiarism and Avoid It
Again, the line between using a source as inspiration for your own original work and plagiarizing it can get blurry, so it’s always best to play it safe. Here are some tactics, tips, and techniques for staying on the proper side of things.
Know when to use quotations
Anytime you want or need to include a source’s exact words in your own content, section it off inside quotation marks. Also, cite the source so that it’s clear where the quote came from and that you’re not claiming it as your own.
When in doubt, use citations
When it comes to plagiarism, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. This includes the circumstances when you’re referencing or otherwise alluding to someone else’s original idea. When in doubt, cite and link to the source, taking care to also include the publication date and full name.
Embrace your own original ideas
Instead of trying to paraphrase another source’s ideas in a way that’s unique enough to pass as totally original, start channeling original ideas of your own. Ask yourself what you can bring to the larger conversation about this topic that’s never been said before.
Keep in mind that while it’s true that almost no idea is truly new, there’s one guaranteed ace every content creator has in their back pocket – their own unique perspective. No one else has your exact point of view or perspective, so look for ways to incorporate that into your content.
Use a plagiarism checker
One of the best, most reliable ways to make certain plagiarism isn’t a problem is to use a plagiarism checker. Checkers will scan the web for any matches that could potentially be problematic so you can be sure your content is original.
Top 4 Plagiarism Checkers
Whether you create your own content or outsource it from somewhere else, it’s always a good idea to check it for plagiarism. Fortunately, there are many programs to help you with this process. Here are four that we like.
Grammarly is already one of the top web-based programs to help you refine your writing. This program is better than others because it’s more nuanced and catches more instances of self or accidental plagiarism.
However, you can do more with it than look for better word choices or reduce instances of passive voice. Grammarly can also check your work against thousands of articles online immediately.
Copyscape is pretty much the gold standard when it comes to online plagiarism checkers. Most professionals use it, as do many websites and academic institutions.
This program looks mostly for instances of direct plagiarism but can also catch some mosaic or accidental plagiarism. This affordable tool can help you verify whether new material is copied.
WriterAccess takes plagiarism entirely out of the equation by automatically running each order through Copyscape before calling it publish-ready.
Realistically, it’s impossible to create something 100 percent unique. Plagscan works by rating pieces on a percentage system. As long as the content ranks within the optimal range, it’s suitable for publishing.
However, if the plagiarism percentage is too high, you should revise the affected text. Plagscan also provides a detailed report so you can go through lines individually.
Unicheck is mostly used for academic purposes, especially checking against textbooks and other educational resources.
Since students must use the source material for their papers, Unicheck looks for semantic word choices and unique talking points. Then, its reports showcase instances of potential direct plagiarism so that professors can make a final decision.
Upgrade Your Marketing Strategy With Plagiarism-Free Content
You know the value of content marketing for a business, but scaling up production can be tricky when outsourcing your writing.
Whether you’re a content creator who writes for a living or a brand manager looking to hire freelance talent, consider doing business through a trusted platform like WriterAccess.
Fortunately, with WriterAccess, you can connect with world-class talent in all fields.
Writers are pre-vetted for quality, and you can be confident that every piece is original and unique. They’re automatically checked for plagiarism before approval; if anything gets flagged, the writer has to revise and resubmit at no additional cost.
Try WriterAccess for free for two weeks, and start scaling your content marketing today.