avoiding plagiarism

The Guide to understanding and avoiding Plagiarism

Although this term was invented and used since the roman era, plagiarism seems to be a buzzword these days. From authors to artists, we see a lot of people tweeting and re-tweeting about plagiarism. One of the most recent plagiarism outrages was when the veteran reporter of The Washington Post, Lisa Rein, was accused and proved of plagiarizing contents from Government Executive. While the word plagiarism was added to the dictionary back in 1755, there are many theories that state that the word has been in use for more than 2 centuries before that. Derived from the Latin word plagium, which means kidnapping, plagiarism is described as the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.In this article, you will learn what plagiarism actually is, several familiar examples of plagiarism in the literary world, repercussions of plagiarism, various online tools that can be used to detect plagiarisms, and the best practices to avoid plagiarism. Here is the guide to understanding and avoiding plagiarism.

There are two kinds of plagiarism: accidental and intentional. Accidental plagiarism is something where an author unintentionally and accidentally replicates a content that he or she read, saw, or heard somewhere before. This can be something as simple as copying someones style to as complicated as copying someones whole story into a new novel. Intentional plagiarism, on the other hand, is more intense as an author deliberately replicates work of another author and passes it off as his or hers own. While the latter is completely based on authors ethics and moral policies, the former happens due to sheer negligence of the authors. Accidental plagiarism is common in the literary sector. If you are an author, there would have been more than one instance where you wondered if the plot that you have in mind is something that is already written or not. One cannot obviously read all the books in the world. According to research, if your reading time is about 250 words per minute, and you read books for eight hours a day all through the weekdays, then it will take five years and four months to read the books that were published in the United Kingdom in one week. Imagine how long will it take to read all the books that exist. Probably, a few hundred lifetimes or even more. While all these may sound scary, avoiding accidental plagiarism is easy; you must make sure that you do not replicate anything that you have read.

What is Plagiarism and What is Not?

Innovations are well appreciated for the sole reason that they are novel. However, not every innovation is novel in each and every aspect. Especially, in the field of literature and arts, being innovative doesnt exactly mean or intend that one must build everything from the scratch. After all, to create a great piece of literary work, you need to use the same old alphabets that William Shakespeare or Charles Dickens used. The line between what is considered to be plagiarism and what is not is very thin; it completely depends on whether you are taking inspirations, referring to anothers persons work, or if you are owning it. If you use another persons work and give due references and credits back to them, it is not considered to be plagiarism. However, it is a bit tricky when there are copyright issues involved. Certain contents are not meant to be replaced in any form, anywhere without prior consent from the author. If you happen to use a quote, a paragraph, or a piece of art that belongs to someone else and tag it as yours, then it is a sure shot plagiarism.

Repercussions of Plagiarism:

The penalty for plagiarism can be hard and heavy. The penalty will affect you personally, professionally, ethically, and legally. In this digital era, plagiarism is caught in an alarming rate. Thanks to social media, even plagiarism in art and novels get caught easily and are shared virally across the web. If you are once accused of plagiarism,  it is most likely that you will lose your social stature. Although accidental plagiarism is not as malicious as intentional plagiarism, both are treated equally when it comes to legal penalty. Some of the repercussions of plagiarism are:

  1. Destruction to ones reputation: This is the biggest repercussion of plagiarism. If one gets caught for plagiarizing content, in the current era, he/she will be digitally shamed. Unlike old era, where news fades away after few weeks or months, in the digital era, the destruction is irrevocable as it will be omnipresent in the web.
  2. Pressing of Legal Charges: The legal repercussions of plagiarism are indeed very serious. The copyright infringement laws are fixed. If one uses another persons material without proper citation and/or reference, the original author has every right to sue the plagiarist. If you think that this is not such a hard repercussion, you are wrong as some plagiarism can be deemed a criminal offense, and this will possibly lead the plagiarist to a jail sentence.
  3. Monetary Loss: Apart from jail sentence, a plagiarist can also be sued by the original author to return all the money he earned through the plagiarized work. Apart from that, additional monetary penalties can be levied too.
  4. Prohibition and Ban from the Community: Proved plagiarism charges may also lead the plagiarist to be banned from the institution, like schools or colleges, the community, like literary club or artists club, or the organization, like corporate or medical institutes.

Online Plagiarism Detection Tools:

There are a lot of online tools that detect plagiarism. While Copyscape still remains to be the oldest, popular, original, and the most used plagiarism checker, here are some of the top few free tools that you, as writers, can use to check the uniqueness of your content

  1. Grammarly: This website not only detect plagiarism, by comparing your document across 8 billion web pages, in minutes, but it also proofreads your content for 200+ grammatical errors. Rated by Forbes as a quick and easy tool for writing, Grammarly has a free as well as a premium version.
  2. Plagscan: With easy and user-friendly design, Plagscan provides accurate results on any plagiarism check. It also gathers reports to know from where exactly the content was plagiarised.
  3. Whitesmoke: With inbuilt plagiarism checking feature that is so robust, this plagiarism detection tool is very essential to check plagiarised contents on your website or blogs. With amazing and easy grammar-check tools, this tool is a clear competitor to Grammarly.
  4. Article Checker: This is by far our personal favourite plagiarism detection tool. The USP of this tool is that it does not require you to sign-up or subscribe for anything. You do not even have to upload your file. You can merely copy-paste your content and get it checked for plagiarism within seconds.
  5. Duplichecker: Similar to Article Checker, this tool also allows you to copy-paste your content, and check it for plagiarism in a span of few seconds for completely free of cost.
  6. Plagiarism Check: This is the best alternative one can get for Copyscape. With support to all forms of documents and unlimited word count compatibility, this is all a writer needs to keep a check on plagiarism.

Best Practices to Avoid Plagiarism in the Digital Era:

Though eradicating intentional plagiarism cannot be done completely, there are a lot of ways with which one can prevent accidental plagiarism. If you are a writer or anyone with a creative mind, these are the best practices that you should follow to avoid creating plagiarized content unintentionally:

  1. Check and double-check basics: If you are an author, the main thing that you should be mindful of is to make sure you do not plagiarize even unknowingly is the title and the book cover. Check on websites like Goodreads to know if your preferred book title already exists. Similarly, do a reverse image search on Google with the sketch of your proposed book cover.
  2. Be realistic always: Some of the biggest plagiarism scandals happen when people set unrealistic goals. Becoming a bestseller with the first book is not just impossible, but it is improbable, most of the times. Dr. Seuss, who apparently has a reading awareness day celebrated on his birthday, had his book rejected 27 times. Some authors want to get instant success and end up replicating passages from classic novels that they have read in their life.
  3. Manage your time as wisely as possible: One of the best methods to be innovative is to manage your time. With a well-planned and a procrastination-free schedule on various stages of your writing, you can be sure of achieving a daily target. This way you would not get stuck with tight deadlines. One of the major reasons for people to copy or replicate pre-existing contents is lack of time.
  4. Always keep your sources organized and cite accordingly: Most of the plagiarism scandals happen in the genre of mythology or history as these need to take inspiration from the past works. When you are taking inspirations, keep those sources organized, and cite every source at the end of your book. Also, never replicate a whole paragraph unless it is crucial to do so. Even if you do replicate a quote or a paragraph, try to put it inside quotes and give references at the end of the page or after the quote.
  5. Have a Beta Reader: Even after having your book edited, sometimes, there are chances that there might be a subtle chance of missing something or other that might cause a copyright issue. Ask an avid reader-friend of yours to do a beta reading to figure out errors of any sort.
  6. Learn & Unlearn: One of the best ways to improve one as a writer is to read. However, one must completely unlearn whatever they learnt, before writing. Stick on to generics and do not copy the specifics. You can draw inspirations for characterization, story building, figure of speech, etc, but you should not replicate any content, narration style, suspense, or anything that screams that it is a trademark of that author.
  7. Be well-aware of copyright laws: As a professional writer, to plagiarize content is a not only an ethical issue but also a legal one. Therefore, know your copyright laws well, before using any online or offline contents in your work. Read our blog on 5 legal issues every author should be aware of here.

The digital era has its own advantages to disadvantages when it comes to plagiarism. The major disadvantage is, as discussed before, the tendency of people to research and read a lot on a certain topic, replicating the same content, and passing it off as theirs. Plagiarism, in any form, is a heavy offence to the author and to anyone who is creative, and no one can understand this as good as writers. As writers, it is our moral responsibility to fight against plagiarism and always follow these best practices.

 

 

 

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Aishwarya Mukundarajan

Aishwarya is an MBA graduate from Symbiosis International University, Pune. When asked what her hobbies are she points to an overflowing bookcase.

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