Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism

I recently crossed paths with Nikolas Baron and he asked if I’d be willing to host him for a guest blog here on My Art to Inspire. When I heard the topic he wanted to blog about – plagiarism – I jumped at the opportunity to have him share his thoughts. There’s more to plagiarism than the outright copying of someone’s work and I hope you find value in what Nikolas has shared.

So without further adieu, here’s Nikolas’ guest blog…

Plagiarism is one of those dirty words that all writers hope to avoid, but very few actually understand what it is or how easy it is to fall into its trap. The most common view of plagiarism is the one where the writer consciously and knowingly copies another writer’s work without giving him or her credit. This can be because of everything from a lack of ethics to just plain laziness. Whatever the reason, however, it doesn’t change the fact that taking another writer’s work and not giving him or her credit is plagiarism.

Likewise, a less common, but no less serious form of plagiarism is born out of ignorance. In these cases, the writer just doesn’t know better. For example, perhaps the writer read something a few years ago, and something stuck with him or her so much that when it came time to lay down words, some of that original work found its way in. Or, maybe the writer comes from a culture where artistic works don’t belong to the creator, but rather belong to everyone, and everyone is free to use them. Regardless of the cause, all of these instances are still plagiarism, and because of that, the writer must ultimately pay the price of that plagiarism, which can include a failing grade in an academic setting or financial penalties out in the real world.

Because of this, it is important for all writers to guard themselves well against the chance of plagiarism by actively working to avoid both intentional and accidental plagiarism at all costs. Here are a few tips to help writers avoid plagiarism to ensure that he or she is giving appropriate credit where credit is due.

  • Cite, Cite, Cite: Using someone else’s words isn’t the part of plagiarism that gets most writers in trouble. It’s using someone else’s words without giving him or her credit. In order to avoid this, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of citing secondary sources as they are used. Some writers may put off citation until the end of a manuscript, but this can sometimes lead to accidental plagiarism if he or she forgets to do so. Instead, get into the habit of citing often and clearly.
  • Study: Another common place where plagiarism may accidentally occur is when a writer doesn’t understand the material well enough. Often, because of this lack of understanding, a writer feels like he or she doesn’t know enough to write about the source in his or her own words, which is one of the ways to avoid plagiarism. By putting the information from another source into his or her own words, a writer can use some of the ideas (with appropriate credit, of course) but not directly copy from the source. And in order to do that, the writer needs to have a working knowledge of not only the source, but the topic in general, and the only way to achieve that is to study the material clearly and often. When a writer feels like he or she has a good enough grasp of the source to successfully explain it to someone else, he or she is ready to incorporate it into his or her writing.
  • Get Help: No matter what skill level a writer is, there’s a chance that some incidental plagiarism may sneak through. To avoid this, it’s a good idea to have an additional set of eyes on the manuscript, checking it over for plagiarism. While it’s perfectly suitable to have a friend or teacher perform this function, that is often not enough. After all, it’s impossible for one person to know all of the information ever written and be able to identify it in a writer’s work. Instead, consider Grammarly’s plagiarism check. This will scan a writer’s manuscript and compare chunks of it to written works all over the Internet, ultimately returning a result of how common the text in the original work is. This can be an invaluable resource in finding and fixing accidental plagiarism.

While the causes of plagiarism can vary, so can the punishments. Sometimes, the writer gets off with just a slap on the wrist, while other times, he or she may find the punishment much more severe. It’s never worth it, however, to tempt fate and gamble with plagiarism. Instead, writers should take the time to build habits of integrity, so that plagiarism, accidental or intentional, never enters the picture.

By Nikolas Baron


About Nikolas Baron

Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.