How to Avoid Accidentally Plagiarizing Someone Else’s Work
In this day and age, plagiarism has become a big threat to every writer out there. Not just in terms of having their work stolen by others, but the possibility of someone claiming their work was stolen from them as well.
Writers find themselves caught on both sides of the spectrum, sometimes without even realizing it, and the consequences can be dire if caught in that whirlwind.
Plagiarism is much more than just copying someone else’s writing word for word. It can come in different forms, here are some common ones:
- Stealing someone else’s writing and presenting it as yours without references and citations
- Taking someone else’s work, paraphrasing it, and passing it off as your own
- Using content you’ve previously published and reusing its parts in something new (self-plagiarism)
As it’s become apparent by now, plagiarism isn’t merely about stealing someone else’s work. Self-plagiarism, as in re-using your own work, is an issue as well. Which is something that many writers fail to recognize before it is too late.
The concept dates decades back and remains a buzzword in the world of writers even today. The only difference is that the consequences are only growing bigger, which makes it more important than ever to avoid it in your writing.
Consequences of Plagiarism
One author that has seen both ends of this debacle is Nora Roberts. Nora Roberts is known to be a hallmark in the writing industry, with over 200 books under her belt, she was even listed in the top 50 of Forbes’ 2018 list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women. Aside from the plagiarism suit against Janet Dailey in the late nineties, she’s had a couple more public brushes with plagiarism recently. In December 2018, debut author Tomi Adeyemi claimed that Nora Roberts had plagiarised her book’s title “Children of Blood and Bone” in her own recent release “Of Blood and Bone”, to which Roberts responded that “you can’t copyright a title”. Fast forward to April this year, where Roberts has filed another suit against Brazilian author Cristiane Serruya who had apparently plagiarized a few of her works, as well as others, and mashed them together to create her own.
The copyright law is what guarantees writers legal protection in cases like these. While it can vary from one country to another, it’s valid to protect authors from content theft. As such, victimized parties are entitled to compensation for the copied work. In the case where a self-publisher is caught using plagiarism, such as with the previous case, the consequences can range from embarrassment to lawsuits and immense settlements.
Depending on where you are and the degree of plagiarism committed, the penalty can be small or big. Regardless, it will affect you on a professional, personal, and maybe even financial and legal levels. The digital era has made it possible for people to catch plagiarism almost instantly. As an author, you can’t possibly allow this to be the end of your social standing and reputation as a book writer.
Some of the most common consequences that come from plagiarizing are:
Destruction of your reputation
This can hurt you more than any financial loss or legal consequence. If you get caught plagiarizing others’ work in your book, you might never be able to sell a book – ever! After all, this is a mark that will besmirch your reputation, one you’ll never be able to get rid of. If you plagiarized before, how can we be sure anything else you write is your own?
Plagiarism is a very serious matter. The person whose content you stole can easily sue you and win. In some occasions, it can even be considered a criminal offense and result in a jail sentence. This is why schools teach kids since they’re young not to plagiarize. The offense might not seem so dire at a young age, but when they’re out in the real world, there are actual legal charges involved. As Peter Smith, a writer at the best dissertation writing service says, “Plagiarism has to be understood from a young age. It can ruin a student’s reputation in the eyes of the entire school and, in the worst case scenario – get him expelled or cost him a scholarship. But, if he does this when he’s an adult, an entire set of legal consequences will follow.’’
Most legal charges result in a big financial loss. A plagiarist who’s sued by an author can end up having to pay a huge chunk of their money in penalties for his actions. It might even surpass all the money he’s made from his plagiarized work.
Banned from Organizations or Communities
A person who plagiarizes can be banned from an academic institution, a literary club, a literary organization, and even the writing community altogether. This is why plagiarism is widely forbidden all around the world, including the academic institutions where young people first learn to create only original work. Professors now use advanced software to check for such fraudulent behavior and, when they catch a student in the act, a punishment usually follows.
How to Avoid Plagiarism in Your Book
Now that you know the repercussions of plagiarizing, let’s talk about prevention. It’s not always easy, as some cases of plagiarism can actually happen accidentally. Unlike intentional plagiarism which is deliberate and will obviously cause you trouble, accidental plagiarism is something you won’t notice right away.
Accidental plagiarism is a very common issue in the literary world. There are probably many occasions in your life where you wonder whether someone else has already written something similar to yours, or if you got the idea from something you read.
Thankfully, there’s a solution. With the myriad of plagiarism tools available, editing companies, and the rest of the tricks discussed below, you can finally ensure that you avoid plagiarism at all costs.
1. Use Plagiarism Detectors
You’ll find many tools that can detect plagiarism and using more than one is much safer than using a single detector. Most authors use the most popular tool for this which is Copyscape. To be on the safe side though, you should definitely add some more to your list before you publish your book. Some other good ones are Plagscan, Grammarly, and Plagiarism Check.
2. Hire a Professional
As an author, it might be difficult to do it on your own, which is why you should probably hire a professional to help you check your writing for plagiarism. Services such as edu birdie can help you not only check your writing for mistakes, which is essential but also check your work for plagiarism. You can also forgo the whole problematic scene and hire someone to do the writing for you. This is usually referred to as Ghostwriting, this article can explain all you need to know on Understanding Ghostwriting. There are many services out there where you can find the best writer for your work, such as Upwork, Reedsy.
3. Look for Books with the Same Title
The aforementioned case with Nora Roberts and Tomi Adeyemi might not have gone far, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. A deep online search will let you know if another author chose your book’s title within a very short time. Check the popular book sites and some online libraries to see if your title is already used by another author.
4. Organize Every Source Properly and Take Your Time
To reduce the odds of a plagiarism scandal that can ruin your reputation and your career, take your time with the sources. You must learn how to cite and reference properly and pay attention to every detail. The citation part that comes at the end of your new book must be threaded with care. If you choose to replicate a paragraph or quote, put quotes and references and organize it as per the copyright guidelines.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Inspiration from Others
Because of the fear of accidental plagiarism, many writers don’t read others’ work at all. Yes, this can happen, but where will you get inspiration if you don’t read what others wrote? You can always get inspiration about the story, characters, and even some figures of speech to use in your writing, as long as you don’t copy the specifics other writers used.
As a book writer, you must read as often and as carefully as you can. This will help you build your skills, give you inspiration and motivation, and keep you informed on what the audience looks for in writing.
6. When in Doubt, Always Give Credit
When you feel unsure about whether you’ve used another person’s work as a source or an idea, always choose to take the safest road. Even if the representation of the idea is original and you don’t have to cite the source of inspiration, always give credit when in doubt. This will keep you safe from plagiarism and the consequences that come with it.
7. Be Careful with Online Sources
Online sources can be tricky to use in book writing. Printed sources almost always have the proper accreditation, but many websites don’t. So, when using content from a website, always cite the link as a source and not the website. This way, even if the site didn’t do proper referencing, you won’t be the one to blame.
8. Learn the Standard for Acknowledgements
There will be times when you’ll have doubts about referencing and citation of sources, but if you learn the standards and requirements, these occasions will be very, very rare. Here is what you must document in your writing:
- Summaries, quotations, paraphrases
When you choose to use an author’s content without paraphrasing, use quotation marks and indent the passages that have more than four lines. However, whenever possible, try to avoid quotations that are too long.
If you choose to summarize or paraphrase someone else’s idea or writing, make sure that you still name and reference the source. It is always good to mention an author’s name when you use their idea, even if you don’t use their original words.
- Facts that you use as evidence
Research is an essential part of book writing. Because of this, you’ll often have to use evidence to support your interpretation, story, or argument. When you use facts, learn whether the facts are common knowledge or an author’s own work. Common knowledge does not have to be referenced, but facts that can be disputed or originate from someone else’s work definitely must.
People tend to fall into the trap of forgetting to do that and claiming the thoughts as theirs. Once again, if you aren’t certain about this, take the safe road. Cite the source where you found the fact, but make sure it’s an authoritative source and that you cite it properly.
- Ideas that you agree and disagree with
Other people’s ideas can enrich your writing and support your ideas. Here, the way you introduce the reference is equally important as using it. Why? Because you don’t just have to reference someone else’s idea, but also find a way to do this that the reader will understand whether you agree with it or not.
The Bottom Line
Plagiarism is dangerous. You can find yourself at either end of it without realizing it. Which is why you should take your own precautions.
As a book writer, you need to not only think of an idea but also research that idea and turn it into readable, understandable, and most importantly – impressive content that the readers will love. But that’s not all, a writer must understand and comply with the legal and community requirements related to originality. You can’t just steal someone else’s work and not tell anyone about it. In the digital age, this will come out very fast and cost you your reputation, your money, and maybe even your freedom.
Knowing all this, you need to do your best to avoid plagiarism in your next book. The tips above will tell you what needs to be done to reduce the odds of accidental plagiarism.