3 steps for avoiding plagiarism

Words of wisdom will stick in your head and, without your realizing it, can end up in an article or blog post under your byline. Diligence and software can keep you out of hot water.

We all know that plagiarism is wrong. It was drummed into our heads in every English class we ever took, and it’s a surefire way to sabotage a writing career.

It happens, though, and cribbing content from another source isn’t always premeditated; it’s often an unthinking act of assimilation. We see and hear language that has been plagiarized more than we might think.

For example, political speech and ghostwriters frequently face allegations of plagiarism. The most likely reason for this is that speech writers are often discouraged from being “creative.” Political speeches typically thrive on the familiar. Writers are encouraged to stay within certain boundaries and provide generalized ideas with which many people can identify.

There have been several recent noteworthy cases—most notably the uproar over the multiple similarities between Melania Trump’s Republican convention speech and first lady Michelle Obama’s original address at the Democratic convention eight years earlier.

Hillary Clinton has been accused of plagiarizing large sections of text in a number of speeches she made while she was secretary of state. She has also reused some content she wrote in a review of “World Order” by Henry Kissinger, an article published in The Washington Post in September 2014.

MSNB talk show host Rachel Maddow has accused Sen. Rand Paul of lifting certain sections from a Wikipedia article about a sci-fi movie called “Gattaca.”

Paul said he has implemented safeguards to prevent any plagiarism in the future, and Clinton has conceded lifting rhetoric from other sources.

It doesn’t matter what exactly you write—a political speech, a screenplay, a short story or anything else—it makes sense to ensure the originality of your writing. Plagiarism is tricky: There are different forms, and sometimes it’s difficult to recognize it. So, here are three tips on how to avoid plagiarism in your writing:

1. Conduct extensive research.

As a writer, I know that research is a significant part of the process—especially when you’re writing informative content. Doing your own original research will help you avoid the trap of unwittingly using other writers’ ideas and language.

2. Cite properly.

Any facts that aren’t considered “common knowledge” must be cited, especially if you’re writing an academic paper. A blog article won’t always have the same level of rigidity as an academic paper, but you still don’t want to copy information directly.

Instead, put your spin on it by mixing that idea with one of your own. This will allow you to use previously published information you need without plagiarizing.

If you’re going to cite information from other sources, tell your readers where you got it. You can try using RefME, a citation generator, which cites any type of source (book, video, blog post, legal bill, review and many others) in different styles.

3. Use plagiarism detection software.

Another useful tool (and it comes in handy if you’re writing online content) is a plagiarism checker, which will check your work for any sections or phrases that have been previously published. I ould recommend you use Unplag, which is great for this type of checking. It could save your job and your writing career.

Plagiarism, even when unintended, is the enemy of any professional writer. Writers can prevent such problems from occurring by using online checkers or citation generators.

Leona Hinton is a blogger, freelance editor and writer from Chicago. She blogs at Edufoxy.com. A version of this article originally appeared on FreelancersUnion.org.

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