What is Plagiarism?

Simply put, plagiarism is the practice of representing someone else’s intellectual property as your own. Even if it’s accidental, it’s still plagiarism.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a historical account of how food systems evolved after Europeans began their colonial missions around the world. After some reading, you find a great example in Charles C. Mann’s book, ‘1493’ of how trade affected the global food system. You reference Mann’s introductory insight, to wit: “The exchange took corn (maize) to Africa and sweet potatoes to East Asia, horses and apples, to the Americas, and rhubarb and eucalyptus to Europe”, but you change around a few words, maybe change ‘apples’ to ‘fruit’, and ‘horses’ to just ‘animals’. While it might be exactly what you were looking for, if you fail to make it clear that you’re referencing Mr. Mann’s work, then it is plagiarism!

So, you probably get the gist of what plagiarism looks like. If you don’t, here’s a resource that might help.

Why does it matter?

Glad you asked. Passing off someone’s intellectual property as your own is not only wrong, it’s often illegal and can have hefty consequences if not taken seriously. These consequences can vary in scope depending on the context in which plagiarism was discovered.

Let’s say … you’re a college student, you’re in your senior year, you’ve racked up $80,000 in debt for your degree so far, and one day you get a notice that your last term paper is now being investigated for plagiarism. You could be looking at complete expulsion from your school, leaving you with a mountain of debt and nothing to show for it. I’d venture to say that the few hours that bit of plagiarism saved you was not worth $80,000 worth of debt and the humiliation of being thrown out of school.

Let’s say … you’re a budding writer or journalist and you’re not careful about the way you credit your sources. News and editorial institutions take plagiarism just as seriously—if not more so—than academia. Regardless of whether or not it was intentional, that carelessness will likely cost you your job. It may even trigger a lawsuit. Again, failure to diligently and routinely check your own work for plagiarism is dangerous; and it’s not where you want to be cutting corners.

How can I be sure I haven’t plagiarized?

Keeping this issue in mind as you begin writing is already setting you on the path to preventing plagiarism, but it’s not enough. Listed below are several powerful strategies you can use to ensure that you are not stealing someone else’s work.

1. Use a plagiarism checker

Arguably, the most convenient way to prevent accidental plagiarism is to simply run your content through a plagiarism checker like Quetext. There are many plagiarism checkers out there, some free, some not; just make sure that the one you choose checks more sites than just Wikipedia. Quetext, for instance, checks the entire internet, the Library of Congress, billions of private database files, academic research, professional journals – even books written hundreds of years ago and websites that no longer exist. In addition, it checks against sources coming from eight different languages, just to make sure you’re covered.

Using advanced machine learning algorithms, Quetext will even give you a report summarizing the percentage certainty of plagiarism. Be sure to incorporate a plagiarism checker into your content creation process. Technology is there to help – so use it!

2. Always cite your sources

It doesn’t matter if you use MLA, Chicago, or APA, just make sure you’re giving credit where credit is due. If you want to use an amazing concept, idea, quote—anything to enhance your content and further the point you’re making—it’s completely acceptable, but only if you’ve given the proper credit to the original author!

3. Don‘t Copy/Paste

When using sources, don’t copy/paste and then change the words. Type up what you’ve learned from the source in your own words, then cite that source using the strategy above. The exception, of course, is if you’re including a direct quotation, but you should still make it clear that the statement doesn’t belong to you by wrapping the quote in one of the various accepted formats (for example, “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet…”)

To wrap up, plagiarism is serious business. If you’re a student, blogger, author, journalist, professor or just about anyone generating written content, being unaware of the risks of plagiarism may have dire consequences. Don’t let carelessness or ignorance about plagiarism cost you your education, career, reputation, and livelihood. Make sure you’re incorporating the above best practices into your writing process every day. Creating a workflow that includes citations, quotations, and plagiarism checks will always keep you on the right path.

Follow our blog for updates and don’t forget to check out Quetext’s powerful plagiarism-detection software.

Happy writing!