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Plagiarism: What It Is and How To Avoid It
by Krista Barrett

This article provides the necessary steps to avoid plagiarism - a MUST-READ for all writers.

Plagiarize - "To present the ideas or words of another as one’s own". (The New Merriam-Webster Dictionary – 1989)

With writer-outlets like The Vines, writeforcash.com, writtenbyme.com and others offering us a chance to submit and 'publish' our writing, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, and get paid for it, I think it’s easy for writers to get excited and start writing anything and everything we can get our minds to focus on.

Recently, there has been a growing concern at the amount of plagiarism cropping up in articles. Perhaps it’s due to a lack of knowledge and basic ignorance to the do’s and don’ts of writing (especially non-fiction writing), or maybe it’s the rush to get more writing submitted to make more money. All in all, I think it’s happening without many writers realizing they’re doing it and there is a serious need for concern here.

It's been said that all writers get their ideas/words from another writer. What we learn from reading is what we build on in writing. But that doesn't give us the right to use someone else's words without giving them the proper credit where credit is due.

The reason for this article? To warn everyone that there are specific steps that must be taken in order to ensure your articles are yours, and to save you from the possibility of legal/illegal situations that can arise if you don’t write smart. So let’s get started!

**Note: This article will mostly pertain to non-fiction writing, but fiction writers beware as well.

The steps to avoid plagiarism:

1) First and foremost, all information on the Internet is not ‘free-for-all’ to use at your leisure.

I think this is a very common misconception and understandably so. The Internet has become a gateway to unending information. It’s so easy to look up a subject or topic and find pages upon pages that offer you easy-to-use information for your articles. Some of you may say, ‘well yeah I used some of that information but I changed it all to my own words’. Sorry, that’s not quite good enough according to what I’ve read on plagiarism.

Be aware of your writing and make sure that you are not copying someone else's words in any way. Yes, this can make writing very tricky but that’s what makes it YOUR article.

2) Permission MUST be obtained when using outside sources.

With any information that you glean from the Internet or any other source, you "must first ask permission to use the information from the source"a if you want to include it in your article/writing. You must wait until you have received confirmation of this permission. Also "ask how they would like their source information to be listed in your article".b

Also note, if you "...use substantial verbatim excerpts of words (quotes) or reproductions of graphs, tables, etc. that appear in other works, then not only must proper credit be given, but permission from the originator and/or rights holder must also be obtained.

"In a case such as this, as long as proper credit is given, the issue does not appear to be one of plagiarism. But also, in this case if the permission is not obtained, then the issue becomes one of copyright violation, not of plagiarism, and that is a completely different issue." (quotation from (and my thanks to) Richard Telofski of Kahuna Content).

3) How to include quotations and facts.

If you are including quotations from another source, you need to put quotes around it and then list your source in brackets immediately following the quotation. Depending on how many quotations/facts you are adding to your article, you can either put the source information immediately following the quotation or you can use a number/letter format to symbolize which source it is in your source index. Look at the following examples:

Joe Brown stated that “plagiarism is on the rise.” (Joe Brown – no-name magazine 1989)


Joe Brown stated that “plagiarism is on the rise.”1

4) The source index.

At the end of your article, you must include a ‘source index’ – a list of all the sources informing the reader of where you obtained all your facts, quotations, etc.

Why the source index?

As Karen Wiesner (see source index for more info) puts it, "Readers need that source information: 1) because it tells them that you did your homework. That you're not relying on your own assumptions in this matter. That you went to experts in the field so you could impart this information to them, 2) and because it gives them somewhere to go and find out more if they're interested."c

She goes on to say, "If I'm using only one or two quotes, then I don't need to get specific permission, but I do always include what and who I quoted, and where I found the information in my quintessential source list. This provides my readers with a sense of trust in my reporting skills because I went to the experts to find the information I'm giving them, and also gives those I've quoted promotion."d Good steps for all of us to follow.

I hope that all of you will take precautions to avoid any conflicts/legal battles that could happen if you don’t take the necessary steps in your writing.

For more information, type ‘plagiarism' into any search engine. There are many websites that offer more information on this subject.

***Disclaimer: Please note this article is written from a personal-opinion perspective and not legal opinion. If you are unsure of the legalities of your article information, then you should consult a qualified legal specialist.

Copyright 2002 Krista Barrett

Krista Barrett has been writing for the past 15 years. Her writing has been printed in newsletters and magazines, as well as on websites. She is the Managing Editor of two websites; a writers resource site called Writers Manual (www.writersmanual.com) and a cooking site called A Gourmet Kitchen (www.agourmetkitchen.com). She is also the Art Director/Dept Editor for ISSUES Magazine (www.issues-mag.com). She writes on a wide variety of topics including health and wellness issues, the craft of writing, as well as short stories, poetry, and novels. She has completed two fiction novels of the romance/drama genre and she is now working on her third fiction novel. She also does web design (www.topzone.com) on a contract basis. Contact Krista at writersmanual@yahoo.com.


To read more on plagiarism and how to avoid it, check out the following websites:

  1. Plagiarism: What It is and How to Recognize and Avoid It: A great article on the basics of plagiarism, including actual examples of different types of plagiarism.
  2. Stop Internet Plagiarism: Article listing on plagiarism and also legal information/law directories.
  3. Avoiding Plagiarism by Sharon Williams: Offers general information for avoiding plagiarism.

Source Index for Quotations: My Thanks to Karen! Quotations (a-d) come from Karen Wiesner - ELECTRONIC PUBLISHER The Definitive Guide (The Most Complete Reference to Non-Subsidy E-Publishing), 2000 Edition by Karen S. Wiesner, published by Avid Press, LLC, Electronic Publishing Q&A by Karen Wiesner, a monthly Inkspot column. For more information about Karen Wiesner and her work, visit her web site at www.karenwiesner.hypermart.net.

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