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Everything you ever wanted to know about plagiarism (but were afraid to ask)

Often thought of as an academic problem, plagiarism has always found its way into every type of written publication from books to research to articles to songs. In the content world plagiarism is an exceptionally dirty word – and with good reason. Even an unintentional infraction can come with some serious consequences, including fines, publicized court cases (depending on the circumstances, sometimes high profile), and in some cases jail time. It can also negatively affect your site’s ranking in the search engines as well as destroy your reputation.

While some people will blatantly and intentionally plagiarize content, many do it unintentionally. As content producers (writers) and content owners (website and business owners), it is important to know what plagiarism is, what it looks like, and how to avoid it in your content.

This will get you there.

Plagiarism, plain and simple (not so much)

When most people think of plagiarism, they think of someone copying a body of text, word for word, and passing it off as their own. While that is correct, there is more to it than that. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines plagiarism as:

  • To steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own
  • To use (another’s production) without crediting the source
  • To commit literary theft
  • To present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

Yikes! That last one probably stings a little for some people – idea or product – think about that. It’s more than copying someone else’s work, a lot more.

Types of plagiarism

There are six types of plagiarism, according to

  • Submitting another person’s work as your own
  • Copying or paraphrasing another person’s ideas or words and failing to give them credit
  • Not using quotation marks on a direct quote
  • Fabricating the source of a quotation or providing incorrect information about it
  • Changing the words in a sentence but maintaining its structure and failing to give proper credit
  • Using copied ideas or words to comprise the bulk of your own work – whether you provide attribution or not

Paraphrasing is probably one of the most common types of plagiarism, but no one really talks about it. It seems that writers and clients alike have become somewhat desensitized to the practice and pass it off as standard or acceptable. That doesn’t make it right, though, and it can still get you into trouble.

Can you plagiarize yourself?

Self-plagiarism is not so clear cut. Many times, writers will do it without even realizing it. Now, if you submit an article that you’ve previously published (without the approval of both pubs) that can be serious if there is the expectation for unique, previously unpublished content. However, if you use phrases or ideas that you’ve published before, that may not plagiarism per se, but if there is an expectation for unique content then you have a problem. While you may not see a problem because the ideas and phrases came from you, it is still frowned upon, especially in professional circles. It robs both clients of original content.

Consequences of plagiarism

Aside from the fact that plagiarism is illegal and unethical, it can essentially destroy your SEO efforts and get you in some pretty hot water with Google. The mega search engine is all about unique content and sites that publish duplicate content or thin content will not do well in the search engine rankings:

“In the rare cases in which Google perceives that duplicate content may be shown with intent to manipulate our rankings and deceive our users, we’ll also make appropriate adjustments in the indexing and ranking of the sites involved. As a result, the ranking of the site may suffer, or the site might be removed entirely from the Google index, in which case it will no longer appear in search results.”  Google Support: Duplicate Content

The Google Panda algorithm gave many sites a pretty nasty karate chop right where it hurts – in the search engine rankings. It began to penalize sites for low-quality content which included duplicate content – plagiarism. Prior to Panda, only the content was penalized. However, this algorithm brings down the hammer on the entire domain.

This is serious folks.

How to avoid plagiarism

In most cases, plagiarism can easily be avoided – just don’t do it. Be aware, think critically, and stay mindful of what you are writing or posting. If you are using someone else’s work, in most cases providing attribution by crediting the source and providing a link or information to locate the source is sufficient.

When you review your content, verify all sources to ensure accuracy and that the information has been properly handled. Ensure that it adds value and adds something new to the topic. Hiring good, high-quality writers and providing them with clear guidelines is always a good practice.

Finally, run your content through a checker to see if duplicate content is detected. Here are a few nifty little plagiarism checker tools that you may find useful:

  • Copyscape – small fee for Premium – you can add $5 to your account and it takes a few cents per plagiarism check but probably the most thorough checker (perhaps even overly so sometimes)
  • Plagiarisma – powered by Scholar Google, this is free, and it allows you to check text as well as links
  • SEMrush SEO Writing Assistant – this Google Docs add-on (also WordPress) will help you optimize your content, including checking for plagiarism

Plagiarism is wrong from a legal and ethical standpoint, but it’s also just plain bad business. By maintaining high standards for your content and website, you can avoid most instances simply because copied content diminishes content quality. Give your visitors and customers the high quality, original content they crave. It will improve the user experience and keep them coming back for more.

When it comes to your content, don’t trust it to just anyone. At Writer Access, we have professional, experienced writers who will give you unique, high-quality content you’ll be proud to publish on your site. We will make you look good. Check us out, you won’t be sorry.


Stephanie M is a writer living in East Central, Alabama, but she didn’t always lead such a peaceful, carefree life. A few years ago she made a daring escape from the “cube farm” at a Federal Agency in Washington, D.C. (after eight very long years) where she worked. as an analyst focusing on disaster response, technical writing, program management, and FOIA.

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By WriterAccess

Freelancer Stephanie M

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