Plagiarism. It’s a dirty word that has made headlines in the music industry. It also hits me where I live: in the world of content writing. I got involved in a lively discussion yesterday when a colleague in one of my writing groups lost a lucrative gig because she was accused—and unjustly so, we all believed—of plagiarism.
The Definition of Plagiarism
Essentially, plagiarism is when you copy someone else’s work or ideas and pass them off as your own. In writing, whether it’s a term paper or a blog post, if you want to use someone else’s words, it’s important to cite the original work.
There are four types of plagiarism that most widely recognize:
- Direct plagiarism—when content has been copied word-for-word. In one of my gigs as a dental content marketing writer, we saw this frequently. Dentists came to us for website updates, and to save money, they wanted to use their existing content. Often we discovered that hundreds of other dentists had the exact same content on their websites. This is a no-no. It’s not only ethically wrong, but Google will penalize you (more on that later).
- Self-plagiarism—when you use previous work written for a new project. In school, this could mean using parts of papers previously written or turning in the same paper to two different classes without those involved—the professors, in particular—knowing about it. In online content, this could mean a tech writer inadvertently using the same words used for one article in another. This is often done unintentionally by a writer who uses similar terms and phrases over and over.
- Mosaic plagiarism—when a writer uses a mix of phrases from another writer without attributing the source.
- Accidental plagiarism—when content is unintentionally paraphrased or quoted without source citation. Accidental or not, this is unacceptable, and it still constitutes plagiarism.
What Constitutes Plagiarism—and What Doesn’t?
In the discussion I mentioned above, the writer in question was accused of plagiarism because of listing a conference and copying some of the educational tracks used in the conference materials. I have been accused of plagiarism while writing for a specific industry where there is an inevitability of certain words and phrases being repeated. But this client had a 0 percent duplicate content copy, so it often meant quite a bit of time spent to get to this point.
There has to be a happy medium, doesn’t there?
Where Does Google Come In?
When websites have duplicate content, search engine ranking is problematic because Google doesn’t know which website is the authoritative one. Duplicate content will wreak havoc on your website’s ranking. It often happens to businesses who pay for discounted websites that essentially lift copy off other websites. While the price tag of a low-cost website is appealing, the price businesses will pay for plagiarism is not.
One of the easiest ways to ensure all content you are writing is original is to run it through a plagiarism checker such as Copyscape. Grammar plug-in Grammarly also has a plagiarism checker. (And it’s not a bad idea to run your work through both, just to be safe.) Getting a ding or two (or even a few more, depending on the length of your content), is generally considered acceptable and not an offense that comes with a Google penalty. Examples might include common phrases such as “homes for sale” or “real estate agents” in a blog about real estate.
Be aware that your website is also at risk of being plagiarized. It’s a good idea to check it occasionally using a checker such as Copyscape. Now might just be a good time to do that.