Plagiarism Basics

In short, plagiarism is the act of using writings or images created by someone else and then making it look as if you wrote those words. All writings and images are covered by instant copyright - the moment someone creates that poem, article, photo or drawing, they own the copyright of it. They do not need to file anything or add any special mark to their work. If another person comes along and uses that material, they are in violation of copyright and guilty of plagiarism.

If you wish to quote a brief section of someoneīs words, you can do so as long as you give them credit for what they said. But even so, you can only quote a few words or a short phrase. To use more without permission is a violation of their copyright. Even long blurbs from books you are reviewing are dangerous to use without that authorīs specific permission to do so. plagarism guidelines

You cannot simply change words in a sentence, either. You cannot read someoneīs article, rewrite it with the exact same meaning and order and publish it. That is called paraphrasing. Here are some examples.

UNC Paraphrasing Info

If you are researching a topic it is important that you use several sources for your material. Take notes in "ideas only" - do not write down the actual words or phrases used in the source material unless you intend to fully credit that author for their words. You then need to write your own article in your own words, with your own ideas, and giving credit where you have used another personīs phrasing.

Also, reference your sources if you are quoting ideas taken from another personīs material, even if you write it in your own words. That way you make it clear where your information came from.

Remember, just because you find something on the web that claims it is "anonymous", it does not mean it is. Everything is always written by somebody. Anything you write or publish should be 100% your own words. It is very dangerous, legally, to use someone elseīs words without a signed contract.

To make the danger clear: engaging in plagiarism can cause your entire site to be shut down, your reputation to be permanently tarnished, and a $25,000 fine - or larger.

In addition to those direct penalties, Google and other engines have complex code in place to find duplicate content. If they see your content is too similar to another site, they can mark your entire site as stolen content. That means your efforts to get found by engines could be sabotaged before you begin. So even if you wanted to be a wild criminal, it still wouldn't be worth it :).

So, to summarize, it's critical to keep these two items in mind.


It can be tempting to cut-and-paste what someone else posted. It doesn't matter where you find it. Just don't use it. If you're writing up the Boston Museum of Science, and their webpage starts by saying "One of the world's largest science centers and New England's most highly attended cultural institution, the Museum of Science ..." - don't use that as your intro to your article! Sure, it's true. But those are THEIR words. Put your thoughts and experiences into YOUR words.

If you need to quote someone, be sure to have it clear that it is a quote, with attribution.

There's no up-side to republishing content found elsewhere on the web. Google will see you as a thief at the worst or "boring duplicate content" at the best, and in all cases will not bother to give you a good ranking. It harms all content you post. You want, no matter where you write, for every item you post to be unique and fresh in your own words. So no press releases, no long blocks of commonly found lyrics or quotes, nothing that a Google search would find elsewhere.

This all is of course separate from the potential for serious sue-your-life-savings-away and permanently-damage-your-reputation issues.


This is where some new writers get confused. Maybe they see it happen on blogs and think it's OK. Maybe their teachers in high school didn't mind when they did this type of "research". However, it is absolutely plagiarism if you take someone else's writing, shuffle the words around, and present it as your own.

Imagine the Boston Museum of Science had this promotion for their features:

"The Boston Museum of Science has exhibits on wind turbines, a butterfly garden, a virtual tour of Acadia park, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a giant Triceratops fossil. There's also a planetarium and IMAX theater."

You absolutely cannot write an article which says:

"Come by the Boston Museum of Science! They've got an IMAX theater and planetarium. You can also look forward to a huge Triceratops fossil, the Dead Sea Scrolls, wind turbines, a butterfly garden, and even a virtual tour of Acadia park."

No no no :). It's true that these are facts. However, they're the exact same facts, with the exact same words. Google is going to see that and tag you. Many websites and authors aggressively pursue plagiarism violators because it's quick, easy money for them. And it's not like it's hard for them to find you if you do this. A quick Google search has you pop right up.

So what do you do?

As mentioned above, you always need to take notes from MULTIPLE sources. You need to take those notes with key words only, not with long sentences written from the source. Never write your own material while looking at someone else's raw content. Once you have those lists of key words, you need to start from scratch and create your own final version, in your own words, with your own flavor. Yes, sometimes key facts will still show up, for example "1.7 million visitors". However, the position of that fact in your story, and the surrounding text, all needs to be unique to you.

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