Building on the work of others is good. Stealing from them is not.
Maybe you’re writing a blog post on how volunteers can organize their own food drive. To compose a quality post, you need to know about any regulations that apply to food collection, steps to a successful campaign, and common problems that might arise. But now you’re sitting down to write the post and other people’s words are all that come to mind. What can you do to build on the work of others without stealing their words?
Whether you are composing a blog post, a newsletter article, or web content, here are some tips to help you write great content while avoiding plagiarism.
Direct Quotes and Online Citations
Sometimes someone else has found the perfect phrase, a way of explaining an issue in a few words when it might take you an entire paragraph. Don’t be afraid to quote, just make sure to cite your sources. Don’t worry, you won’t have to dig out your MLA citation book for this. Just link to the original site.
A journalism ethics expert at The Poynter Institute says, “There is a linking culture online that is very healthy. When in doubt, link.”
You probably don’t want to have an entire post of direct quotes. So, how can you safely move from those quotes to your own words without plagiarizing? Here are some tips:
- Take Your Time. Just like when you were in school, plagiarism happens most often when a deadline is fast approaching and the writer doesn’t have the time to put in careful work. Give yourself enough time to research, write, and rewrite every time.
- Read Multiple Sources. Don’t just read one source for background. By reading many different sources, you will be able to combine all that information into content that is not only original, but also informative and useful.
- Link Liberally. Don’t be afraid to include multiple links within a post. If you’re borrowing or building upon ideas, link to the original author’s work. Doing so can also increase the likelihood the original author will engage with you since you’re directly linking to their post.
- Paraphrase. Again, just like in high school – put what you just read in your own words. Then reread your post against your sources to make sure no one else’s words slipped in. And remember, there is a fine line between paraphrasing and plagiarism. If you think you’re anywhere near that line, make sure you throw in a link to your source.
- Multiple Drafts. Composing multiple drafts is not just a way to avoid stealing other writers’ words. It also polishes your own words, making your post more coherent with each revision.
Plagiarism is not just unfair to other writers, it’s flat out illegal. You want to offer quality information that your readers can’t find elsewhere. That doesn’t mean the only way to offer quality content is by coming up with totally original information. Just be sure to build on what you find out there in the wide web, either by adding your own experience or curating additional content from others (and linking to the original source, of course).
By following the tips above, you’re on your way to writing quality content without copying other people’s words.
How do you write for the web without stealing? What steps do you take to make sure you’ve put together original content before it goes live on you site or in a newsletter? I’d love to hear your own tips and tricks in the comments below.