How to Avoid Plagiarism when Writing for the Web

How to Avoid Plagiarism when Writing for the Web

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.

For example:

A journalism ethics expert at The Poynter Institute says, “There is a linking culture online that is very healthy.  When in doubt, link.”

Avoiding Plagiarism

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.

Related Reads

8 Tips for Writing Great Nonprofit Website Content

6 Questions to Ask When Editing Website Content

Photo courtesy of Taber Andrew Bain, Flickr

Michelle Lindblom is a former Communications Associate at Wired Impact. Michelle has just finished her B.A. in Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology and English Literature at Washington University in St. Louis and she's looking forward to a career of combining the powers of language with an understanding of the mind.

11 Comments on “How to Avoid Plagiarism when Writing for the Web

  1. 1 Brian S. February 21, 2013

    You guys always produce great tips. Gonna pass this to my marketing co-workers (for when writing landing pages for example). Keep up the quality posts.

    1. 2 David Hartstein February 21, 2013

      Thanks for your kind words Brian. We really appreciate you taking the time to comment and passing our content along.

  2. 3 Brad Tinnon February 21, 2013

    Good stuff as always.

    1. 4 David Hartstein February 21, 2013

      Thanks a lot Brad. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. 5 Max Sanders February 22, 2013

    Thank you for your great article, god job)
    Of course if you write some content by yourself and following for example instruction which you presented you can be sure what you get absolutely unique text but what if you for example order the text how to be sure what it’s not plagiarism? In this case we can use only different tools which we can find in the internet to help Avoid Plagiarism. http://www.plagiarismdetect.com/ – one of those resource.

    1. 6 David Hartstein February 22, 2013

      Thanks for the comment Max. Appreciate you sharing that resource as well.

  4. 7 Mc Dewey December 21, 2013

    Wow great article, and good suggestions on how to avoid such online crime…thanks for the tips.

    1. 8 Paraphrasing UK April 18, 2014

      It is a serious offense and a very grave academic crime because it not only undermines a person’s intelligence, but also does an injustice to the person whose ideas were used because he/she was not acclaimed for his/her work.

  5. 9 Kim Bass March 17, 2015

    Awesome read! I’m new to blogging hoping to write my first soon and really needed good pointers!!! You showed it! Thanks a ton!

  6. 10 Lana February 27, 2016

    So, if I’m compiling some information I found into a post like a few different growing guides, and including some of the written details from each, but rewriting them with my own words, and linking back to each reference, as well as sourcing any photos I borrowed, is that plagiarizing or just poor taste?

    It’s a blog post about 3 Easy Container Gardening Ideas, and then I took 3 of this gardening site’s ideas, and a photo from each one rewriting the instructions to my own, but essentially they’re the same idea. Linking back to each one and sourcing their photos.

    1. 11 David Hartstein March 7, 2016

      Thanks for the comment Lana. As long as you aren’t passing off someone else’s ideas or words as your own you should be fine. If you’re linking the source, that’s typically sufficient, especially if you’re rewriting the content (as opposed to a simple copy/paste).

      The photos are a little trickier since there are all sorts of photo licenses out there. In some cases, simple attribution may not be enough. If you are unsure, I’d check with the author to see if a) they’re alright with you using the photos and b) if they have the right to grant you license to use the photos. You can read more about photo licenses here.

      Hope that helps!

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