How to Avoid Plagiarism

It’s easy to be self-righteous about plagiarism. After all, how hard can it be to acknowledge your sources and put forth original ideas? In reality, it’s not as simple as it sounds. After all, we all study our fields to see what ideas are current. Where do you draw the line between responding to trends and playing follow-the-leader? Where does the line fall between research and wholesale lifting of other people’s thoughts?

Let’s break it down. According to Merriam-Webster, plagiarism is the act of passing off someone else’s words or ideas as your own, without crediting the original source. So first things first: giving credit to your sources is not only the right thing to do, but it boosts the credibility of your own content. Your customers know which industry sources are high-quality and credible. You can work your research into your pieces gracefully by using  quotation marks, footnotes, or phrases such as “A 2016 study by the Institute of Peanut Butter Science uncovered a startling fact.”

Citing your sources is essential, but it is not enough. A good rule of thumb is that your paper or case study should be at least 85% original material.  In my experience, the most common cause of unoriginal ideas occurs when organizations decide to create content, but won’t do the heavy lifting upfront to generate some original and thought-provoking ideas.

My take: The kind of long-form materials I specialize in, such as white papers and case studies, work best when they spring from your own experiences. It helps to approach each project as part of a focused dialogue you are having with your customers. Invest some time in thinking deeply about them, what they want to learn about, and what you have to offer that is unique. Your customers want to read a good story about how you solved their thorniest everyday problems. And there’s nothing unoriginal about that.

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