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What Is Plagiarism And How To Avoid It (from Creative Writing Course Updated)

What Is Plagiarism and How To Avoid It (from Creative Writing Course – Updated)

Title: What is Plagiarism and How to Avoid It (from Creative Writing Course – Updated)
Author: Craig Lock
Category (key words): Plagiarism, Writing, Online Writing, Writing Tips, Writing Course.
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is an early lesson from our online writing course) may
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What is Plagiarism and How to Avoid Infringing It
(from Eagle Productions Creative Writing Course)
How to Avoid « Stepping over the Line »* (ie. infringing it)?
…so you won’t upset other writers.
* that’s a metaphor, btw.
PLAGIARISM: Wow – what
a big word, like « marmalade » or « earth-moving-contractor ». Hope I
spelt it correctly! PLAGIARISM is deliberately copying someone
else’s work and putting your name to it. A couple of years ago,
there was a celebrated case in my former homeland, South Africa.
A university lecturer had copied extracts from American author,
Joseph Leyleveld’s excellent book, MOVE YOUR SHADOW. ( An
excellent book, by the way!). A big extract was taken word for
word and he was discovered (and was forced to resign his
prestigious position). Naughty naughty!
I’ve just read a report of how a fine piece of descriptive writing by an academic at one of the best Universities in South Africa appeared almost verbatim in a novel by a prominent South African author. The passages in question were nearly identical in both works. Another well-known South African journalist also recently « faithfully » reproduced the work of another writer by uplifting lage tracts of another’s creativity. Seems to be a lot of plagiarism occuring in « the beloved country » South Africa!
There has also been a bit
of a furore (nice word!) with celebrated American historian
Stephen Ambrose using another writer’s work – word for word.
Rather humiliating and embarrassing for him getting « caught out »
(can I end a sentence with a « preppie »?). Plagiarism seems to be
quite prevalent amongst songwriters, like George Michael, but bet
there are many writers too. « Prima donnas »! When deciding whether you
are perhaps infringing copyright and/or plagiarism, ask yourself
these important questions:
1. « If I was the author, how would I feel about
someone ‘copying my hard-worked for writing’ ? » Sometimes
lifting it outright ‘word-for-word’ with « zilch » acknowledgement..
2. « Has the writer made a genuine effort to put
the material into his/her own words? »
3. « Has he/she just
copied or borrowed my ideas and other points from my writing? »
4. Do you feel someone has deliberately set out to « steal » another authors work,
« purporting » (is there such a word?) to be their original piece of creativity?
I think « imitation is the sincerest form of flattery »! Still don’t
plagiarise my work, please! DEFAMATION: DEFAMATION (not a bodily
function – OOPS, ER ! )… but if you do, you will soon be really
deep in the « rich brown stuff ». Always keep a good name. Avoid
libel suits (must replace mine someday the lot/financial fortunes
of the writer!). Never defame anyone in your writing, especially
after they’ve « fallen off their perch » (ie. after they are
deceased – thanks Monty Python). As writers we are very
privileged people, who can directly influence public opinion.
Most other people don’t have the opportunity to defend themselves
through the avenue of publicly written words. So it’s a heavy
responsibility we writers have to convey the truth (is that
subjective or absolute? – that’s an entire essay in itself). Well our opinion of it, anyway!
If you haven’t a kind word to say
against someone, don’t say it at all. « Mr Goody Goody two-shoes »
(but in my crazy travel book about my European adventures
HERE,THERE and EVERYWHERE, you’ll find out why I only had one!).
Hard sometimes, when you are reporting the facts, as you saw them
and want to market your work sometimes; because controversy
always sells…like bad news headlines sell newspapers. Most of
the above information is based on pure common-sense (what’s
that?) and using your discernment. However, many writers don’t
have an abundance of the aforementioned qualities in making judgements.
« Writers should also be business-people and try to think like them;
but then any business-person would have the good sense not to
become a writer. »
– me (but originally thought borrowed from an unknown author).
A word (or two or three) of advice regarding plagiarism… In writing follow the following (sounds « funny » that!) creeds: When in doubt
about what course to take (not English III), just ask yourself
this: If you were the author, would you like someone else copying
your work, or saying ‘those things’ about you. Use judicious
judgement (note alliteration) and when in doubt, rather err on
the side of caution. Even if you have been badly hurt by someone
in the past, don’t be tempted to retaliate and take vengeance for
« the sordid past » through your words. Everyone has made mistakes
they may regret in life, so think the best of people. At least
try! Enough moralising and back to my original topic.
We are all human (although many writers are « abnormally human ») and we all do make many mistakes down the « river of life » (or should I have said « as we negotiate the rapids of life »? – that’s a metaphor, btw). Stop rambling « rose » and get back to what you were writing about, Craig. Yes, plagiarism….
If you do happen to inadvertantly (big word, eh – so should I rather have said « unintentionally »?) palagiarise another author’s work, admit your error and apologise to them. (That happened to me once with a well-known author….
and I was the culprit early on in my writing « career »). Opps, er sorry!
* One Law of Professional Plagiarism, which may be of importance among accomplished plagiarists states that: ‘If it’s worth stealing, it’s worth stealing accurately.’ So on no account simply tinker with another writer’s words. Always acknowledge the lifting verbatim all writing of others (not only the 400 words + normally accepted as the limit, which may be freely reproduced without seeking authorisation).
* Author’s Note: These points (as well as some others) were based on a report in the South African Weekly Mail and Guardian online newspaper (excellent, btw) of 4th Feb 2005, then re-written by me)
I believe INTENT is the key here (as with the law). Did an author
deliberately set out to copy some other writer’s work, intending to pass it off as their own creation? For whatever reason: whether ego, self satisfaction, self-agrandisement* etc.
Now that’s a big impressive word and it’s the first time I’ve used it,
so hope I spelt it correctly (in either British or American English)!
Incidentally, thanks Glenn for advising me that in US law, intent is not strictly required – even unintentional plagiarism won’t protect you. So be careful.
After that little « ramble » and to end off this piece, my advice is simply…Don’t try to camouflage your pilfering by means of tiny alterations, cunningly inserted here and there. Use quotation marks and give due accreditation of your source.
To summarise, here are a few words to conclude on the subjects of plagiarism and defamation…
Be ethical at all times. Always write with ABSOLUTE HONESTY (from your particular perspective), in utmost GOOD FAITH and INTEGRITY…and as the proverb wisely advises: « Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. » Then you can’t go wrong in your writing.
Happy writing down the creative path of self discovery
Craig Lock (Eagle Productions NZ)

P.S: « Plagiarism occurs, when someone else steals your work.
When many people do, it’s called research! »
« If you have integrity, nothing else matters.
If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters. »
– Alan K. Simpson
‘Over the Rainbow’ by Craig Lock: A look at the many colourful peoples, who make up this diverse and vibrant society, as seen through the eyes of a newspaper reporter. Many colourful « vignettes » in this « land of great contrasts » – happy, sad and true, that was the fabric of South African life in the lead up to the historic Democratic Election of 1994. ‘Over the Rainbow is available at:

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