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Plagiarism vs. Paraphrasing: A Cautionary Tale

shutterstock_351840518The first night of the Republican National Convention, Melania Trump delivered a speech to the audience that was later proven to closely resemble an address that first lady Michelle Obama gave to the Democratic National Convention eight years earlier. The effect was instantaneous – the entire country was talking about the alleged plagiarism. Videos were widely circulated that played the two speeches side by side, leaving no doubt in anyone’s minds that they were just a little too close to be entirely accidental. While the convention was about the Republican nominee, the conversation had shifted in one evening.

Plagiarism isn’t just a political problem. Academic institutions have put in place strict rules to find and punish plagiarism. But with so many people employed as web writers and content creators, and with content so readily available online, the line between plagiarism and paraphrasing can be very blurry. So how can we find that line?

Proper attribution

When you’re writing anything – be it an article for a website, a press release, a blog post or even a social media status, be sure to give credit where credit is due. Simply cite your sources, and there’s no problem. With web writing, it’s easy to hyperlink your source directly into a story so there’s no continuity issues. This is the easiest way to avoid plagiarism. 

Use of quotation marks

If an attribution doesn’t fit into the style of writing you’re doing, consider using a direct quote – in quotation marks. But be sure to cite your source – whether it’s a person, publication or website – after you end the quote. 

Outline it first

Paraphrasing can sometimes make good writing look like it’s been put through the thesaurus machine, stripping your writing of any authenticity and degrading the quality altogether. Before you write, make an outline. Not only will this help you keep your thoughts on track, you’re more likely to come up with good, original ideas if you think ahead.

In a world where we consume writing and media almost constantly, it’s easy to feel like there are no original ideas anymore. Avoid a sticky situation at work or school and cite your sources, use quotation marks and plan out your writing.

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