What is plagiarism and how can you avoid it?

This article is a comprehensive guide to plagiarism. The concept of plagiarism isn’t difficult to understand. But let’s understand what this unethical practice is all about and how you can avoid it.

What is plagiarism and how can you avoid it?

Back at the end of the 2016 US Presidential Election, many people accused a specific person of plagiarism. This mainstream occurrence of duplicity shot up the searches related to it on all the search engines.

Nowadays, plagiarism is a common problem in every aspect of life. All content creators, scriptwriters, SEO writers, and students face this problem. On the other hand, some of them deliberately plagiarize to save time and effort.

In fact, a study conducted revealed that 40% of the students openly admitted to plagiarizing in assignments. The same study also saw 43% confessing to plagiarizing on tests or exams. While websites and blogs suffer from an overwhelming surplus of duplicated content.

Studies suggest around 30% of websites today have plagiarized content in them. So, what causes it? Moreover, is there a way to avoid plagiarism?

These are all viable questions, but it leads us to understand the idea behind plagiarism and how it can occur intentionally or unintentionally. So, let’s dive right into it and understand what it is and how to avoid it.

Defining plagiarism & common causes

Understanding plagiarism isn’t a difficult task. If you see two eerily similar content in different places, then one of them has to be plagiarized. Unless one of the content pieces accredits the other one. But, accidental plagiarism isn’t something too far off.

People who hadn’t heard the term before came to understand that plagiarism isn’t always about copying and pasting—it’s about stealing ideas and speech patterns as well. A lot of uninitiated people think plagiarism is only about stealing word-to-word from another written text.

However, the University of Oxford describes plagiarism as “presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own.” This should tell you that plagiarism isn’t only copying and pasting; it’s also about being lazy with your ideas and duplicating someone else’s work.

As for the common causes, here are some:

  • Laziness or tardiness is the primary reason among students and professionals
  • Lack of creativity or understanding is another major reason
  • Lack of topic understanding or information
  • Tight deadlines
  • Fear to fail on a test – is most common among students
  • Poor time & workload management skills

While for some, plagiarism is a choice they make because they don’t know better. Evil intentions in writing or literature aren’t unheard of, so some students or professionals would do it to save time and effort.

While various types of plagiarism help us understand that plagiarism isn’t always a matter of choice. Sometimes, it can be accidental; other times, it’s just unintentional.

Main types of plagiarism

Speaking of types of plagiarism, to avoid it efficiently, we must understand what they are. Each type of plagiarism is caused by different intentions or ideas. Therefore, it’s imperative that we understand the different types of plagiarism.

Here are four major kinds:

  • Direct/Complete plagiarism

Direct or complete plagiarism is pretty self-explanatory. In this type, the writer copies content or ideas word-to-word. This means no changes or alterations to avoid it from any sort of scanner. It’s the most common type in novices, as many students believe they can get away with it. However, it’s the same in professionals as well. Some just copy ideas and paint them as their own. That’s why it’s considered one of the most unethical types of plagiarism.

  • Self/Auto plagiarism

Auto or self-plagiarism is common when a writer works on the same ideas repeatedly. This could be accidental, but nowadays, you can assume it’s intentional for most people. The idea behind this plagiarism is to redo older ideas and revamp them.

This doesn’t avoid plagiarism for a few reasons. One of them is the same topic idea, which is one of the significant reasons for duplicity in the first place. Then, common tropes of similar content can always lead to a plagiarism checker detecting it as duplicate content.

Therefore, even if it’s not intentional, there’s no room for it in any professional or academic environment.

  • Mosaic or patchwork plagiarism

Mosaic or patchwork plagiarism is considered to be the most severe and unethical type of plagiarism. It’s mainly because it’s difficult to detect and earns the original author no credit. In this type, a writer would change a few elements here and there to make the content seem original.

Nowadays, advanced AI algorithms can detect this type, but not all tools are capable of finding it. Therefore, it’s considered as one of the most immoral types and must be avoided at all costs. Common traits of patchwork plagiarism will include:

  • Similar terms but extensive usage of synonyms
  • Using unnatural content tone
  • Lack of information distribution or random occurrences of information
  • Accidental or unintentional plagiarism

Accidental or unintentional plagiarism is when a writer incidentally copies another writer’s work. The chances of this happening are very rare, but you shouldn’t put it beyond belief. Mainly because a lot of universities and professional environments follow the same patterns & topics. This makes commonly available knowledge a source of plagiarism. So, when students use such sources for their information, accidental plagiarism isn’t a far-fetched occurrence.

However, it still counts as duplicate content, so it’s not allowed either. It makes it any less harmful in any writing setting.

How do you avoid it? What will you need?

Avoiding plagiarism can be straightforward, or it can be complicated – both depend entirely on you. It comes down to the way take to avoid or remove plagiarism from your content. For example:

  • Finding plagiarism
  • Rewriting the plagiarized content
  • Paraphrasing the plagiarized content
  • Using tools to do both

The last choice is the best, but the rest can be done easily too. So, here are two of the most important ingredients in a plagiarism-removal recipe:

Comprehensive ways of avoiding plagiarism

As mentioned before, you can rewrite the plagiarized content to remove it. But, how exactly do you go about doing that? A simple way to do it is by finding the plagiarism first. For that, you need a tool that can help you find the source of original content – we’ll talk about that in a bit.

The second step is to rewrite or paraphrase the plagiarized content and credit the original author. This intention alone counts more and helps you remove plagiarism effectively. So, a few ways of plagiarism include:

  • Quoting the original author
  • Citing after rewording the plagiarized content
  • Removing and rewriting the content entirely
  • Turning it into an opinion piece

Now, the last point makes sense only in a few topics. A student can easily share their opinion on another writer’s work and write extensive levels of text based on that. However, a professional writer with specific topics may not be able to express opinions.

InstaText maximizes the readability of the text in a way that avoids plagiarism.

Yet, it can work if you’re creative enough to figure out a way. So, you need to keep the rewriting methods in mind, which can help you remove plagiarism. The intention of your rewriting process should be to present the idea in your own words but credit the original author.

Now, this can be compromised in the case of universal ideas. For instance, you can rewrite to avoid plagiarism if your topic is getting a university degree. In this case, you won’t have to present the original author, as a universal idea like this can be opinion-based.

What you will need

The things you will need to avoid plagiarism effectively include two sorts of tools:

  • A proper online plagiarism checker
  • A good paraphrasing tool

The first tool is to help you find plagiarism. Now, you can find plagiarism by simply searching sentences on Google. However, that process is neither efficient nor time-efficient. In fact, it may not even help you find plagiarism, as most people believe it would.

On the other hand, a proper tool can assist you in detecting various types of duplicities—including the types we spoke of above. On top of that, you get to analyze the percentage of plagiarism in your writing. Then, you get to explore the links/sources of the original content.

As for why do you need a paraphrasing tool? Let’s say you find that 500 words out of your 2000-word blog/essay are plagiarized. So, if the due date is soon, there’s no way you can rewrite 500 words quickly.

Now, a paraphrasing or rewriting tool can make this process a lot more easier—and we’ll be exploring that in a bit. Therefore, you need these two tools to remove plagiarism from your writing.

Five steps to avoid plagiarism

Removing plagiarism isn’t rocket science. You need to find it and remove it or rewrite it. But, if only it was as simple as it sounds. Many times, writers aren’t able to do it simply because they can’t find it. Other times, too much of their content is plagiarized.

Therefore, writers must implement a procedure that they can employ day in and day out. It is a process that helps them find and remove duplicity—avoiding plagiarism or any of its types. Therefore, here are five steps they can take to avoid it:

  1. Use plagiarism checkers

To avoid plagiarism in your content, you first need to find it. Once you’ve found all the plagiarized bits of text in your content, you can move ahead to removing them.

And this is where you can use a plagiarism checker. While the specific functions and features can differ from tool to tool, the main concept behind their working is the same. Essentially, plagiarism checkers scan the given text against existing online sources to see if there are any matches between them.

The matched part in the text are highlighted in a prominent color (which is red, in most cases) so that they are easier to spot.

While there are many plagiarism checkers available online, not all of them are worth using. The quality of a plagiarism checker is defined by the algorithm it uses for spotting duplication in the given text.

There are several tools that use a highly sensitive algorithm. As a result, they start to point out words like ‘this is’ or ‘it is’ as plagiarism. These types of tools are inaccurate, and are not worth using at all.

Before selecting a plagiarism checker for scanning your work, you should do some research and find out what other users have to say about it. Read some reviews on it. If it is reported to be accurate, then you can go ahead and use it…otherwise not.

  1. Paraphrase

‘Paraphrase’ means to change the words and phrases of a piece of content without altering the original sense and intent.

Paraphrasing is a good technique to use when your content is showing up as plagiarized even if you had not intentionally copied it from somewhere.

In this sort of scenario, you can paraphrase your own work to make it different.

There are two main ways in which you can paraphrase your content. You can either do it manually, or you can do it using an online tool. Manual paraphrasing is good when the content at hand is short i.e., it contains 400 – 500 words. However, for longer documents, using a paraphrasing tool is better since it’s more time saving.

Probably the most powerful paraphrasing tool on the market is InstaText. It maximizes text readability in a way that avoids plagiarism. The underlying technology provides you with original text that is likely to have excellent readability without taking actual word combinations from other sources or articles.

  1. Use quotes

Using quotations is also a good way to avoid plagiarism in your writing.

Plagiarism is essentially defined as the use of someone else’s content without giving them their due credit. That basically means that if the original source or author is properly credited, it won’t be called plagiarism anymore.

This is precisely what you can do with quotes. If you wrap a sentence or paragraph in quotation marks, you acknowledge that you are using another writer’s words. This automatically saves the copied part from being recognized as plagiarism.

Furthermore, you can write the name of the source after the quoted part to make sure there is nothing lacking in the credit due to the original author. It would look something like this:

If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers.” – Doug Larson

However, it should be borne in mind that quotes are good for a couple of sentences, or a small paragraph at most.

  1. Add citations and references

Like quotes, citations and references are also used for neutralizing plagiarism. They are used for giving credit to the original source/author, and thereby preventing the copied part in your work from being recognized as plagiarism.

Citations and references are, contrary to common belief, not the names of the same thing. Citations refer to the bracketed, in-text indicators whereas the reference is the detailed information of the source given at the end of the document. Each citation only describes the name of the author and the year of the publication.

There are different citation styles that you can use such as APA, MLA, Chicago and Harvard. For blogging, the MLA style is recommended since it lets you cite just about any type of source.

This image efficiently descirbes the difference between citations and references:

  1. Use hyperlinks

Hyperlinking is also a way to attribute a particular fact or piece of info to a particular source. Hyperlinks can only be used in online content (or digital content, more like). They won’t benefit you in any way in content that has to be perused in hard form.

Hyperlinks are usually added to specific words in the text. The linked words are usually colored blue, and are underlined.

The thing to keep in mind about hyperlinks is that they cannot be used everywhere and in just about any number. They have a particular application.

For example, you cannot link to spammy or inappropriate sites. Similarly, you cannot add too many links to your content otherwise it can start to look strange, and readers can get the impression that the whole text is just a collection of copied stuff taken from other sources.

You should add hyperlinks sparingly. Similarly, you should take care to link authoritative and reliable websites/platforms.

Conclusions

We talked about plagiarism, its types, how to find it, and how to remove it as well. This guide should be enough to help you understand what to look for when finding plagiarism and how to go about it when trying to avoid it.

Effective plagiarism prevention includes a plagiarism checker and a good paraphrasing tool. While there are many plagiarism checkers online, it is much more difficult to find a suitable tool for paraphrasing and rewriting.

We have found InstaText to be a powerful tool for rewriting and paraphrasing. InstaText improves the readability of texts while avoiding plagiarism. The underlying technology provides you with original texts that are highly readable, without reusing word combinations from other sources or articles.

“Of course, there’s Grammarly, a writing assistant that checks the spelling, grammar, punctuation, and clarity of your writing, corrects common errors, and occasionally gives you suggestions for rewording. The thing about Grammarly, though, is that it’s a good proofreader, but not an editor. And, as any skilled writer will be happy to tell you, the editing is the secret.”

— Jim Stonos, Writer and Editor

“InstaText doesn’t have a multitude of functions, and that’s the beauty of it. It only does what it claims to do, and that’s to help you write like a native speaker. And it does that in the best possible way.

The beauty of this tool is also that it doesn’t replace a human editor, although I can say it’s over 95% accurate. It doesn’t rob you of the joy of coming up with ideas and putting them into words. It just helps you write more confidently, easily, and quickly.”

— Elham P. Mohammadi, Freelance Journalist, Writer and Editor

“I use InstaText mainly for academic writing. I switched from another software that did not help me write like a native English speaker – it only corrected typos, grammar, and punctuation.

InstaText, on the other hand, makes your text engaging to read, coherent, and professional-looking. Further, I feel that the paragraphs corrected by InstaText look akin to what I see in the best marketing and social psychology journals. It is a huge help for an academic writer because rather than focusing on making the text appealing, you can simply focus on what you want to say and build a logically unfolding narrative.”

— Michał Folwarczny, Researcher

Photos by InstaText, Andrea Pexels, and Pavel Danilyuk.