How to avoid plagiarism in your own work

How to avoid plagiarism in your own work

Earlier in the week I discussed the row over Melania Trump’s speech and the similarity of some content to the words of Michelle Obama eight years previously. Both sections highlighted specific values and attributes each of the women is said to consider important. How then did Melania Trump’s debut speech to such a major event end up being so poorly managed? Many have pointed the finger at lazy/inexperienced campaign staff who managed to ignore the first rule of credible journalism – either cite your sources or keep it strictly original. Indeed one of the Trump speechwriting team has duly owned up. So how can we avoid the many thorny issues surounding plagiarism in our own work from day to day?

Be aware of the rules. In Academia this is an issue you’ll be confronted with from the outset of your studies, a clear set of rules that you will be expected to adhere to at all times will be swiftly issued, and a sharp penalty incurred if you fail or forget to do so. Let’s review a few of these. The cardinal rules for written (or any format) submissions are:

1. Paraphrase! Paraphrase! Paraphrase!

If you use more than two consecutive words from somebody else’s work it’s considered plagiarism. Don’t do it. It’s not just Turnitin you have to fear, the online bots pick it up too. Read the source material you have been advised to acquire then give yourself time to absorb and render it in your own words keeping it strictly original. Otherwise

2. Use quotations

Higher learning institutions frown on ‘block quotes’ of more than 40 words so keep it short! You are expected to be able to paraphrase most jargon by the time you are considered ‘proficient’ in an area or discipline.

3. Cite your sources

Important, not just for the sake of intellectual rigour and cross-referencing but also to the creation and maintenance of accurate databases and the ability to ‘check stuff’. Make sure you cite your sources accurately as well.

See here for more info

Think of your work as your own personal, intellectual property from the outset and the rules will remain clear cut. If you said it, it’s probably yours – although it’s also probably worthwhile to run it through a plagiarism check just to be absolutely sure it’s not somebody else’s. Applying these rules to all commercial areas where intellectual property rights reside with the creator, be it speechwriting, short stories, songs, web content, video or game footage, will ensure it’ll all work out just fine.

It’s also wise to also avoid the trap of those meme-like utterances that explode onto social media every now and then. I’m breaking my own rule by doing it here – but it’s  just this once, by way of illustration – honest.

I want my country back!

Is a recent prime example. This utterance, with all its undertones of entitlement and privilege for a particular racial group began being uttered by hitherto, wholly reasonable individuals a few weeks before the EU Referendum in the UK and continues unabashed across Donald Trump’s America while the rest of the world swithers between squaring up to the problem and sticking its fingers in its ears. If a phrase gets too popular and opens itself to analysis and the kind of scrutiny we would perhaps wish to avoid if we’d really thought about what we were saying in the first place, it could also open up a can of worms regarding sources. Definitely don’t say something because lots of other people are saying it. 

A second less inflammatory utterance that I came across at around the same time,

I can’ t even (followed by three imaginary dots)

was genuinely funny the first time I read it on a Facebook response to some horrible, unthinking racist remark. The idea of someone being so angry or shocked they were unable to finish their sentence started my day off with a chuckle. It became less funny at a rate of knots as it continued to appear throughout the day in a series of less inflammatory exchanges; eventually giving the impression of the poster as somebody ill-tempered and  lacking in imagination. Overuse of any phrase, even the most eloquent, diminishes its power eventually and it could also leave you more susceptible to bouts of unintentional plagiarism – so avoid cliches or everybody’s favourite meme of the moment with all the stoic resistance you can muster.

Pay attention to your work: catalogue and curate your own library collection. Get to know and trust your own ‘voice’ –  your vocal or visual imprint –  pay attention when your eyes and ears tell you that something is ‘off’. Likewise, follow others you admire and whose work can enrich your own, paying homage to them in any small way you are able. Just remember what the rules are and –  yes – feel free to use the plagiarism checker (see below).

Plagiarism Checker

This post has checked out as 100% unique and plagiarism free. Not bad 😉

Next time we’ll look at ways to keep our words flowing fresh



Plagiarism is defined

  • the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.
    “there were accusations of plagiarism”
    synonyms: copying, infringement of copyright, piracy, theft, stealing, poaching, appropriation;

    “there were accusations of plagiarism”

    In the worlds of education, academia and publishing, plagiarism is tantamount to theft. But why is there such an outcry about plagiarism in the media this week? Well, in case you were entirely indisposed yesterday, the issue was brought to our notice by sections of Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican Rally in Cleveland, Ohio, where Donald Trump is presenting himself as the Republican candidate for the US presidency. A twitter user, Jarrett Hill, spotted sections of her speech that sounded a lot like Michelle Obama’s in 2008 and began tweeting his observations.

    Melania Trump allegedly plagiarises Michelle Obama

    There have been a few highly-publicised cases of plagiarism reaching the courts in the last few years. Recently there was the case against Ed Sheerin where the plaintiffs, a songwriting team who composed the song ‘Amazing’ for X-Factor winner Matt Cardle in 2011 accused Ed of stealing the chorus section. Sheerin lost and the team were awarded close to 20 million in  pounds in damages.

Also in 2011 was the case against JK Rowling which was thrown out due to the plaintiff being unable or unwilling to secure upfront costs. Why they were asked to provide these is beyond my current scope. This case was brought against the writer in an allegation she had stolen the plot for one of her Harry Potter series from a lesser-known writer’s work.


What’s so terrible about plagiarism, you might be asking. Why do people make such a stink about it? Surely in our ever more digitized world, with all that information out there on the internet, there’s going to be a bit of unintended plagiarism? Well, yes there will be  but within a reasonable margin. Plagiarism as defined above involves lifting sizeable chunks of another individual’s words or ideas, be they written or spoken or otherwise, without crediting them as the source – and ultimately, of passing these off as one’s own. It’s dishonesty at the least.


Perhaps people dislike this type of dishonesty so intensely because we live in a world of such bland, corporate, sameness and manufactured dross, it becomes harder each day to believe in the people round about us and see them as unique individuals. Yet the fact that we are all unique still exists and still shapes our ideas to a large degree even in this age of mass data gathering and data sharing, mass media, mass surveillance and the  extensive depersonalization that accompanies being part of any ‘mass’. Personal thoughts and ideas, if we have them, provide a way to reach out to others and allow them connect with us honestly. People tend to feel drawn to, and happier around people we consider as authentic just as people who consider themselves authentic are happier all round. If we are given reason at some point to believe that a person we have hitherto regarded as unique and authentic is, in fact, inauthentic and dishonest, we tend to lose trust and withdraw our connection.

Perhaps it is, as one commenter observes,  a speech ‘full of cliches and well-worn bromides was really similar to another speech that was full of cliches and well-worn bromides’. Nevertheless, the irony of Melania Trump stating that ‘Your word is your bond’ – when those words she utters turn out not to be hers – is staggering. What effect it will have on the Trump campaign and its supporters is another question entirely.

In the next post we’ll look at avoiding plagiarism in your own work.