In a culture, where “copy and paste” reigns supreme, it is pertinent to understand what plagiarism is, its consequences and how to avoid committing it especially with the emergence and growth of bloggers, online writers and commentators of all sorts. Plagiarism is not limited to works published online. It is an unfortunate, yet very common, trend in the academic community especially amongst students when writing long essays or their final thesis.

Plagiarism is simply the conversion of another’s intellectual property such as original ideas and expressions of an author or creator and includes written works, music, videos, pictures, paintings and other creative work. It is considered a form of stealing. The ideas, thoughts or means of expression of an author are used by another to create a work that is significantly identical to the original work.

Every original work, idea or information created by a person is automatically protected by copyright which is a right of ownership an author/creator has that enables him to use or distribute the work in any manner he deems fit. In many countries of the world, there are copyright laws to guard against the unlawful distribution or use of a work without the author’s permission or without reference to the author.

The illegality in plagiarism lies in the fact that the owner’s permission is not sought nor is he referenced as the author or creator of the original work. It is viewed as putting up falsehood in order to gain academic prestige or increase academic status for students and academics or make monetary or other kind of gain/recognition.

The root of plagiarism is laziness in producing original work.

To be a responsible writer, one must avoid plagiarism and the possible liability for legal action and penalties arising from it. The consequences of plagiarism can be rather severe, ranging from a ruined reputation, loss of work and destruction of career ambitions to the loss of academic degrees for students and academics. In a bid to curb plagiarism, some Nigerian Universities now post students’ final thesis online so they can be easily accessed by people globally and cases of plagiarism reported to the schools.

For bloggers, plagiarism could lead to the end or ruin of one’s blogging career, as well as the site being taken down by Google and other search engines. An example of this was the brief shutting down of Linda Ikeji’s blog by Google over accusations of plagiarism and copyright infringement. The allegations were, however, proved to be false and the site was restored. It should be noted that fresh and original content on a site improves a website’s search engine rankings which equals more viewers and can translate it more profit.

Here are a few useful tips to avoid plagiarism when writing-

  1. Avoid directly copying and pasting– Directly copying and pasting in whole or part of an author’s work without giving due credit through the use of citations and references to the author amounts to plagiarism, even if the copied portion is only a phrase in the original work. Copying works off web pages which seem to have no author is also plagiarism. It is important to employ the use of quotation marks when using the exact words used by an author.  It is important to write or convey ideas in your own words. Your write up should be new and original. However, even when writing in your own words or paraphrasing, it is important to make use of citations especially if the idea conveyed in your writings is basically the same as the one from the source you relied on. Always give complete and full attribution to the original author.
  2. Understand the topic– Gain a deeper understanding of the topic or area you wish to write upon by researching from several sources, as writing with one or few sources makes the tendency to plagiarise higher as there are lesser words, ideas and concepts to play around with. This is also necessary so as to make a significant contribution in the area in which the work. Your work should also seek to improve/correct or disagree with existing contributions in that area.
  3. Utilise apps and online sites that are dedicated to checking plagiarism to scrutinise your work.
  4. You are not required to give credit for common knowledge or generally known facts.
  5. Finally, as a general rule, whenever you are in doubt, cite your sources. It is always better to err on the side of caution.

It is important to remember that even though it is possible to have the same ideas or thoughts as the author or creator of a work, no two persons express themselves in the exact same form.