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Editor Assistance

June 12 2013 Editor Assistance Newsletter

Greetings and Salutations -

If there's any topic that an online writer should be well versed in, it is plagiarism. Sure, you want to write with proper use of commas and apostrophes. However, misplacing a comma only annoys a few visitors. Engaging in plagiarism can cause your entire site to be shut down, your reputation to be permanently tarnished, and a $25,000 fine - or larger.

In addition to those direct penalties, Google and other engines have complex code in place to find duplicate content. If they see your content is too similar to another site, they can mark your entire site as stolen content. That means your efforts to get found by engines could be sabotaged before you begin. So even if you wanted to be a wild criminal, it still wouldn't be worth it :).

We have a full course in the Editor Assistance site on plagiarism. I recommend reviewing it every year or so. We all tend to forget details over time. Things we didn't quite understand on the first reading can sink in much better on another reading.

To summarize, it's critical to keep these two items in mind.


It can be tempting to cut-and-paste what someone else posted. It doesn't matter where you find it. Just don't use it. If you're writing up the Boston Museum of Science, and their webpage starts by saying "One of the world's largest science centers and New England's most highly attended cultural institution, the Museum of Science ..." - don't use that as your intro to your article! Sure, it's true. But those are THEIR words. Put your thoughts and experiences into YOUR words.

If you need to quote someone, be sure to have it clear that it is a quote, with attribution.

There's no up-side to republishing content found elsewhere on the web. Google will see you as a thief at the worst or "boring duplicate content" at the best, and in all cases will not bother to give you a good ranking. It harms all content you post. You want, no matter where you write, for every item you post to be unique and fresh in your own words. So no press releases, no long blocks of commonly found lyrics or quotes, nothing that a Google search would find elsewhere.

This all is of course separate from the potential for serious sue-your-life-savings-away and permanently-damage-your-reputation issues.


This is where some new writers get confused. Maybe they see it happen on blogs and think it's OK. Maybe their teachers in high school didn't mind when they did this type of "research". However, it is absolutely plagiarism if you take someone else's writing, shuffle the words around, and present it as your own.

Imagine the Boston Museum of Science had this promotion for their features:

"The Boston Museum of Science has exhibits on wind turbines, a butterfly garden, a virtual tour of Acadia park, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a giant Triceratops fossil. There's also a planetarium and IMAX theater."

You absolutely cannot write an article which says:

"Come by the Boston Museum of Science! They've got an IMAX theater and planetarium. You can also look forward to a huge Triceratops fossil, the Dead Sea Scrolls, wind turbines, a butterfly garden, and even a virtual tour of Acadia park."

No no no :). It's true that these are facts. However, they're the exact same facts, with the exact same words. Google is going to see that and tag you. Many websites and authors aggressively pursue plagiarism violators because it's quick, easy money for them. And it's not like it's hard for them to find you if you do this. A quick Google search has you pop right up.

So what do you do?

You always need to take notes from MULTIPLE sources. You need to take those notes with key words only, not with long sentences written from the source. Never write your own material while looking at someone else's raw content. Once you have those lists of key words, you need to start from scratch and create your own final version, in your own words, with your own flavor. Yes, sometimes key facts will still show up, for example "1.7 million visitors". However, the position of that fact in your story, and the surrounding text, all needs to be unique to you.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this. This is a critical topic for all web writers to know thoroughly, no matter where they write.

Lisa Shea, owner


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