Accidental Plagiarism? What to Do if Your Work is Too Close

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Does your writing style closely resemble another? Since the birth of the Internet, plagiarism has been a growing problem. And I’m not just talking text as even some videos are starting to feel the sting. But what can you do if it was an accident to copy the works of others?

And is accidental plagiarism really a thing?

In a world where millions of people are creating content on a daily basis, you must concede to the fact that there will be similar styles and processes when creating content. However, some creators will outright rip off the work of others.




Where is the Line for Accidental Plagiarism?

The sheer number of people who create content on the Internet almost guarantees that similar work will be produced at some point. Even writers who have no idea the other exists will create closely aligned material.

However, there is a difference between accidentally coming up with similar points of view and copying text and grammar almost precisely.

For example, Filip Miucin of IGN incorporated the works of many into “his” reviews of games. In many of these reviews, this plagiarist seemingly copied and pasted text verbatim.

An accident is one thing, but when the body of work consists of terms and verbiage identical to another party, it’s time to question the work itself.

I understand that certain aspects, news and content layouts are going to have a lot of similarities. But that’s when you need to adjust your tactics and fix the material you create while accepting responsibility.

Clients Who Use Copyscape

Copyscape is an online tool that lets people match their content to the works of others on the Internet. It’s a way that clients and writers use to discover if text is copied or not.

It provides a percentage-based score regarding the content and where it’s pulled from.

Since 2012, I’ve created a few posts for clients who asked for revisions because the content was too close to another author according to Copyscape. Even though I can guarantee all of my work is original, sometimes it happens.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much of the content was similar as the clients never gave that information. And each one is going to be more sensitive to plagiarism than the other.

If you’re a freelance writer, keep in mind tools like this are out there…and many clients will use them.

It’s too bad not enough content creators use them as well.




Creating Original Content is Tough

I am fully aware of how difficult it is to create engaging content in today’s market. Each year, more websites come into existence. And each year, it gets more difficult to create something that is 100% unique.

Some of the hardest things to write for include…

Reviews

Reviews of a product or service often run parallel. This is because there are only so many points regarding the specific topic that can be covered by the creator.

What Filip Miucin did with his reviews is akin to what’s called, “scraping.” This is when someone will essentially copy an entire web page for content or data. Then, many authors will rearrange words or make a few minor changes to make it appear different.

This is a terrible practice, and it could hurt your chances of being viewed as an expert or professional in the eyes of those who want to hire you.

News Articles

One of the hardest categories I’ve come across when writing content for clients are news articles. In many ways, these are worse than reviews.

You have specific facts that need to go into the piece, which everyone is going to use. Then, you need to alter how you present those facts without falsifying information, creating filler or confusing the reader.

Otherwise, it will appear too closely related to another’s work.

Tutorials

Want to show someone how to do something? Tutorials are another category that can easily suffer accidental plagiarism. This is because certain things have to be done an exact way to achieve the objective.

I run into this kind of issue all the time when I do tutorials for WordPress and other platforms. The trick is to do something different or to explain it in a better way.

Still, the similarities are going to be there.

Listicles

Creating lists is one of the more effective ways to gain traffic for the website. It also runs the risk of plagiarism as people will show off closely related content.

For instance, someone writing “21 Ways to Bake Chicken” is going to have similar recipes as someone else on the Internet. And many writers will use other listicles to complete their own.

How to Reduce the Risk of Plagiarism

When creating content for yourself, you need to set aside what others are creating. It needs to be as unique as possible.

Here are four steps that I use to vastly improve acceptance with my clients while setting my own work apart from others.

Use Your Own Verbiage

While there will undoubtedly be at least two people who use similar vocabularies, they need something which differentiates. Personally, I write almost exactly as I talk. Well, minus the vulgarity.

I have a mouth like a drunken sailor on pass.

But don’t use terms you wouldn’t normally use, especially if it’s clearly apparent in someone else’s work.

Here’s something to try: When writing your piece or creating a script for a video, say it out loud. Does it sound like you or is it too close to someone you follow or watch?

It’s OK to be inspired by others. But use your own verbiage when you do so.

Add Your Own Personality

Personality is another element that separates content on the Internet. Your content should show your personality, which is why people will read or watch your stuff. If you try to copy the success of others, you’re not using your personality.

Unfortunately, this is something that might take some time to get used to. When I first started writing, I was too clinical and had very little flair. And although I’m still somewhat clinical, I’ve loosened up quite a bit.

It’s all about comfort while still conveying a strong message. Remember, say your content out loud.

Does it sound like you?

Beware of External Influence

When I write, I take the topic and build the content from my own personal view and experience. This is especially true when I write tutorials. Most of the time, I don’t even look at the actual text of the web page from another author.

How does this help?

  • You have to do your own research on the topic to create a quality piece.
  • You’re less likely to use the same terms and language as another author.
  • You’re speaking from personal experience regarding the topic.

I try as much as possible to not let external sources influence my work. This includes personal views, terminology, sentence structure and more.

Create the piece as if you were the first person to ever do so.

Create Your Own Layout

Google is guilty of making people follow specific guidelines. Because everyone wants to score well in search results, many will use similar layouts for content. This includes sentence structure, paragraphs and the use of headers.

The trick to mastering this is to create something unique which works for you. While this is often difficult depending on the content, it’s worth the effort.

Use a Plagiarism Checker

Last, but certainly not least, use a plagiarism checker. The Internet is full of them, and many work exceptionally well. Unfortunately, most of them are locked behind a pay wall or subscription fee.

However, it’s worth the expense if you’re worried about recreating someone’s work…even accidentally.

Try to Make it Your Own

Your content needs to be your own. By copying the work of others, you’re only showing off how successful they are, not you. Avoid plagiarism as if it were the plague. It’ll save embarrassment as well as protect your reputation as a professional.




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Michael Brockbank

Michael has been a freelance writer since January of 2012. He has completed more than 6,000 jobs for a variety of clients ranging from animals to travel.

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