Very simply, plagiarism is using another’s wording, phrasing or original content and passing it off as one’s own — whether on purpose or through sheer incompetence.
As an editor, I’ve had some awful experiences confronting plagiarizers. While every situation is unique, most tend to revolve around a writer’s laziness.
GateHouse has a zero tolerance policy for plagiarism — there is absolutely no excuse, no acceptable situation. Sometimes, plagiarism is easy to catch. But in some instances, it might take reading several articles before you realize something’s off.
So here are 12 ways you can catch that unscrupulous plagiarizer in your life:
(1)Look for inconsistent phrasing, where a couple sentences are polished and cohesive, followed by a couple that ramble or contain poor grammar.
(2) Enter a questionable phrase in a Google search with quotations around it, to see if it appears elsewhere.
(3) Visit websites or social pages of any subjects mentioned in the article. Does any of the phrasing look familiar? Does it look like the writer just grabbed from the website without speaking to anyone with the group or organization?
(4) With a new reporter or freelance writer, search for past articles online. Does the person’s writing look consistent?
(5)Use an online detection tool. Here’s a list of 10 free ones. It’s geared toward teachers, but the same tools should apply to journalistic articles.
(6) Look for lack of sourcing. If the writer is presenting any sort of factual statement (even if it’s widely-known or understood) she should be citing her work. If there are no citations, the writer could very well be pulling information from a website and neglecting to reference.
(7) Check for a change in tone or tense. Even if the quality of writing seems consistent throughout, if there’s a sudden change in the article’s tense, or the general tone of the article shifts, that could be a sign.
(8) Be aware of outdated information. If you spot old information (even if it has a reference, like from a study done five years ago) the whole paragraph might be lifted. Sure, the writer’s including the reference to the study, but maybe she wasn’t the one to write about it.
(9)Ask yourself, “Is this assignment exactly what I asked for?” If you had agreed on one topic, and the writer veered onto another subject, perhaps it’s because he found something already written about that related subject.
(10) Make sure the article doesn’t sound ripped from a press release. This is unreal, but I’ve actually come across reporters who thought lifting paragraphs word-for-word from press releases was acceptable. For the record, that is never OK.
(11) Look for canned-sounding quotes. Ask the reporter if he did the interview via email (not really OK but a topic for another blog post). If the quotes sound super rehearsed or “too perfect,” there’s a chance that reporter didn’t actually get those quotes himself. Ripping quotes from a website (or even worse, another media site) isn’t cool.
Check for inconsistent fonts. This is a real rookie mistake, and probably if the writer is making this one, at least a couple other blunders are just as visible. If the article’s font changes throughout, that’s a telltale sign of copy-paste.
Got other tips? Let us know in the comments.