Give me some credit – how to avoid plagiarism and scraping

PlagiarismHave you read the book I co-authored? Or my journal papers in Public Relations Review? Or the chapters I have written in edited texts? What about my blog posts? If you have and judge my writing worthy of using, reviewing or criticising in your own work, then you’d better give me some credit.

If you’re producing online content, and I find you have reproduced my work without permission, I WILL get you to remove it. I am happy for you to quote me or link within your own work, but expect a reference to be evident with a hat tip. If you’re a bot scraping this post, well you won’t understand it anyway – and I won’t be posting your nonsense link-baiting comments either.

If you’re a student writing academic assignments, and you’re planning to use my work, then I deserve a citation with a full reference so that it is clear to your reader that the points you are making originated with me. Besides, you’ll gain credit for referencing sources – whereas plagiarism can get you kicked off your course.

If I sound frustrated, angry even, well I am. I put a huge amount of time and effort into my published work (largely for little, if any, financial return). I expect others to do the same with their work. Stealing and passing off in my view are crimes that rob the originator of their due credit, and deny the writer the intellectual pleasure of crafting their own informed thoughts.

Scraping content, or plagiarising others’ work is an increasing problem – thanks in large part to the easy access offered by the internet. If you can ‘cut and paste’ then you can simply lift someone else’s work, or stitch together your own piece and who is to know? The surfed answer is all too common among students these days – using search engines, skimming what you find, lifting the interesting parts and hey presto, a few hundred or thousand words ready for grading. However, with online search facilities and anti-plagiarism software, there’s a strong chance you’ll get caught.

Turnitin named last week as Plagiarism week with the theme Originality Matters (ironically a not very original promotional PR idea) – and it published various academic videos and other online resources.  This is a hot topic in academia and professional education – and taken as a very serious offence.

I appreciate that sometimes the etiquette of online linking or academic referencing can be confusing, complex or simply time-consuming. But that’s no excuse. There are some excellent online resources that you can draw on (links in green):

  • WriteCheck (which sponsors Plagiarim.or) is a paid plagiarism checker run using Turnitin. Many Universities and other academic bodies use Turnitin to check for plagiarism and some offer students the chance to run their work through the system first to avoid silly mistakes.
  • Microsoft Word includes a feature enabling you to reference as you write. How-to-Geek has a guide to using it as does the Microsoft site. There are other online referencing systems, such as Endnote, that enable you to build up a personal reference list which you can draw on repeatedly. This is helpful for anyone completing a series of academic assignments.
  • Bookmarks – are a great way to record sites that you visit when researching a piece of work, which you can then check when it comes to adding links or including references. Of course, you could use Google Bookmarks – and Mozilla support has a guide to using bookmarks in Firefox. You could use goodreads or a similar online resource (even a Pinterest board) to note the texts you have found for an assignment with a personal – or shared – list.

Or just ask – yes, that old-fashioned concept of seeking clarification from your tutor or the person you are citing how best to reference the source. If you are unsure or don’t know, ignorance isn’t a defence.

You can apply some of these ideas to avoid scraping online content – although that is often done with intent rather than ignorance. There are methods that can be used to prevent scraping – you can find advice e.g. via Sentor or a post written by Amanda DiSilvestro. But if you don’t know if you are web or data scraping (as if) – check out the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_scraping (which also lists some measures to stop the bots).

It may sound old-fashioned in a world where newspapers use Tweets as if they’ve spoken to someone, or lift information directly from a Facebook page as background information. A world where politicians infamously relied on a ‘dodgy dossier’ of poor quality student work. A world where it is easy to check facts and also find lies and damned lies amongst the statistics. But that’s the very reason why referencing, citations and credit is important. If you can’t, don’t or won’t substantiate your points, arguments and opinion with reference to sources and evidence, what veracity does your work have in a world full of lies and half-truths?  And why should anyone give it credit?

[Picture via Microsoft Clipart]

4 thoughts on “Give me some credit – how to avoid plagiarism and scraping

  1. Heather, thank you so much on behalf of anyone who believes in private property, including intellectual property. My experience with student plagarism is, thankfully, limited, but conceptually, I find otherwise smart people have some funny ideas of attribution. Phooey, I say, to those who “canna botha” with citing, quotation marks and proper references. Phooey again.

  2. Thank you Sean. I didn’t mention here, but I also have a dislike for books (especially those published with PR practitioners as the target market) that avoid including references, do not substantiate the points being made with cited evidence and/or seem not to realise that they are building on the work of others. When I’ve queried this with the authors or editors of such books (which are often popular sellers), they respond that they didn’t have the time. I think phooey applies to them too!

  3. I’m fairly new to PR study – but would like to say publicly how amazingly helpful you were to me, Heather, over my recent CRT, and i was PROUD to reference you! Referencing those who are leaders in the PR field can only strengthen a piece of work.

  4. Heather, you bring up a most valid point. I’ve cited your work in the past as it was a valid contribution to an argument or further explanation to my understanding of what was being studied in PR and marketing.
    As a broadcast creative, I can’t tell you how many times my strategy, copy and visual expression has been copied. Flattered yes — received credit no. This is a practice that comes with my territory — unfortunately.
    BTW, I need to have you sign my PR Bible!

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