It’s been an eventful week in the news as the presidential election heats up. At Affect, Melania Trump’s speech on Tuesday night inspired some lively coffee talk about plagiarism. Regardless of how you feel about the speech – it’s critical for communications experts to understand what counts as plagiarism and how to avoid it.
Here are three of the most common ways to get in trouble:

  1. Your Idea Isn’t Actually Yours: In this case, you’ve read about a concept or idea and would like to comment or weigh in on it. That’s perfectly acceptable as long as you don’t take credit for the original content. In this case you can avoid plagiarism by citing the person who originated the concept and link to their work. If you decide to pull in additional concepts on the topic that aren’t uniquely yours, cite each one, every time.
  2. You Repurposed Someone Else’s Work: In doing your research, you realize that someone has already written on your chosen topic extensively in the same way you had planned to. Plagiarism in this case is often unintended – and you may mistakenly reorganize ideas that you were going to use any way. In many cases, parts of the original language accidentally sneaks in. This can be avoided by doing your research first, taking your own notes and always writing from scratch. When the piece is done, cross reference it with your source material to make sure it’s a completely unique and fresh perspective.
  3. You Forgot to Give Credit, Where Credit is Due: Another common form of plagiarism is to use an acronym, statistic or branded concept without citation. If you are referring data that doesn’t belong to you – avoid taking credit for it by sourcing it properly. It can be as simple as a link or name check.
The easiest way to avoid plagiarism is to always cite your sources – no one ever got in trouble for too many citations, links or references. When you are commenting on an idea that exists – make sure that your thoughts are your own, try to write from scratch (after you’ve done your research, of course) and give full credit when it’s due.

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