Enlightened Conflict

do you actually know how difficult it is to NOT plagiarize? (as an online writer)

February 12th, 2015


writing deep thoughts cursive

“Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.

Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”


Miguel Angel Ruiz






plagiarism  wordle_600


One of my favorite thinker/writers, Fareed Zakaria, is being skewered for plagiarism <once again>.






In his situation … we are not talking about plagiarizing ideas … or thinking … but rather background to support his points/ideas.



Several blogs, such as conservative media watchdog Newsbusters and the National Review online, spotted similarities between parts of Zakaria’s column and a piece on the same topic in an April issue of the The New Yorker.

The paragraphs in question largely involved descriptions of historical events and context about gun control in America and do not seem anywhere near as serious as other famed plagiarists – such as Jayson Blair at the New York Times and Stephen Glass at the New Republic who made up entire quotes, people and incidents.

But as media websites picked up the story and asked Time for an official comment, Zakaria issued a statement and confessed to his error:




“Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my Time column this week bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore’s essay in the April 23rd issue of The New Yorker.


They are right.


I made a terrible mistake.writing an editing


It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault.



I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at Time, and to my readers.”



Fareed Zakaria










Here is the deal.



The harsh Truth as it were.



If you write a lot and share thinking it is extremely difficult to not plagiarize.


Let me say again.



Extremely difficult to not plagiarize.






I am not talking about copying someone’s ideas or thinking. And I am not talking about not sourcing a huge gob of research or writing done by someone else.


I am talking about the snippet or paragraph.



How does it happen <you may ask>?



When you research a topic you will inevitably review a large number of articles, some research, certainly some other written pieces and maybe even some blog thoughts from people.


writing the first-draft


Sometimes in building your draft you will copy some of the content into a draft document so you don’t lose the thought.




Sometimes you write a thought down using your own words <although sometimes another writer says something so well it is difficult to say it any better>.



Sometimes the words get used as is. Sometimes you source … and sometimes <without thinking about it too much> you think the thoughts, and words, are so common sense they become almost a ‘public domain’ type thought in your mind.



Sometimes in writing your own thoughts in the final piece you know you will publish you lose track of what is your words and what may have been used by someone else … not with bad intentions but simply because the thoughts seem so unoriginal … it just seems like ‘shit anyone and everyone would say or know.’



I say all this not to justify any sort of plagiarism. I say this simply to say it is sometimes very very difficult to NOT plagiarize <in some form or fashion>.



Here is what I do know for sure.



It is extremely difficult to say something in an original way. Somewhere someone has articulated what you say … in almost the exact same words.



I know that may seem extremely difficult for some writers to accept, or believe, but it is true.



Unless you are a poet … I struggle to think of completely original use of words when someone writes shit like I do on a blog <or even some semi professional writing if you do a lot of it>.






At least original in a consistent way.


I think anyone who writes a lot stumbles across a unique grouping of words to articulate a thought on occasion.



I also tend to believe other writers take not of that momentary flash of word brilliance … and credit you.



But that’s not what I am talking about.


The common is easily ‘plagiarized.’



That’s it.


I was thinking about it.


I wrote a very long detailed thought about plagiarizing before:




< http://brucemctague.com/the-black-white-and-gray-of-plagiarism >




I take plagiarism seriously <always have>.


In addition, I personally, studiously avoid plagiarizing.



That said.



I am also quite sure that I have at some point <unintentionally>.



Hence the reason I wrote and published my caveat on images and words on my site:



http://brucemctague.com/spam-and-images >.

writing shit down



There is no excuse for plagiarizing.




Everyone should note how difficult it can be to NOT plagiarize.

the black white and gray of plagiarism

June 3rd, 2013


“… these appropriations matter. If the poets don’t assert the value of their words, who will?”

Plagiarism script

Sandra Beasley is the author of the poetry collections







You know … not too long ago I had a very clear point of view on what plagiarism is.






There is a lot of gray area.



I have always believed that original ideas and original thinking are fleeting at best.


And I have always believed that 99% of the time if you were thinking something … someone else in the great big world of ours was thinking it at exactly the same time.

Before the worldwide web that was just a theory.


In today’s world it is a truth.


A tough truth.





Sometimes plagiarism is so glaringly obvious that it sends a shiver down your spine.

Lately the most vivid examples are happening in the poetry world.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.


You are saying ‘who cares about poetry?’

<answer: an obscure few>


But it permits me to make a point and discuss plagiarism.



In the latest poetry scandal one bonehead <a guy named Christian Ward> lifted lines and slightly paraphrased another published poet. The accused poet, Ward, defended himself by saying, “I had no intention of deliberately plagiarizing and suggested he had used the original poem as a model and had submitted a premature draft.”


And another British poet has been lifting lines <actually entire poems> from numerous poets in the U.S.:


Publishers and magazines have been working to take down poems and suspend sales of collections by David R Morgan after the American poet Charles O Hartman realised Morgan’s poem “Dead Wife Singing” was almost identical to his own, three-decades-old “A Little Song”.

Assiduous digging by the online poetry community, led by the poet and academic Ira Lightman, then discovered that Morgan, a British poet and teacher, had lifted lines and phrases from a host of different writers.

One of Morgan’s poems, “Monkey Stops Whistling”, won him an award. […]




Those examples are clearly plagiarism.

This example helped me because I have always felt like I have had a pretty firm grasp on what constitutes plagiarism.






That is until I began writing a lot. And publicly on enlightened conflict.


Writing is hard.


I know I have a method to avoid <or slow down> plagiarism.


I write down my basic thoughts and thinking before I even go online to do any research.





Do not pass ‘Go” before doing this basic writing.



It also helps in that I find myself in a somewhat enviable position in that I have never faced the seemingly oft-discussed strain of coming up with new material <called ‘writer’s block’>.

write passion

I may write about bad ideas or silly things or inconsequential things but I have never, never once, not had something I didn’t want to write about.

What this reallly means is that I am in the enviable position of not having, never in fact, to cruise the web seeking inspiration for writing ideas.




That said.



I do seek inspiration <and additional knowledge> on thoughts I have.




And, well, correspondingly, who hasn’t wanted to steal words from a better writer?



Even a somewhat clever mind and clever writer can give into the temptation to be a cheating plagiarist <borrow some words>.


Sometimes this plagiarism is simply a sentence … sometimes it is stringing together quotes from other writers and sometimes it is just laziness because you cannot envision ever being able to write the thought any better than it was written.



As one writer <I am stealing from> suggested:


‘Until very recently, most scholars have been happy to simply chalk these up as “allusions” to the work of other authors.

For a long time, it was regarded as something poets just did, as a way of honoring their influences.’



This is a slippery slope.



And even slipperier <that is not a word> because even if you do what I do <write before research or the search for additional inspiration> you can still find your own words in what someone else has already written.


I cannot tell you how many times I have thought I was brilliant only to find that my own words, the words I salivated over with sheer joy over their taste, had already been used by someone else on some obscure blog in Europe or worse … in some obscure town in North Dakota.



I recognized this was going to be an ongoing slope I would find myself slipping on all the time and I even published a post clearly stating “I steal images” because I realized that with at least that one component <images> I was going to be constantly at the fringe of straight robbery:





But words?


Here is exactly what I wrote in my ‘steal images’ post:plagiarism university




Words I use.

I seriously doubt I have consciously plagiarized anyone’s thoughts or words.

I have seen some well articulated thoughts that are components of what I write about and while trying to avoid using the same words … a well articulated thought is a well articulated thought and, frankly, it’s difficult to find better words if something is well articulated.

I have found things that I have written appear somewhere else (even though I know they have never seen what I wrote).

That is the way of the world.

If people have the same idea and they know how to articulate it, it will often look very similar in verbiage.

When I do actually use something that someone else wrote I either italicize or credit it.







I also know <going back to poetry> that when I write my own bad poetry it is littered with small phrases I have scribbled down that inevitably were coined by someone else.





My blog writing is littered with wonderful two or three word phrases and words, in general, I have picked up here and there.


Were they used in the same context as what I write?


Nope <99% of the time>.



Is that still plagiarism? <yup … well … I am assuming that is>.



It certainly constitutes some level of ‘not an original work’ and serious professional writers refer to this as ‘textual rape.’


I am certainly not rewriting whole documents.



And I have found inserting copied words <citing the source> helpful to provide context for my own thoughts.


And I try and be generous with regard to admitting I did not create a thought or actual words <even if I do suck at sourcing and citing>.



All that said.



Plagiarism is tricky <when it is not clearly black & white>.





There is plagiarism technology out there.  And technology can help but inevitably it really <mostly> comes down to human analysis. It is a judgement call. In addition <to be philosophical> … if a tree falls in the wood and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound.





If I write something on enlightened conflict and no one reads it but someone else 6 months from now writes the same thing are they plagiarizing?



And … trust me that kind of stuff happens all the time.

ALL the time.


People have the same ideas & thoughts at the same time … all the time.


We don’t like to believe that … but it is so.

It is a Life truth.


It is certainly a writing truth.


Here is an additional fact.



No one knows everything, and I must research in order to write on a topic I know nothing, or little, about.


I have opinions and points of view on just about anything … but not supporting it is lazy … and therefore I need to do some research on what other people think (and know) when I write.

And, once again, I absolutely suck at formally citing sources if I use them.



Although, once again, I freely informally give credit where credit is due.


It’s an interesting challenge I face every day in detecting and slowing/stopping plagiarism when I write.



When your work is posted and reposted online and the simple publishing of a blog post enters into a global community I imagine <hope> all writers struggle with a somewhat flexible definition of intellectual property.







It comes down to 3 things for me.



–          1. The obvious steal



This one is easy.


I began with the poetry example because that is plagiarism at its worst.



Because it is not simply copying words … it is copying thinking & creativity.

It is the full alignment of plagiarism at it’s worst.


Copying words simply to get some words down on paper is bad. And it is the obvious steal.

Thoughts & creativity may be slightly more difficult to assess … but … an obvious steal is an obvious steal.





–          2. Simultaneous originality



Sometimes I get really lucky in distilling an insight, or something relatively smart, into nicely crafted gathering of words <rare … but it happens>.



Sometimes I am simply early in the sharing of an idea and thought <I cannot tell you how many times I have seen one of my post ideas published in a viable credible publication maybe 2 weeks to 2 months after I wrote mine … please note … typically written better than how I wrote it>.


Most often what I consider a quasi-original thought on my part is simultaneously <or close> not only being thought by someone else but actually being shared somewhere on the world wide web. Here is where working for a while in a creative industry helps me mentally.


What do I mean?


We all are accessing the same stimulus.

With the world wide web even more people are being stimulated with the same information and background and news than ever before. If you put the same material through the same filters inevitably similar thoughts/things are going to be generated.



In the advertising world everyone realizes in new business pitches that the final creative ideas presented will be very very similar throughout four disparate agencies simply because the initial strategy and research <the input to the development> is very similar.



Ideas and thoughts on the web are the same.



We are all absorbing the same stimulus … inevitably a number of us will generate similar responses.




–          3. The inspiration



Plagiarism posterprint

There are gobs of beautiful talented writers out there and even the quasi talented can craft a beautiful thought on occasion.

All these beautiful words serve as inspiration.



But inspiration ‘borrowing’ doesn’t have to happen on the web.



John Fogerty says about Proud Mary.

In 1967 he sat in his apartment in San Francisco and says “I began playing a song intro I had been working on which was based on the opening of Beethoven’s 5th symphony. I didn’t like how Beethoven had composed it and preferred hitting the 1st chord hard for emphasis and not the 4th. “



Margaret Mitchell took the title of “Gone with the Wind” from a beautiful lyrical poem called “Cynara” written Ernest Dowson:



Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,

Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;

Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;

But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,


When I awoke and found the dawn was gray:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,

Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,

Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;

But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,


Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,

But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,

Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;

And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,


Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion




Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm …


Is that plagiarism?


Or is it simply inspiration?



Words I see inspire me to think all the time.


Sometimes someone’s words inspire me to write.


Sometimes their words become the cornerstone with which I build my thoughts and words around.



The internet has made the random beautifully crafted thought more accessible than ever.



It’s not just published literature anymore … Beethoven or poetry … but now it can be a blog in the Philippines with a readership of less than 50, a tumblr post or a tween on xanga.


We have access to more thoughts and thinking and words than ever be for … and all of it can be used for inspiration not to be plagiarized.






Those are my three.

Experts & professional writers <of which I am not> have others.


In the end?



While some people suggest ‘it has become common on the web to ignore the basic courtesy of giving others credit for their idea.’



I don’t agree.



Original ideas are few and far between.


Original words, and wording, probably even rarer.



That certainly doesn’t absolve anyone from citing or providing sources or even sometimes sharing credit for inspiration.






All I know is that plagiarism has entered into a big massive humungous gray area.


I struggle with it every day when I write.



I know I do because I know when I write … depending on what I write … I taste the words in my mouth.




“With every draft I read aloud, I tasted the words in my mouth. Salty, sweet, fatty, lean, velvet, metallic, mean. Mine. What does it feel like, tasting words you’ve stolen? Like sand, I suspect. Sand that a man dying of dehydration drinks in the desert, never slaking his thirst.”



Sandra Beasley is the author of poetry collections





Sandra is 100% correct.Words to Savor



My own words taste like the most indescribably good taste in the world. The perfectly cooked steak, the sip of a cool drink on a hot day, the robust blossoming of a super Tuscan red wine on your palate or the hamburger straight off the grill … you can savor each word as you read them.



Others words can taste great also <the ones from better writers> but they don’t taste as good.





I didn’t cook them up.



And words that I am tempted to plagiarize? Taste like sand.



I spit ‘em out.


writers write

That’s how I keep myself out of the gray.





But I keep writing.

Enlightened Conflict