One of my favorite sites for reading good blog articles once told me that social media would be a good source for curated content the proper way. A few days ago, this proved to be true.
Plagiarism controversy erupted over a speech delivered at the Republican National Convention. While not getting into the politics of it all, I pondered in a Facebook post about how careful I have to be with sourcing and using content in the work I do for my clients, and wondering why the speechwriters weren’t the same. It made me think about how I avoid getting into plagiarism trouble when I’m curating content.
Here’s what I mean.
I often start a new blog article through the process of gathering information on my given topic from multiple sources. From this, I try to glean the most valuable pieces of information for my audience, put it together in my own words and share it in an article online. It is a very common method for writing blogs and one all of our team uses for our clients every week.
So how does this tie back to my Facebook post?
Well, over 80 comments later (people were very excited to talk about this topic – as well as the state of politics, of course!), I decided to write up my thoughts on how to do content curation the right way. I enlisted the help of one of my writers, Kelley Walters, who has been creating curated content since college. Here are our joint thoughts on avoiding the pitfalls of plagiarism when using this popular blog writing approach.
With so many knowledgeable people out there creating blogs daily, there exists a treasure trove of information that makes researching a topic online a very effective means of pulling together an article. There is no need to completely recreate the wheel – it has likely already been created by ten other people! This saves time and allows you to draw content on your topic from people even more expert than yourself to provide really, solid information for your readers.
However, when you talk about “the wheel”, you can’t use other writers’ words without proper attribution (more on attribution later). As well, if you plagiarize or don’t provide attribution, you risk losing your reputation, your client and in the corporate world, your job if it is discovered. Kelley shared with me a sad story of a very gifted writer she once worked with who had this exact thing happen – and the writer was indeed fired.
How does plagiarism happen?
Kelley and I think that much of plagiarism happens as a byproduct of the demands of writing for an online audience.
First, avoiding plagiarism may not be important to you if you didn’t start out as a writer or in a writing-specific career. You may have never been taught what a big deal it is to plagiarize or even know the steps to take to avoid it.
As well, for any writer, time and energy can often be in short supply. Too many blog posts in too short of a time frame can cause writers to get tired. So as the clients or employer ask for more and more content in a short time frame, you may be tempted to cut corners on the steps required for proper content curation.
How can you prevent plagiarism mistakes?
Sometimes, it is accidental. And if you are lucky, you may be able to go back and fix the problem you’ve created. But the better solution is to avoid controversy altogether. These guidelines should help to ensure that you curate content the right way:
- Preplanning with keyword research. Google wants to see original content on your website. Duplicate content is a no-no that will have a negative impact on your SEO. Get a good keyword phrase and incorporate into the blog appropriately. You are trying to help show Google that you are legitimate, are a reputable site and that the article is about what you say that it is.
- Read multiple sources and condense. Much like you would for a book report, do broad research, take in as much information as you can and then put it in your own voice based on what you’ve learned. Your article will have the benefit of more experts “weighing in” plus your own opinion based on all the info you’ve learned.
- Always highlight, then edit what you copy and paste. Writers often find something online, copy the content, paste it into the article they are writing and intend to go back and rewrite it later. Sometimes, they forget to do this. So if you are compiling from a variety of sites or sources, using the copy-and-paste method, call out what was copied (highlight, different font color, etc.) so you can keep track of what is not your own words and decide how to use or rewrite before your final draft.
- Change the structure. A great way to avoid any plagiarism issues is to change the structure of the content you curate. Change it from paragraphs to a listicle. Use the content to create an infographic. Present the information as a question-and-answer. One of my favorite blogs, Digital Marketer, has a great “mind map” graphic for different ways to present blog content that may help with structure changes.
- Use a plagiarism checker. If your content is taken from other sites, and even if you’ve gone through and rewritten it, run through a plagiarism checker. While mostly for college students papers, the checkers do search everything on the web. And most of them are free.
- Cite your sources. This goes without saying. In the online realm, link to your sources on the websites where the original content resides. If from a printed source, cite them using proper citation techniques. When in doubt, cite or link. While you don’t want too many links because it makes content seem “spammy” to Google, you also don’t want a plagiarism mistake.
Final words on how to stay on the right side of things
One final word if you are going to curate content. Make make sure you are curating from valid sources. If you are blogging for yourself or a client, make sure you ask about what they consider valid industry sources for information. I have clients that are very specific about who they trust for information and who they value as subject matter experts. So I ask lots of questions about this before I ever start blogging for them.
Like I said earlier, when you know how to do content curation the right way, you get all the benefits of this great approach to blogging with none of the headaches. Kelley and the rest of our team do it day in and day out – it’s one of the things we do really well for our clients and would be happy to do for anyone looking to start a blog.
And in case you’re wondering about the controversy that started it all, Google the speech from the convention. Enjoy!