Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Haven't I read this somewhere before?...

Those of you that went to university will be familiar with the plagiarism lecture. You would get it at the beginning of each year and it would instil the fear of god in you. I was absolutely terrified of being accused of plagiarism and would reference everything I wrote to death, afraid of somehow slipping up.

I had a little look at the definition of plagiarism and (see how I referenced that? I’m no hypocrite baby!) and it describes it as,

“The unauthorised use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s original work”

On the first day of my Masters degree, one of the Professors gave us the usual lecture but this one really hit home for me. He asked us to look around the room and then said that at least one of us would be kicked off the course for plagiarising at some point during the year. I found it hard to believe. I looked around at the 20-30 faces sat in the room with me and thought “Surely not!” We were all intelligent (supposedly) people who had already been through one degree and had paid out hefty sums of money to take one more ride on the merry-go-round, why would anybody jeopardise that?

But it was more than that.

I could never understand how you could be satisfied, knowing that something you had written was an imitation of someone-else. I’m not someone who strives to be original in everything I do but I would like to think that I was able to articulate my own thoughts in my own way. The point of us being at university was to read all the background texts but then consider things from a different viewpoint, try and put our own stamp on things. I was all for this, I would hate to think that I will leave this earth without ever making my own mark on it, even if it is only an original thought in an economic history essay about the effect of the reparations on Germany’s economy in your final year at university. (Yeah. I’m still ridiculously proud of that essay. No. I will never stop going on about it.)

It is difficult at timesto find your own words though. I would struggle and sit with all my photocopied and bookmarked text books around me, trying to find a way of saying something that hadn’t already been said. Most of the time I’d just give up and stick a direct quotation in (always referenced people!), but if I did write something that was my own I’d feel a real sense of pride and achievement.

Thinking about finding your own words also got me thinking about blogging. I look back on some of my old blogs now and have a little cringe inside. It doesn’t sound like me at all. I don’t berate myself for it, blogging can be hard at times, especially at the beginning. People think it’s easy and it really isn’t and it takes a good long while for you to settle in and find your own stride.

The problem is that in the beginning it’s all too easy to mimic other people’s style. It’s easily done – you’re reading other people’s blogs, you like they way they write, you try to do it that way too. But it’ll never work you know.

In the same way that we all have funny little turns of phrases that we use (I hear some people use the word ‘acesome’ for instance), we all have different writing styles and ways of expressing ourselves. If I tried to write like someone else, it would be obvious something wasn’t right because I write in a particular way that is exclusive to me. I’m not saying it’s completely unique but I think it’s clear I’m comfortable. If someone was to try and copy this way of writing it would jar and feel odd to read.

I guess it’s just something that comes with time. Just as I got used to writing essays and coming up with my own way of saying something that 60 other, far more intelligent people had already said, I found my way with blogging.

(And, a mere month before the end of the academic year and the turning in of our dissertations, two people were kicked off the course for plagiarising. I’ve always found it a little sad that sometimes people are so predictable.)

Has anyone else had any experiences with plagiarism both blogging and otherwise? Do you think you have a particular writing style?


  1. I don't recall ever coming across any plagiarism academically (weirdly enough, my dad was a university lecturer priot to retiring and I think he was involved in some sort of plagiarism committee, which was pretty interesting I thought) although I've noticed it happening in the blogosphere once or twice.

    I don't really know if I have a particular writing style - if someone copied me, I probably wouldn't notice, haha. I do see myself picking up on others turns of phrase though - particularly americanisms due to the amount of American blogs I read. I find that amusing though.

  2. I try although I don't know if I suceed, to write my blog as if I'm speaking ,but without the swearing that peppers my everyday conversations.
    Em xxx

  3. Trying to sort out "my" style is no easy task so I'll just keep chipping away at it. You, Miss Girl, have a wonderful "voice" and exceptional writing style. Its a pleasure. Cliche Warning: You go Girl! (hey, I really mean it though.)

  4. I think I write how I talk (going off the point in little asides in brackets!) Just like that! ha ha!
    I wouldn't like to think I have ever copied anyone elses style but I sometimes see things in people's blogs that I don't like and will avoid doing it in my own so I suppose I am influenced by other people in that way!
    I know what you mean about uni! I was always scared to death of forgetting to credit an idea!!!

  5. It is hard to find your 'blogging voice' when you first join the blogging world isn't it?

    My words are definitely my own - the grammer wouldn't be as bad as it is if they belonged to someone else.

    I'd be very surprised if the students and teachers at my school had ever heard the word 'plagiarism', never mind understand it (they definitely didn't understand the word 'contraception' - I was probably the only girl who left school without 2 kids).

  6. I don't remember any plagiarism lectures but uni was a long, long time ago for me. What I do remember though is essays being passed down from year to year - ie. the same essay being handed in by a different student for several years running. Apparently the lecturer in question never noticed! And no, I didn't participate.

  7. I'll hold my hands up! I semi-plagiarised my Year 9 project on Rainforests from library books. So did the rest of the class and they got told to right it again in their own words, but I must have been so convincing I got an A* and 2 merit marks.

    I feel guilty to this day, thank goodness I've confessed! x

    PS: That's the existent of my plagiarist activities before I get accused of being a fraud! x

  8. I'm always paranoid even when blogging of not linking back to people in posts and pictures!

    I don't understand why someone would want to write like someone else... copying drives me nuts! I always like to see myself as somewhat of an indivdual so any sort of copying drives me crazy!

    There was/is someone who read my blog (the joy of traffic stats)but never comments. I kept seeing them coming up in the stats so went to their blog to see who they were and leave a comment, maybe coax them out of their shell... imagine my surprise when I saw they had exactly the same blog background as me!

    Don't get me wrong, my background is a CK print so no way is it bespoke but it's quite obvious in appearance so for me I wouldn't want it because I'd want my blog to stand out. The fact that this person was reading my blog, not commenting yet had exactly the same background as me makes me think they're almost snooping!

    Victoria xx

    PS Sorry I always seem to ramble on when I comment on your blog!

  9. Yeah I hear you here. Just as we have idolects that make us different from everyone, I think the same for writing too. I do find I tend to write like I speak and also I'm not too well structured. My thoughts jump about the place sometimes depending on my mood.

    Liked this post...and yes, it is a shame people are predictable... :( Sometimes it is annoying though that others got there before you and had the ideas! xxx

  10. 1. Jill- that made me snort with laughter.

    2. Florence and Mary- that's shocking! I love your background and blog design and envy you but I'd never dream of copying it.

    3. The Girl- You do have a very distinct blogging style and language and I think I'd recognise it if I saw it appearing elsewhere but I imagine it would be hard to imitate without seeming unnatural and forced. I think personal blogs should be written from the heart. My own style involves long sentences often joined by semi-colons which mirror my habit of talking too much and the occasional very short sentence for effect. A bit like this.

    Oh, and I had a bizarre dream about plagarism, teacher training college and David Tennant last night.

  11. Incidentally, my post about fudge is a bit Nigella isn't it...

  12. I work in IT in academia now and it is amazing how much technology is now available for identifying plagiarism. It must be very hard to get away with it now.

    There's a little blog plagiarising tool you could use if you're concerned about your content going astray: The Copygator

  13. I'd say you have a very individual style of writing, and very entertaining! I think I just write as I would speak. Altho I do talk a lot lol! x

  14. Apparently I blog as if I were having a conversation with someone. Brilliant.
    With regards to copying other bloggers though, I find it hilarious when bloggers accuse others of copying "features" - when said "feature" amounts to a way of painting your nails (for example)
    Its difficult though when writing an essay not to use some of the phrasing in the materials you used to research them.

  15. I don't blog, but suggested a name for a certain knitting designers toy. It was used and also the colour dress the toy was wearing was my suggestion, but never acknowledged. Not even the courtesy of an e-mail or an acknowledgement in her posts. How rude. And yes I checked I was the only one to suggest that name. I would never buy her patterns again. :-( Gemma

  16. I used to get my knickers in a right twist over plagiarism at uni too, and became convinced I'd plagiarise without even realising it... I'm new to the blogging world and still trying to find my own 'style' - it's really difficult! Especially when I've decided to keep my blog fairly anonymous and just about baking - I feel like I'm lacking in personality. Anyway, you do a great job of keeping yourself anonymous but yet sharing so much of your life, personality and opinions - if anybody did try to steal your style, I'm sure they could only manage a very poor imitation!

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