I had a little look at the definition of plagiarism and Dictionary.com (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?