And Other Lessons My Momma Taught Me
As a born and bred Tennessee girl, I’ve had lessons on politeness and decorum instilled since I was old enough to say “Momma.” We’re the epitome of Southern; my grandmother is the matriarch who rules with an iron fist and a soft, squishy heart. As such, I learned how to treat others with kindness and respect early on, and these are now personality traits I bear with pride.
Writing anything while keeping this self-respect and respect for others at the forefront can be tough, especially when deadlines loom. Taking the easy way out can be an enticing option. Who’s really going to notice if you “borrow” a few words from another author here or there? What are the true repercussions if you post a blog without citing your sources? Well, aside from the legal aspect--which is never pretty--there’s also the loss of trust from readers and other writers. Said plainly, stealing is tacky, and with Google’s super-strong search engines whirring away and CopyScape in use by thousands of marketing agencies, you just might get caught.
With the knowledge of a few simple rules on writing, you can avoid the stain of plagiarism. Take it from a southern belle: Listen to your Momma, and you won’t need to worry.
Always Say “Thank You”
Sometimes someone else already said it better than you ever could. It’s okay to use another person’s things, but you can’t just take them and claim them as your own. Using someone else’s stuff is a privilege and not a right, so don’t be rude. When you use another writer’s specific words and phrases, give credit where it’s due. A citation is the perfect way to say “thank you” for the privilege of sharing that work with others.
There are quite a few ways to thank an author for their thoughts. The first, which is rarely used in blogging but is certainly acceptable, is a works cited section at the foot of the post. Note the quotes throughout the body and insert corresponding sources in your works cited section.
More often, you can cite your sources throughout the body of your article. For instance: Your target audience will know if you’re talking down to them, and “Daddy always said an ounce of pretention is worth a pound of manure” (Steel Magnolias).
If you prefer not to muddle your own content with cited sources, simply link back to the original author, if you happen to be quoting an article or blog you found online. For instance: Hubspot marketing geniuses also have a lot of great information about how not to steal from othersfor people who “don’t know how the Internet works.” If you do decide to link back to the website in question, you must be prepared to lose a lot of readers as they click through and leave your site.
Don’t Put Words in Someone Else’s Mouth
Paraphrasing is acceptable if you want to get a certain point across without using the specific words or phrases of another author. Still, when you need to use someone else’s thoughts, be sure you get it right. Don’t call it a quote if you need to change words to fit your needs. It’s rude to put words in someone else’s mouth, for one thing. For another, that kind of disregard for another’s work could land the original author in hot water--and you when he or she catches up to you.
To paraphrase correctly, you still need to credit your source. Don’t assume you can reword the passage and call it your own. You may need a few tries to get it just right, and that’s okay. Try taking brief notes on what you’ve read, and then move away from the source material. Reconstruct the points from your notes and put them in your own words. In some cases, you’ll find common words or phrases that must be attributed to the original author. You can either try again to come up with your own thoughts, or simply put these shared phrases inside quotation marks and cite your source.
As an example, I present a passage from one of my favorite novels, To Kill a Mockingbird, spoken by a true gentleman from the south: "They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions... but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself” (Lee 139).
Such a lovely sentiment from this literary legend, and the basic premise behind the quote certainly fits this blog topic. You’ll see what I mean here: Atticus Finch expresses his willingness to accept the opinions of others, even if they doesn’t match his own. However, he does point out that he must make peace with his own decisions before he can “live with other folks” (Lee 139).
As you can see, even the paraphrased section of the book must be cited. You certainly don’t want your conscience to haunt you when you’re trying to sleep at night. Plus, it’s just polite, ya’ll.
Beg Your Pardon
Sometimes you’ll make mistakes. You may write your own thoughts and accidentally quote someone without realizing it. It happens to the best of us. When that happens, ‘fess up and ask for forgiveness. If you’re quick to give credit where it’s due, you’re not likely to end up in a legal battle over copyrighted works or published blogs. You’d be surprised at how quickly a very sincere “sorry” can fix a problem.
Remember that rules for the blogosphere are constantly changing, and that means finding definitive instructions for citing sources can be tough. As long as you make a sincere effort to give credit where it’s due, you’re doing something right. Grab some sweet tea and your MLA, APA, and CMS guides. One of those resources will have the knowledge you need.
Harling, Robert, "Steel Magnolias," DVD.
Lee, Harper, To Kill a Mockingbird, (New York City: Grand Central Publishing, 1960), 139.
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