Plagiarism is one of those ideas that get more difficult to distinguish in an age of widespread information disseminated closer and closer to instantly. Concepts of sharing information and resources (e.g. open source communities) make it increasingly more difficult to determine what plagiarism even means anymore. It might even seem unnecessary to a generation of students who don’t even use paper to write… a paper. Copy/paste becomes the new form of creativity.
But, the distinctions are still there. Content is created, and someone creates it. That someone deserves that distinction. So, until the day comes where utopia is achieved and there is no sense of ownership, understanding what plagiarism is will help you to be a better speechwriter.
What Is Plagiarism?
Any time you use someone else’s language or ideas as if they were your own, you are plagiarizing their work. As you can see, this means that paraphrasing someone’s work doesn’t excuse you from plagiarism (i.e. you’re still taking the ideas and claiming them as your own).
The biggest problem could be that most people aren’t aware they are plagiarizing material. Some forms of plagiarism are more obvious than others, but again, those distinctions may be blurred over time and repeated offenses. So, let’s look at the different forms. According to Professor Stephen E. Lucas in The Art of Public Speaking (2004) there are three forms of plagiarism:
Global – Taking an entire work and claiming it as yours (Look, Ma. “The Gettysburg Address” by Mark Woods… uh, not so much). This is perhaps the easiest one to detect, even in speeches.
Patchwork – This is essentially a cut and paste job. You take two or three sources and essentially cobble together the speech or paper. It seems less like plagiarism because you are actively piecing together a work, yes? No. Any time you express language or ideas that are not your own, you are plagiarizing someone’s work. Now, you’ve managed to steal from several people at once.
Incremental – Perhaps the most common, and maybe the most forgivable (where speeches are concerned), this is when a quote or the mention of any fact or figure goes without a source. This might be an oversight by the writer or speaker. Sometimes, the speaker wants to maintain the flow of the speech, and doesn’t want to get bogged down by citing sources for every number or quote mentioned. However, it’s still plagiarism.
How I Spot It
Since I teach a specific format and style, it’s very easy to notice when someone is speaking in a style that sounds completely different from what I’ve heard before. Another clue is that the format is completely abandoned (hmm, this speech sounds a lot like an article from the Web).
Another big clue is when the speaker cannot pronounce words to speech he claims to have written. If you say “Vi-oh-la” instead of “Vwah-la” to “voila,” I’m guessing you didn’t write the speech.
How You Can Avoid It
To avoid these problems, I’ve found that following the format of writing pretty good speeches will almost completely eliminate any issues of global or patchwork plagiarism. As I’ve said, it’s fairly easy to spot if globally plagiarized, and it’s about the same amount of work as patchwork plagiarism. So, why not just do your own work and avoid any problems?
I realize that incremental plagiarism is often due to the fact that there’s just so much information to cite, and doing so can ruin the flow of a speech. Not so, I say. It can be done well; you just have to know when to do it and when not to do it. Here are some handy tips:
1. Cite a source simply for a speech. There’s no need for a long APA or MLA style citation. Just note the author and the work while speaking. “Mark Woods, in an article titled ‘Plagiarism: don’t do it!’ at Pretty Good Speech.com, states…” You get the idea. For more detail, check out my post on citing sources in a speech.
2. Cite a source the first time, then use only the last name if mentioned again. As stated above, there’s no need for tremendous detail in the source (just enough for us to find that source). So, if you mention that author again, you don’t need to restate the work (unless it’s a different work). “Woods goes on to say…” The assumption is that you are still referring to the article previously cited.
3. Common knowledge needs no citation, but when in doubt, provide a source. I think we all know the sky is blue or that bumblebees can fly. But, there will inevitably be information that may or may not fall into the common knowledge category. If you aren’t completely sure, find the source.
What’s the Big Deal?
You might think that it’s just a silly little speech or paper for a stupid class, so what’s the big deal? It doesn’t really hurt anyone, right? A quick copy and paste and no one gets hurt… do they?
It may not seem like it, but plagiarism is a big deal. People work hard to succeed, and they deserve recognition for their hard work. Imagine if spent a year writing a book only to have someone post it online and claim they wrote it. You spent a year. They spent a minute. For them, it was quick and easy and not a big deal. For you, that was a year of your life and who knows how much in revenue or even fame. Seems like a big deal now, eh?
So, when it comes to plagiarism, don’t do it!