Friday, November 21, 2008

The Dirty Word

Last week there was a post on a site I visit daily about that dirty word "plagiarism." The focus of this post is employers who threaten would be applicants that their work will be scanned by anti-plagiarism software. I don't know if there's more than one type because I'm new to this, but the one I keep hearing about is called "Copyscape." There was some discussion on the board about whether potential employers telling you this up front was insulting.

I personally found it very offensive the first time I read it in an ad, but after I started to see it in so many places, I figured it was just par for the course. I can see the employers' side of it, because in my communications job I often found plagiarism to be a problem. Coworkers were constantly submitting articles to me for our newsletter or magazine that had content just cut and pasted from somewhere on the Internet. It was pretty easy to spot because I knew the writing style of those sending me the submissions and I could tell when a couple paragraphs here or there didn't fit. However, I lived in fear that one day I would miss something and I would end up publishing work that wasn't ours without permission or any type of a citation. So, I kept sending out warning e-mails until I had most of them trained not to do it, or at least to alert me when they'd copied something so it could be cited or rewritten.

So, I realize that plagiarism is a big deal, and I also realize that it's probably hard to discover if you're reading something written by someone you barely know. I also know you have to pay attention to it, because as an editor or publisher, you could be in big trouble for printing it. That being said, for someone who is a professional writer, being suspected of plagiarism before you even submit something is really insulting.

Imagine my shock the other day when one of the articles I submitted was flagged for plagiarism. At first, I was furious. Since I was always so conscientious of avoiding it, the accusation was extremely hard to take. But after I calmed down a bit, I realized the article was full of documentation requirements and that the names of the those documents were probably all in one place in numerous sites on the Internet.

I went through the process of disputing the allegation and explaining why I thought the article might have been flagged, as well as why I thought it should still be published. Within a day, I received a very polite and apologetic e-mail from one of the editors who explained that it was just a precaution and my article clearly wasn't plagiarized. Apparently, when the software flags an article, it notifies you right away before any actual human has reviewed it.

Clearly, being accused of plagiarism bothers me even more than I thought it did. I guess I'll have to learn to live with it and wait for the process to uncover the truth.

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