Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Plagiarism Raises Its Ugly Head

by Terri Wagner

Working off original material and editing it to fit our magazine’s style often puts us in an uncomfortable position regarding authorship. For the most part, in our column sections, we simply rework the material and have no bylines. In our feature articles, it’s more difficult to decide when to have a staff byline.

For example, if someone sends us material that is loosely organized with photos and no byline, do we just write it up with no byline? On the other hand, if one of our staff writers took the time to organize, gather additional material, piece together a coherent story, isn’t it then their story and worthy of a byline?

We face these dilemmas daily. Recently, one of our staff people was assigned a story and put it together using his byline. The proofreader let it go by. The publisher didn’t notice it, but the editor read the story and began to question the writing. It seems the staff writer lifted complete sentences from the technical part of the original material which featured a byline and bio in an obscure place. So the staff writer missed this important information, the proofer missed this critical material and the editor spotted it right away.

He used the ugly word plagiarism, not an intentional use, but definitely a use. In fiction, it’s harder because after all, there is little new under the sun; but in technical circles, it can actually be more difficult. If you change the wording a bit, you may change the meaning.

For example, “He stepped into a bare lift” is much different from “Stepping into the area, made you feel you were stepping into a bare lift.” Fortunately, this was caught early by the editor and hasn’t been published.

Still, plagiarism is an ugly, scary word for a writer.

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