Lessons from the virtual watercooler

Lessons from the virtual watercooler

Beth Hodgson writes so often for the Wax blog we often forget she works for other clients as well, with her problogging service Writesourcing. If you’re looking for great, unique content for your blog or site, give Beth a shout on Twitter!

We’ve discussed the issue of plagiarism before, on a couple of occasions. (See our post on ‘Avoiding Online Plagiarism’ last April) But really, the overall realm of original content is the gift that keeps on giving. A major topic of discussion around the Writesourcing water cooler (our virtual one, of course) is if there are other ways to define ‘original content’ that looks beyond the obvious theft, sourcing quoted material and the like. Well, fortunately, a client forced us to explore that further.

On a few occasions, we had a regular client mention that there is “plagiarism”  in a few stray articles – usually three conjoined words to be specific. Well, the thing about this “plagiarism” is that it’s nothing remotely suspicious; it’s simply been some common phrasing that anyone could come up with on their own without needing to borrow it from someone else. If you hadn’t caught in, this of course is not where the story ends, or I wouldn’t be writing about it, even though you might think that should be where it does.

The thing is, our client may not have really meant “plagiarism” as that (to me at least) equates with stealing.  She wasn’t throwing it around as an accusation because what she really meant to indicate is that her definition of ‘unique content’ to her means that absolutely nothing can be the same as anything else that’s online. That applies even to the most elementary phrases.

It isn’t that this isn’t something that we don’t do – I just never would have defined this as avoiding plagiarism. So what do you need to do to accomplish that? Well, Copyscape is a great tool for this –it will pick up even those 3 commonly strung together words so you can make sure that you choose three different ones that haven’t already been used.

This technique is more important when you’re creating content for the specific purpose of SEO. However, it can also come in handy on your blog if you feel strongly about your content being 100% unique. Not just in thought, not just in general content, but in the very semantics of what you’re writing.

So, the consensus around the WriteSourcing water cooler is that yes, in fact there are other ways to define ‘original content’ and isn’t this a goodie?

  • Rufus Dogg
    Posted at 15:42h, 16 August Reply

    We often have that problem with clients who mistake “data key error” to mean “hacking.” Recently, we had a database update from a remote CRM to a record that drives the way data is displayed on the website. The person entering the record simply chose the wrong company to place a key employee into, which dutifully pulled the records associated with that company.

    By the time we were notified, an email had gone around to every member of the board of directors and staff with the subject line of “WE’VE BEEN HACKED!”

    By the time we were able to fix the problem (one minor keystroke) everyone was all ginned up, heads were rolling and lawyers were being called (ok, not that far, but given time…) We then needed to take time out of a very busy day and write up an explanation for why the site displayed the data as it did.

    I think a lot of people are too quick to break out the incendiary language of “hacking” “plagiarism” “lawsuit” too quick without understanding that they are really yelling FIRE! in a crowded theatre, FOX! in a henhouse or RAT! in a restaurant.

    • Beth Hodgson
      Posted at 11:41h, 18 August Reply

      Agreed! I think definitions are expanding to accommodate new technology, but not in suitable ways. In this circumstance, I’d agree to call it original content – but not plagiarism. That rings alarm bells for me too when I have other writers producing content. Once we came down from the panic and realized what she was asking for, we were all good and could accommodate it. Hopefully as people start getting a better understanding of all of these exciting new things, better terms can be applied to “fire” “plagiarism” “hacked” are not the immediate call!

    • Radu
      Posted at 03:59h, 20 August Reply

      Everybody is paranoid with something they don’t understand and from here they this fear that they’ve been hacked.

  • Jerry
    Posted at 06:11h, 17 August Reply

    “I think a lot of people are too quick to break out the incendiary language of “hacking” “plagiarism” “lawsuit” too quick without understanding that they are really yelling FIRE!” I really appreciate this sentence.

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    Posted at 05:22h, 18 August Reply

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  • Yescando
    Posted at 07:04h, 18 August Reply

    I guess if it wasn’t for this kind of “plagiarism” i.e. three words next to each other on a website, Google would have a very easy time of it!

    But more seriously the question of copying content, tweaking and reposting is always a big one. Is anything unique anymore? As someone just starting out in blogging, mainly for business for now I do think a lot about how I am supposed to stand out from the rest when so much has already been written!

    Thought provoking article though – thanks. Thanks too for the link to Copyscape.

    • bonnie
      Posted at 07:08h, 18 August Reply

      I think it’s a whole new world out there in terms of blogging, music, “news”, etc. It will take a long time to see what the definition of plagiarism in web2.0 really is.

    • Rufus Dogg
      Posted at 08:00h, 18 August Reply

      Write in your own voice, like you speak and shun the corporate-y talk. If you do only that, you will then only sound like .0000000001% of your competitors, regardless of what business you are in.

      Really. It’s that simple.

      • Beth Hodgson
        Posted at 11:34h, 18 August Reply

        I agree fully. Write in your own voice, use your own ideas (the ones that you’ve thought up, not the ones you’ve read about elsewhere, since people seem to confuse that sometimes!).

        Even when I ghost write for my clients’ blogs, and there is research and specific parameters and limitations involve – you can bring something to the table that’s unique and avoid the regurgitating so many people seem to enjoy doing.

        As long as you focus on being authentic with your business/blog and your knowledge and information, you really shouldn’t have to worry too much about what other people have said.

        This post is more of an example of an extreme desire for ‘original content’

    • Beth Hodgson
      Posted at 11:48h, 18 August Reply

      Also, yes, this kind of “plagiarism” is truly inevitable – but if everyone took it to the extreme to avoid it, Google would be a whole different world. Imagine what it would do to queries and search results. I see why it is important to some people, too, but it’s interesting to think how it would change everything if it became the mainstream strategy.

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  • Andrew
    Posted at 14:10h, 21 August Reply

    “Well, the thing about this “plagiarism” is that it’s nothing remotely suspicious;”

    About this, usually you can fall under plagiarism suspicion whenever you write article on a particular thing from a certain objects. Plus you have the same language basics.

  • Robert
    Posted at 10:24h, 22 August Reply

    Yes, plagiarism is not good. and the person who cheat other content of course they are seem to be a thieft. But we also get in to a serious problem when we don’t have any idea to write something.

    The best way is to re-write other article with our own language.
    Thank you for sharing this cool article

    • bonnie
      Posted at 11:00h, 22 August Reply

      Robert, I think it’s good to use other articles as sources, but I would also say you need to add some original thoughts as well. BLoggers who simply rewrite articles are easy to spot and lose credibility.

    • sehlig
      Posted at 06:32h, 29 August Reply

      I agree, you have to get new thougths and topics somewhere. And as long as the copying is down to a acceptable minimum it’s O.K. in my eyes.

  • Stephen Jack @ Compare Prices UK
    Posted at 02:50h, 23 August Reply

    For me copying the words is not actually copying but copying the idea is something which is not good you can deduce the idea from and idea but you shouldn’t keep copy the idea without giving the resource

  • Pingback:Using Copyscape to be original | Wax Blog
    Posted at 14:22h, 23 August Reply

    […] Copyscape If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!In my last post, we looked at some of the different ways of defining original content that you may not have […]

  • venkat. venki
    Posted at 06:29h, 24 August Reply

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  • Lisa @ Admirals Cove
    Posted at 11:26h, 26 August Reply

    How would you handle someone who very obviously rewrites your content each time you write something?

    One of our competitors does just that. I use Google Alerts to stay on top of specific keywords and phrases. It has helped me to identify that our competitor has been copying the ‘idea’ of articles and rewriting each sentence.

    It’s almost as if they watch our blogs and then as soon as something goes up, they rewrite it and place it on their own blogs.

    What should we do in this instance? Any thoughts?

    • bonnie
      Posted at 11:55h, 26 August Reply

      That’s a tough one Lisa. Your competitor may have hired a less than ethical SEO firm, and may not even be aware of it. I’ve contacted owners of websites who were spamming me and usually they apologize profusely. If it is your competitor, often times the fact you know they’re doing it may get them to stop. If it’s a really cutthroat business and they won’t stop, then you might want to consider legal action. A letter from your lawyer might make the difference. Here’s a great post about what to do if someone is plagiarizing your site:


  • Lisa @ Admirals Cove
    Posted at 12:07h, 26 August Reply

    We have spoken with the our competitor about this and he naturally defends the money he is spending on his SEO ‘guy.’ I have researched his SEO person and it appears he is a photographer who started doing SEO for himself and now calls himself and SEO expert. The problem is he has not kept up to date on any of the changes with the Search Engines and is usually some very old tactics as well as some unethical ones.

    Real Estate in our area is very competitive. I really appreciate your help with this and the article. We have considered legal action but wanted to at least speak with our competitor first which didn’t help us. 🙁

    Thanks again!

  • Mary
    Posted at 10:56h, 29 August Reply

    It takes so much time and effort to come up with original content day after day. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future with these “hackers”.

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  • plc training in kolkata
    Posted at 00:58h, 13 October Reply

    I agree fully. Write in your own voice, use your own ideas (the ones that you’ve thought up, not the ones you’ve read about elsewhere, since people seem to confuse that sometimes!).

  • California Free mls
    Posted at 09:39h, 21 October Reply

    Using common phrasing is one thing and to plagiarize another and copyscape can also get tricky sometimes. With new rules from Google and sites like ezine plagiarize content have no place. Its good that all those hundreds of duplicate contents don not show up after these new rules set in.

  • warren
    Posted at 08:32h, 08 November Reply

    Hi Beth,

    I really enjoy reading your article. Thanks for sharing this information.

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