June 29, 2014

Honesty is the Best Policy: Non-fiction Plagiarism

Guest post by Nikolas Baron.

Some writers I’ve spoken to think non-fiction is a lot easier to write than fiction. You’ve already experienced all of the events that are going to be written in your book. You have first-hand knowledge of the facts. You lived it and don’t have to imagine what it’s like. You can easily organize all of your story events because, well, they happened to you and you know where they best fit in your story. But there are some writers who believe that their story needs some more spice; more excitement. Some enhance details to enrich their story. Some just plain lie. And some decide that the best method is to plagiarize. These are facts, they think, they may not have happened to me, but at least they are true facts. The only fact in that scenario is that the writer is committing plagiarism.Plagiarism, whether it’s in non-fiction, fiction, poetry, lyrics, or a magazine article, is never an alternative to the truth. When you sit down to write your non-fiction story, it’s okay to embellish a little bit but not to the point of lying; however, it’s not okay to steal someone else’s story. There have been several instances where non-fiction work has been stolen and plagiarized and each ended in a severe legal battle. Is it really worth going to court over a few sentences or paragraphs that didn’t actually mean that much in your 50,000 word story? When writers plagiarize, they believe they’re benefitting from others' work. They believe that they aren’t really doing that much wrong and that they need to have that piece of information or their work is incomplete. Do they want to spend the time to think about a better event to put in? Do they have several deadlines to meet that they must rush to finish their work? Are they really dedicated to writing? I feel that writers who plagiarize are not willing to spend the time to fix their work and are, therefore, lazy. True non-fiction writers want to express their own ideas, feelings, and events. They don’t want to take someone else’s life and twist it to fit into theirs. They want to tell their personal story and hope that others learn, laugh, and lament with them as they flip the pages. Plagiarism is just the cheap way to win success.

So how do you avoid it? How do you make sure your work is safe and nobody has stolen from you? How do you check plagiarism? Luckily we live in an age filled with numerous online resources that will check the Internet for any plagiarism violations. Some top sources are CopyScape, Grammarly, and Plagium. These are used by freelance employers, editors, and writers alike and, if you fail the plagiarism test, most likely you’ll lose your job. Personally, I like to use Grammarly because it checks for plagiarism against tons of different sources. It doesn’t just check against a few top hits. Grammarly uses a thorough method to confirm that your work is clean and that your work can’t be found in anyone else’s. It also does more than check plagiarism. It offers grammar and punctuation checkers, synonym help, a large community of writers who are willing to answer your questions on the question and answer boards, teaching tools, and it can identify your most common errors and how to correct them. Each of these sources will help you to check plagiarism and keep your work clean.

When writing non-fiction, it’s important to pick the right events to keep your reader interested. Trying to stuff other writer’s work into your story only cheapens your work and leaves you open to legal attack. The important piece of information is keeping your story interesting based on your own life events. Plagiarizing even a few sentences because, “that’s exactly how I felt,” doesn’t make you much of a writer. If you were true to your writing and your craft, you would be able to come up with the description of how you felt on your own without having to cheat. Cheating to get ahead by plagiarizing never made a Hemingway, Salinger, or Shelley. Honesty is always the best policy when it comes to non-fiction writing.


Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

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